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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.

GAWA: An Extraordinary Mission

[Date Created: April 8, 2014]

by Gia Leanne Luga

A  few weeks ago, when Ping Herrero traveled from the urban jungle of Bagong Silang, Caloocan all the way to the far-flung province of Leyte, he knew this was unlike any other mission he has done for GAWA (Gawad Kalinga Accredited Workers Association). As Ping and his fellow construction workers made their way to Ormoc, he recalls the scenes of devastation that gripped him. Months after Supertyphoon Yolanda (Haiyan) almost flattened Leyte, its remnants were still there: loud, clear, and unforgettable – demanding everyone’s attention.

Once Tito Ping arrived in the build site in Brgy. Tambulilid, Ormoc, you could say it only got worse. Because now, Yolanda had a face. Yolanda was no longer what the news anchors reported on TV, or the overwhelming scenes of ruin and destruction that he saw only a few hours earlier. Slowly, Yolanda became the faces of the parents trying to fit their families into the makeshift shelter they now call home. Yolanda became the faces of the children cowered in fear every time it rains. That day, for Tito Ping, Yolanda became the faces of the families who will live in the new houses he was supposed to build.

(Para kaming sumabak sa giyera, kasi sobrang daming pagsubok, at mahirap mawalay sa pamilya. Ngunit higit na mas mahirap ang pinagdadaanan ng mga nasalanta ng Yolanda. Kailangan naming isapuso at ipagbuti ang trabaho upang makalipat sila agad.)

"I feel like a soldier going to war, because it's difficult to be away from my family and face the challenges on ground. But when I see what the Yolanda survivors are going through, I know we just have to pour our hearts to the work so they can move into their new homes as soon as possible."

– Ping Herrero, GAWA Construction Worker/Foreman

Resident of Bagong Silang, Caloocan

An Extraordinary Mission

Tito Ping is in Leyte with 38 other GAWA construction workers from Bagong Silang. Every single day, from 7 in the morning “to sawa” (until it gets too dark to work), they exert all their efforts into finishing the houses that these families will eventually move into. They are the skilled workers that supervise, train, and work with the typhoon survivors as they too sweat it out to build their future homes.

But the work is far from easy. For Leyte in particular, it’s a little more challenging than usual. This is hardly the first time they are building houses together with beneficiaries. Since GAWA was launched in late 2012, they have already worked on several villages in Caloocan and have gone as far as Zamboanga. But it’s different when you work with typhoon survivors who have lost practically everything. And it’s different when you do this for months in a disaster area, while being away from your loved ones.

But what makes it even more difficult is that they actually live in the site, with the future beneficiaries who have grown to become much like family to them. Tito Ping told me that sometimes, it’s as if he’s just in Bagong Silang, surrounded by the laughter of his neighbors. If they close their eyes and don’t look at the damaged structures, Ormoc feels just like home. This is why every day, they put the pressure upon themselves to give these families the best possible homes in the soonest possible time.

Jimmy Benedicto feels the same way, knowing that the hard work that they offer every single day is their way of helping these families start their lives anew.

(Wala kaming matulong na pinansyal, pero natutunan kong hindi lang pala sa pamamagitan ng pera ka pwedeng makatulong. Sa lakas at pawis, kahit papaano, naipapamahagi namin ang pag-asa sa mga nasalanta ng bagyo.)

"We may not have any material things to give, but there are many ways to help out. In our own way, with the power and sweat we pour into the work, we know that we are also giving hope to the survivors."

– Jimmy Benedicto, GAWA Construction Worker/Supervisor

Resident of Bagong Silang, Caloocan

A Work of Heart

Today, the new villages are rising and in a few more weeks, the families will be able to move in. I ask them how they can do such extraordinary work, pushing themselves and challenging timelines even with unpredictable weather and a limited budget. With an allowance of only Php 500/week on ground (the rest of their pay goes directly to their families), it certainly calls for sacrifice. But to them, this is more than just a job. It’s their mission, and they want to pour everything to it.

Ernesto Raymundo, one of the first GK homeowners in Bagong Silang, Caloocan, says that he has found his purpose in being a GAWA construction worker. From experience, he knows that every new house he helps build is not just a house.

(Hindi ko iniintindi yung pagod, kasi alam ko na kung ano yung naramdaman ko dati nung binigyan ako ng bagong bahay at bagong buhay, yun din yung mararamdaman ng mga titira sa mga bahay na ito.)

"I no longer think about how difficult the work is. Because I know that what I experienced all those years ago when I was given a new house and a new life, that's also what these families will experience as soon as we finish their homes."

– Ernesto Raymundo, GAWA Construction Worker

GK Homeowner in Bagong Silang, Caloocan

The secret, they tell me, is seeing it as a work of heart. They love what they do, and they love Who they do it for. Tito Ping even remarked to me that they are like soldiers of God, always being sent to mission. Every time they finish a village, they know that this means a new life and renewed hope for the families who will live in it. To them, that’s more than enough.

When the Globe and Human Nature villages in Ormoc are finally completed and when the typhoon survivors finally get to move in, it’s highly likely that Tito Ping, Tito Jimmy, and Tito Ernesto won’t even be there. They probably won’t get to see the turnover ceremony and witness the sheer joy in the faces of the families as they first step foot inside those homes. They won’t be there because they will probably be in another site, building the next batch of houses for the next set of typhoon survivors.

These GAWA workers are the unsung heroes behind every new village that is built for the survivors of Typhoon Yolanda, and for many of our countrymen who still live in poverty. They show us that whether we’re a partner, a volunteer, a caretaker, a resident, or a construction worker, we each play a critical role in this mission of building communities and bringing hope to the darkest of places.

Everybody has a role to play in this extraordinary mission. Embrace yours.



True to our unrelenting fire to dream for the poor, GK continues to explore enterprising ways to engage the wealth of human resource in our communities. Through a program called
GAWA (Gawad Kalinga Accredited Workers Association), we aim to organize skilled and non-skilled workers from construction workers to linesmen — and prepare them for employment opportunities by building their character and skills. Inherent in this program is a vision of building an environment for the poor where there is dignity of labor, transforming them from becoming a 'burden' of society to contributors of a growing economy.

Exactly 5 months after Haiyan (Yolanda) wreaked havoc in the Philippines, GK is now on FULL BLAST with Yolanda reconstruction. Through the combined efforts and resources of partners, volunteers, GK workers and our very own residents, we have made significant headway in our roof repair, Balangay (fishing boats distribution) and housing reconstruction. Now we need YOU to help SCALE UP so we can each more families faster. FIND OUT HOW YOU CAN HELP.

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