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If each of us takes part in caring and sharing, the overwhelming challenge of poverty can be addressed. Alone we can do so little, but together we can do so much.

An Invitation to a Journey of Caring
Baccalaureate Mass
Ateneo de Manila University
27 March 2015
Bienvenido F. Nebres, S.J. 

I was interviewed for the Guidon Graduation Issue a couple of weeks ago –  Ysa Lebrilla and Kristi de Asis should be with you. Their last question was: “What did I think was special about Ateneo College Class 2015.”

I said, first, you are the class in the time of Typhoon Yolanda.  You showed the power of the Ateneo spirit in mobilizing to bring relief to thousands of our brothers and sisters in Leyte.

Second, you are the class in the time of Pope Francis – an unforgettable lifetime experience of the first Jesuit Pope uniting us in wonder, love and faith.

I would add now that you are also the class in the year of Mamasapano, inviting us to see, through eyes washed by tears, the pain of the families of the SAF 44 and the sufferings of our brothers and sisters in Mindanao.

On a joyful note, you are also the class of the back-to-back champions, the Lady Eagles – thank you to the graduating seniors. Thank you too to the graduating seniors of the 3-peat baseball team, the 3-peat men’s and women’s swimming teams and the champion men’s volleyball team.

The theme for our Baccalaureate Mass is “Tugon sa Tawag ng Panginoon: Kalingain ang mga Nakakaligtaan”, (Response to the call of the Lord: Care for those who are passed over). Mga nakakaligtaan, napapabayaan, naiiwan. (Those passed over, neglected, left behind.) Ateneo has a school feeding program in Holy Spirit Elementary School along Commonwealth Avenue. It is supported by a British group called In-Visible – because the many hungry children around us are in-visible. They are there but we do not see them.

Kaya magsimula tayo sa paglingap sa mga nagugutom. (So let us begin with care for the hungry) I believe that the Pope Francis effect is still with us to invite us to turn our heads and see.

I remember the principal of the Grade School beside our first GK village in Payatas Trese asking me one Christmas many years ago if Ateneo could provide food packs for the 400 poorest families in her school. It was a very simple 100 peso foodpack, rice, noodles, sardines. But the teachers told me this very small foodpack would last a family of 5 three days, because they ate only once a day.  As I was leaving after distributing the foodpacks, one mother came up to me and said, “Sana pagkalooban kayo ng Diyos ng mahabang buhay, para marami pa ang inyong matutulungan.” (May God grant you a long life, so you can help many more people.) I was deeply  moved and her face and words haunted me for the longest time. But I did not know then how to respond in a better way.

Then began our Ateneo journey to feed the hungry.  My telling our story is also an invitation for you to join – to make the in-visible, visible. We started by partnering with Jollibee’s busog, lusog, talino (food, health, talent) – feeding 40 children each in selected public schools. Then in 2010 the principal of Bagong Silangan Elementary School pleaded with us to please provide meals for the 400 poorest children in her school. From there we scaled up to 4,000 children in four elementary schools along Commonwealth Avenue with funds from the Ateneo community led by the Ateneo Professional Schools. Last March 10, I accompanied Senator Grace Poe to our largest schoolfeeding program in Valenzuela city – 17,000 children every school day funded by the city mayor. In 2011 Mayor Sherwin Gatchalian saw our program in Quezon city and said he had long wanted to do a similar

program. “How can we sleep,” he said, “knowing so many of the children in our city are hungry.” The program continues with vigor under his brother, Mayor Rex.

This paglingap sa mga nagugutom (care for the hungry) has now travelled to the Typhoon Yolanda areas. Last March 16 I went to Ormoc city for the closing ceremonies of the ACED schoolfeeding for 2,000 children in Ormoc and Kananga. On March 23-24 I went with Gawad Kalinga to visit our
Kusina ng Kalinga for 2,000 children in Alang-alang and to launch the schoolfeeding program for all the 5,000 school children in San Isidro, Leyte.

Kusina ng Kalinga has also travelled to the area of the SAF 44 tragedy. Last February, ACED and Gawad Kalinga started the Kusina for 2,000 children in Tacurong city, Sultan Kudarat. For next year our goal is to provide meals for all the 15,000 children in Tacurong. It is just 30 minutes from Mamasapano and we will bring the program to Mamasapano as well. 

Sometimes in the face of a hungry child, we feel helpless. There are so many of them – how can we feed them all? We cannot, but we can begin – and the journey of our Ateneo Blueplate for Better Learning, now expanded by GK Kusina ng Kalinga (Care

Kitchen), shows that others will join us and shine new light to make the in-visible visible. It is the miracle of the 5 loaves and 2 fishes, with us working together to multiply the loaves and the fishes.

Along the journey we will find that the poor and the hungry are no longer numbers or statistics, but real people. Two months ago I visited our schoolfeeding centers in Quezon City.  I went to Doña Juana Elementary School, where we have the biggest number of malnourished children. We followed Adela, the woman who was lugging the container for the foodpacks to be distributed to the classrooms. I noticed that she was struggling to carry it and I was relieved when a young man eventually offered to help her. Later at the principal’s office, we chatted with her and found out that her husband had been out of work for a long time and that actually this school lunch was the only meal for her and her son. On weekends they had little or nothing to eat. For the last two months she has been for me the face of hunger and I knew we had to help.

Pope Francis’ continuing call to go to the margins and to feed the hungry comes not from ideas or theories. It comes from his knowing personally half the people in the slums of Buenos Aires, the Villas Miseria. Jesus multiplied the 5 loaves and 2 fishes because he saw personally the people tired and hungry.

On the journey we also meet people who transform our view of reality. On the trip to Leyte last March 16, I was with Amy Perez of the Ateneo Center for Educational Development. She had just been to Tacurong city, Sultan Kudarat and Dapiawan, Maguindanao.  She said, “You know, there is a ‘Schindler’s List’ story there.” She told the story of the GK head, Noel Griño, and the Griño family.  At the many checkpoints on the way to Tacurong, Noel Griño’s GK van was not stopped. They were just waved on. Noel Griño said, “Basta you are with GK, you are a friend,” and he told the story of his family. 

We do not hear much anymore about the Jabidah massacre of 1968. But last March 19 this was in the news as a marker was placed in Corregidor, where the massacre occurred. There, young Muslim trainees, some say 28, some 60, others 200, were killed by the Marcos government, triggering the Muslim-Christian wars of the 1970s. The father of Noel Griño took about 300 Muslim families under his protection and kept them as workers in his farm and thus saved them from the Christian paramilitary group, the Ilagas. They never forgot that kindness of the Griño family and continue to tell that story of kindness and compassion to the younger generation. Anger and revenge beget anger and revenge. But care and compassion also beget care and compassion. So in the Tacurong area, anyone with Noel Griño and Gawad Kalinga is a friend.

Beyond feeding the hungry, Pope Francis invites us to care for the poor. “The poor are at the heart of the Gospel,” he told the priests at the Manila Cathedral, Ateneo has also partnered with Gawad Kalinga in a mission to bring care, kalinga, to the poorest of the poor. Most people think of Gawad Kalinga as building houses, but it is really about helping the poor dream again and helping them reach their simple dreams.

Simple dreams. I think of Aling Mona in Cabiao. Mayor Congco noticed her family living by the roadside. They slept on the ground, walang sahig, ang bubong ay tagpi-tagping yero at carton. (no floor, the roof was just a patchwork of galvanized iron and cartons.) Their dream was just to have a roof over their heads, a floor to sleep on and a meal twice a day. When they finally got a GK home, umiyak yung anak niyang dalaguita (her teenage daughter cried) When the mayor asked kung bakit siya umiiyak (why she was crying), she said it was because for the first time they had a CR.


When Amy Perez visited the evacuation center in Dapiawan, Maguindanao, tinanong niya sa mga bata, “Ano ang inyong mga pangarap?” (she asked the children, “What are your dreams?”) The boys said they wanted to be soldiers, the girls wanted to be teachers. Sabi nila, “Nais lang naming tumulong.” (They said, "We just want to help.") Our dream for them is to have peace so they can go back to school and fulfill their dreams.

When Melissa Yeung, college 2007, was a sophomore in 2004, she was asked to take care of the out of school youth in Payatas Trese, our first GK village. She was told “Melissa, problema mo iyan, ayusin mo.” (Melissa, this is your problem, fix it.) She asked them, “Ano ang inyong mga pangarap.” “Ate, wala kaming maisip na pangarap, mahirap mangarap kung wala kang pera.” (“What are your dreams?” “We cannot think of any dreams; it is difficult to dream if you have no money.”) With the help of Ateneo performing groups, she engaged them in music, dance, drama, got them out of drugs and other vices and a year later, they came back and said, “Ate mayroon na kaming pangarap.” (We now have a dream.) We helped them finish high school and finish technical courses. If you visit Earth Kitchen or the Got Heart shop along White Plains, you will meet some of them working

there. They will tell you their story of dreams fulfilled and how they are now helping their younger brothers and sisters to also fulfill their dreams.

It is also about dreams of building the nation. In early 2005 I was on a 5 hour bus ride with Reese Fernandez, now President of Rags2Riches, from our GK village in Gabaldon, Nueva Ecija. Reese is also college 2007. She writes of that experience: “The summer of 2005 was the first time a group of students ventured to Gabaldon, Nueva Ecija, to deliver relief goods and build houses for the survivors of a recent calamity (Typhoon Yoyong).  . . . All of us witnessed the rise of the people of Gabaldon from the debris of natural calamities to a colorful and vibrant community.

Seeing this transformation also transformed us in a very profound way.  . . . We were witnesses to the realization of the vision that Fr. Ben shared with us through his words and actions: building our country. We dreamed of things bigger than ourselves because we saw how vision could become reality if we worked hard to make that happen.”

It is 10 years since GK Gabaldon, 12 years since GK Payatas Trese. Reese has built Rags2Riches, which is transforming the lives of up to 900 poor women. Her husband, Mark, has led Hapinoy and is transforming the lives of many hundred nanays running sari-sari stores. Melissa has built Got Heart Foundation and together with husband, Christian, has a thriving 5 hectare organic farm in Tarlac and is transforming the lives of many farmers. All this started because they saw families in GK villages rise step by step from poverty and, as Reese wrote, “saw how vision could become reality if we work hard to make it happen.” In this mission for the poor they also found their partner and friend for life. It has been a special joy for me to celebrate their weddings.

Kung ganoon, paano natin lingapin ang mga nakakaligtaan. (Thus, how shall we care for those passed over.) There are many ways. But I invite you to join us. GK says, “Hunger ends when caring begins.” You can begin this April in Sitio Pajo, Quezon City, where we have a feeding program for out-of-school children during the summer. If you are feeling adventurous, you can join us in Alang-alang and San Isidro, Leyte. If you are feeling especially adventurous, you can join us in Tacurong city, Sultan Kudarat,  and in Dapiawan and other evacuation centers in Maguindanao. Come July, you can volunteer for our many schoolfeeding sites in Metro-Manila or in the Typhoon Yolanda areas or in ARMM.

I also invite you to join us in the GK Bayani Challenge. You can volunteer to help build homes or kitchens for 5 days between April 9 and June 12 in any of the hundred or so sites across the country.
Ateneo challenges us to a mission of building the nation. You will find that building the nation comes not from some big dramatic idea. Real solutions begin from the ground, in small steps repeated a hundred or a thousand times. As in providing food for malnourished children one school at a time or building homes for the poor one community at a time, or building a social enterprise one at a time. As Pope Francis has repeatedly said, “Reality is superior to ideas.”

Sa wakas, ang paglingap sa mga nakakaligtaan ay nagsisimula sa pagkalinga at pagmamahal. (Finally, care for those left behind starts with caring and love.) Pope Francis said at UST that the most important subject you have to learn at the Ateneo and in life is to learn how to love. It is only through love that learning bears fruit. Ateneo Blueplate and Gawad Kalinga say: “The end of hunger and the end of poverty will begin, when caring grows in the hearts of more Filipinos.” The end of war and distrust will begin in Mindanao through the small steps we, Muslims,Christians, Lumads, take to care for one another.

Imagine what a revolution of caring we could ignite if each of the 5,000 or so of us here would feed one child or help build one home or help create one small social enterprise. It would be a wonderful way for us to live Pope Francis’ Call to Mercy and Compassion. It could be our way of helping fulfill so many dreams: the simple dreams of children and the poor, the longed-for dreams of peace in Mindanao.  It may be a long journey, but we can get there. We only need to join in small steps together to reach out and to care. 

Tags: EndPoverty

Gawad Kalinga is not a charity, rather, it's an organization that aims to end poverty by building empowered and productive communities. This would not be possible without the partners who have journeyed with us in changing the lives of others. Like GK Ateneo, you too can be a hero to the poorest of the poor and partner with us in making sure that no one is left behind. Find out how you can help #endpoverty today. Walang Iwanan!

About GK Ateneo: It was in 2003 when Fr. Bienvenido Nebres, SJ (then President, Ateneo de Manila University) launched the partnership with GK, through Gawad Kalinga Ateneo Coordinating Office (GK Ateneo) the first university-wide community development program. GK Ateneo adapts to its mandate by building institutional partnerships, working on ground with various community programs and integrating research in the process. With the changing leadership in the University, GK Ateneo continues its mandate and mission, which is to defeat poverty. Learn more about GK Ateneo HERE.

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