by Gia Leanne Luga
It was an inexplicably hot morning as the rays of the sun casted scorching heat upon everyone. In one part of the village, a group of people were gathered around a huge rectangular hole in the ground. Beads of sweat were dripping down their faces and their muscles ached due to the many hours of backbreaking work. As they were digging the required depth of what was then their fourth septic tank, the children of the village cheered them on with a mixture of awe and camaraderie. Over the last couple of days, the children have gotten to know the ates and kuyas whom they have welcomed into their homes. While they didn’t speak the same language, the smiles and high fives that they exchanged with each other spoke of newfound friendships.
The Australian volunteers digging their fourth septic tank
This was the heart-warming scene I witnessed when we visited the Dr. Jose Rizal GK Village located in Calamba, Laguna. The people digging the septic tank were actually some of the 30 visiting nursing students from Australia, and they were on the last leg of their GK Mabuhay tour. Previously, they have already spent a couple of days in the GK Enchanted Farm, where they involved themselves with Gawad Kalinga’s community health program (GK Kalusugan). They also spent some time acquainting themselves with the health system of the Philippines – visiting the rural health center in Angat as well as the Philippine Orthopedic Center in Quezon City.
Irene Mayo, the young nursing instructor who headed this particular tour, expressed her appreciation for the experience that she and her students have been through. “Seeing the dire health conditions in the Philippines have opened our eyes on how blessed we truly are. Our hearts broke as we realized that what we complain about in our public health care system back home is nothing compared to what the people here are going through. Also, working with Gawad Kalinga made us realize that by the simple act of giving people homes and educating them about basic sanitation, health problems can be solved.”
When I asked Irene how the nursing students were doing so far, she smiled and said that “Initially, there was a lot of fear and apprehension. We were all taken away from our comfort zones and forced to immerse in a life that was so different from what we’re used to back home.” She laughingly recalls how using the tabo to bathe and the banig to sleep in made them realize that it doesn’t take a lot to be happy. “Our host families have taken care of us with the little that they had, and their sincere warmth and hospitality have made us love them in return.”
Irene Mayo with her host brother, Vergel
Irene shares these insights with her host brother beside her. He has been following her around since early morning, even as she led the digging of the fourth septic tank. They have two more septic tanks to dig before heading back to Australia, but it’s something that all of them are more than happy to do.
“This experience is something none of us will ever forget. More than going out of our comfort zones and conquering whatever apprehensions we had, we learned to push ourselves to the limit and finish the work because this is the only thing we could give them.” As the noonday sun continued to shine down on us, Irene continues by saying “I thought that by coming here we would simply learn to appreciate what we had back home. But after everything we’ve been through, I realized that it wasn’t just about appreciating what we had, it was about giving whatever we could give, and giving it out in love.”