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Building a Community

Building a CommunityEight members of the Filipino Cultural Society and the Leonard Carmichael Society spend their spring break learning the value of community building.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [04.21.09] This spring break eight members of the Filipino Cultural Society  and the Leonard Carmichael Society traded their alarm clocks and indoor plumbing for rooster crows and bucket bathing, for a hands-on experience in community building.

Working with the organization Gawad Kalinga (GK), the students not only helped lay the foundation and build three cement bricked homes, they contributed to the organization's goal of building a nation.

"Over the past few years we have focused a lot on cultural events, so this year we really wanted to do some humanitarian work," says Yilun Li (A'10), FCS's community service office chair.

Spending the summer researching what they could do, Li uncovered information about GK, meaning "to give care," an organization that began out of the Philippines and has now spread throughout Southeast Asia, with a local chapter in Boston. Backed by the Clinton Initiative, GK's goal is not just to build homes, but to lay the foundations of a community, providing its members with education, health care and self-confidence training.

"There is a lot of work in community value formation," Li says. "What they do is take the poorest of the poor and they put them through a series of rigorous interviews, explaining the importance of putting in sweat equity for their neighbors and themselves, in the hopes of building a community rid of poverty."

Started in 1995 by Couples for Christ, GK's original goal was to rehabilitate juvenile gang members and help out-of-school youth in the Philippines. Since, then, the group has evolved into a movement for nation -building, transforming the poverty-stricken areas of the Philipines with the goal of building 700,000 homes in seven years. To date, GK has worked with over 900 communities all over the Philippines and in other developing countries.

Upon their arrival in the Philippines, the group started their trip with a before- and- after tour of GK villages currently in the works.


"We walked through an area that was basically all slums, and it was next to a river which they had used to dispose of their trash, so everything was very unsanitary," says trip co-coordinator Doris Lo (A'11). "Then we walked into a mostly complete section of the GK village area and it was a total change. There were roads between houses, everything was colorful and cheery and the people were so welcoming, letting us into their houses and showing us around."

Arriving at their goal location of Batangas, the group worked from sunup to sundown with members of the community, mixing cement, stacking bricks and working on landscaping.

"We would get up at about 5 a.m., eat, build until lunch, eat, build until 3 p.m., have a snack and then build again until 6 p.m.," Lo says. "We would have dinner, and then until 9 p.m., when we would go to bed, we were surrounded by children. This village doesn't get a lot of outside visitors so you could see how much us being there meant to them."

"None of the community members knew which house would be theirs in the end so it gave them the incentive to give the same amount of effort and attention to detail to each house, helping toward GK's mission of community building," Li says.

For Sandi Tang (A'09), the build site was an inspiration.

"A quick survey around the area and I realized that there really were only about three shovels, one tiny rusted saw, and three buckets," Tang says. "To step back and realize that the entire village was built with these tools was incredible to me."

Aside from building, two of the days the group participated in community workshops with the 150 children from the village, teaching them dental hygiene and running exercise programming. For one of the workshops, the group donated some balls so that the village children could play sports. "We didn't really think much of it," says Lo. "But you could tell it just meant so much and it made us wish we could do more."

At days end, each member experienced the benefits this process had to offer as they returned to their host homes, where they were surrounded by laughter, singing and engulfed by a sense of community.

"We were told that most volunteers stay in area hotels and only come in during the day to work and leave at night," Lo says. "Staying with a host family really made all the difference and solidified the experience."

By the end of their trip, the group built three houses and dozens of relationships with community members, some of which they now keep in touch with through Facebook.

"They have hard lives and yet I found no bitterness, regret or jealousy," said Kara Takasaki (A'11) in her trip reflection. "They were honest and matter of fact about the way things were and truly found joy and laughter in simple and basic things."

Story by Kaitlin Provencher. Photos courtesy of FCS/LCS.


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