WYAAP Participates at the GK Bayani Challenge

It was through the World Youth Alliance (WYA) that I started working with Gawad Kalinga* (GK). As an organization of young people aiming to promote the Dignity of the Person, one of our tasks is to identify best practices in human-centered development. Around the world, our five regions research and immerse in different programs, hoping to find concrete projects that embody the ideas and values that we fight for at the United Nations and the European Parliament.


It would be a lie if I said that we signed up for the GK Bayani [Hero] Challenge just to support what we believe is a best practice. Honestly, the idea of building homes in Mindanao excited a lot of us. Most young people are up for any challenge. Most young people want to prove it to their peers, to themselves and to the world that they Can – regardless of what it is, most young people will take on a challenge and naively (or idealistically) say – Bring it On.


And that’s what we did.


WYA decided to form a team for this year’s GK Bayani Challenge. Donna, our team leader, was confident that she could round up a crew that would have the heart and the stamina to build a house in five days. We wanted to help. We wanted to be a part of something big – we wanted to contribute to the development of our country. We were more than aware that we had no skills, no brawn and that it would take a miracle for us to do anything correctly and efficiently, but we had heart and we were up for anything.


We arrive at Kitaotao, Bukidnon ready to build, ready to prove ourselves, ready for adventure. We were ready to make a difference.


As expected, we were inefficient. With or without our hardhats, we weren’t going to fool anyone. We were city kids, in scruffy clothing, attempting to build a house. Throughout the week, we were positive the men from the community were making bets on whether or not the girls in our group could work or not. Magpalitada, maghalo ng cemento, magicha ng mga naipon na bato pagkatapos magsift ng graba. Pero sabi naman ni Tatay Gibson kahit papano natututo naman kami. [To mix cement, to smoothen the walls, to sift the sand and gravel. Father Gibson told us that we learned well.] I don’t know if he just softened up to us and was being kind – or if he was sincere and we weren’t the liabilities we thought we were. I have to admit, our boys were doing much better. They were digging a septic tank. Six feet – each strike, each heave, each motion made to shovel the dirt and toss it out of the pit was packed with passion and the desire to get things done. The boys were set on digging their hole.


We came thinking that the challenge was to build a house in five days. We came thinking that if we complete our house, we would be the Bayanis we were expected to be. But really, much more was expected of us. The real challenge became more apparent as the week progressed. The challenge was not just to build houses but to build much more – character, relationships, a community, a nation. The real challenge is to be a Bayani [a Hero].


People make this big distinction between heroes and normal people. Actually, we make this distinction between heroes and living people. We have this notion that to be a Bayani you have to die for the country. Through our work, through the talks and through the relationships that we started to make, we came to realize that we don’t have to give up our lives in that sense to be a hero – but we did have to give a bit of ourselves. That isn’t an easy task.


Bawat Atenista Bayani. Bawat Filipino Bayani. Bawat Bata Bayani. [Each Ateneo Student is a heroes. Each Filipino is a Hero. Each child is a hero.] It looks good on the shirts. It sounded nice – But what does it mean?


Heroes are people who give much of themselves, extend themselves for the sake of another. Being a hero means opening up your heart to some pain, some discomfort, fear and frustration. Being a hero means accepting these hardships and overcoming them – because you know that it will allow you to grow, and allow another to grow as well. Being a hero really just asks us to do one thing – to love. And really, loving – truly loving is one of the hardest things a person can do. But it is also the one thing we are all called to do.


Upon reaching the fifth day in Bukidnon, we were still far from completing our house (although we did have a pretty sweet septic tank). Five days was not enough to learn how to build a sturdy house – but it was enough time for us to learn to open our hearts.


When one speaks of development, the focus is always on the economic level. There is always talk of infrastructure, productivity, money, GNP and GDP – all of which are immensely important – but we hardly hear of heroism, we hardly hear of love. If we look deeper into the field of development, if we look deeper into poverty, we come to realize that it is more than just numbers, platforms and policies. Development deals with the lives of people – and before one can truly help in addressing the needs of others, one has to get to know whoever it is he is helping. We have to open our hearts and listen, understand and accept. Building a peaceful and just society won’t happen when our economy rises – it begins when we start recognizing the worth, the humanity, the dignity of each person.


The challenge to be a Bayani is a challenge to love. I have heard many wise people say repeatedly that we are all born to love, but are not born lovers – and I agree. We continuously strive to love – to grow and to allow those we care for to grow as well. Loving is a continuous struggle for us to be who we ought to be. It is a choice that we continue to make throughout our lives. Being a hero is being the best that one can be, being who we ought to be.


All of this is a bunch of rhetoric. Kind of like how experts and academe speak of development at universities or international institutions – except I don’t even know if I’m even making sense. I’d like to think I have understood these concepts of dignity, of Being, of giving and loving… but in a twisted way, I feel like I have made it seem more complicated than it really is. The beauty and simplicity of being, giving and loving was manifested in Bukidnon. It is here that we learned how to live it.

WYA AP has identified Gawad Kalinga as a best practice in human-centered development. The 3rd GK Bayani Challenge was help last April 2008 in Bukidnon, Mindanao (Philippines). The WYA Team was composed of Donna de Jesus, Nicole Bacolod, Michael Go, Joey Uy, Paw Makina, Jimmy Yau, Miiya Babaran, Dianne de Jesus, Nuel de Jesus, Christian Doroin, Marj David, Yusoph Mama, Kaye Avellana, Sammy Sy and Tamara Tan.