The WYA attracts young people who are in search for something â in search for the truth, themselves, and their place in the world. We work hard to understand and defend the dignity of the human person in policy. The UN has been the battlefield for many a debate on the needs of the person and this attracts many of our members. We dream of being at the center of this powerful institution, and being a part of the movement. We train hard to understand what it means to be human, to understand the needs of each person and the programs and policies that affect us, particularly those living in poverty.
Thousands of miles away, across the Pacific, WYA members fight the same battle but on a different field. WYAAP has committed to working with Gawad Kalinga (GK), an organization that works to recreate slum areas into beautiful productive communities. Last week the Viviamo! Project team in Asia Pacific spent four days and three nights at Zontaville, a Gawad Kalinga (GK) village in Mandaluyong City, Metro Manila.
We went on immersion to prepare ourselves for our partnership with GK. We wanted to learn more about the organization, how they worked, and with whom they worked. We wanted to get to know a community that has benefited from their program. But most importantly, we all just wanted to be involved and do something concrete to help.
We were to live with former slum dwellers, people who have lived most of their lives in poverty. We were to live with the very people we aim to help and interact with them at the most personal level possible. And we did. We lived in their community, ate, played, sang, worked with them. We listened to their stories – of how they lived in depressed areas, with no roof over their heads, no food in their stomachs, no assurance of where their next meal will come from. These stories were not new to us. We have heard their stories. In fact, the statistics and the programs set up to solve their problems are all familiar to us. We have seen their pictures on websites, seeing them as we drive past the informal settlements that sprout up all over the metropolis. We hear of them, we read about them and we fight for them. But rare are the moments that we stop, sit and actually get to know them.
On our last night there, I thanked the community for welcoming us into their homes, their families, and their group of friends. I thanked them for sharing their lives with us â even if it was but a few days. It is a very big part of Filipino culture to give all that you have to your guests, and the residents of Zontaville gave all that they had and more. They gave us a chance to see beyond the statistics and into their hearts. We got to know them as people â people who breathe, think, love and feel. They became our friends.
GK has a slogan inviting us all to become Mga Bayani ng Bayan (Heroes for the Country). We came because we wanted to be heroes. We wanted to help. We wanted to share our time and whatever skills we had with these people â to do something concrete for the betterment of our society. And in our own little ways we did. We came to build houses â and we ended up building more â homes, relationships and the hope for a better future. We may have been given the chance to become heroes â but the highlight was meeting the real heroes – the fathers who work two jobs to make ends meet, mothers who choose not to eat so that their children can, older siblings who stop going to school to work so that the younger kids can finish their education.
The work of the Alliance goes beyond policy. It is just as important, if not more important to promote the dignity of the person in culture, in our everyday lives, with each person we encounter. We take pride in training young people to understand and articulate the dignity of the person, but it is GK that is teaching us how to live it.