Bound by the rich and culturally diverse history that we Filipinos have experienced over the centuries, our understanding of nationalism brought about by Independence Day has equally diversified. For the majority, it is viewed as a holiday—a time and opportunity to return home and spend time with family. For others, it is a time when due respect and patronage is given to our deceased forefathers, the very founders of our great nation today. The significance of Independence Day suggests something different and often forgotten, which is to recognize today’s true bayanis.
Gawad Kalinga, commonly known as GK, is a non-profit organization that supports, funds, and reconstructs communities throughout the Philippines. Along with the participation of numerous benefactors and funds for supplies, GK has promoted a community-oriented environment that aims for the goal of service and development. Through continuous support, GK has been able to significantly expand its help and support to more less fortunate communities. Recently, GK had launched The Bayani Challenge, a call for everyone to participate in the reconstruction of GK sites through building of homes. Xavier School, as a response to this call, sent 14 students and 8 teachers who volunteered to participate. The team was assigned to help in building in Gawad Kalinga Ticad, where Xavier donated 30 housing units now called the Pope Francis Village.
On June 8, 2014, the team arrived in Cebu City, and upon arrival, was transported to the northernmost Hagnayan Port for their ferry toward Bantayan Island. In cooperation with the local GK coordinators, the team was brought to the site and was introduced to the community living in the area. The GK Bantayan site sits upon a hill some distance from the Santa Fe Town Center. It acquires most of its day-to-day necessities from surrounding natural resources. Painted with distinctly vibrant colors, each house mimics the same amount of warmth and happiness that greeted the Xavier team to its community doors. The first day was devoted to interacting with the families whom the volunteers would be staying with. Immediately after arriving, the foster families welcomed both the student and teacher volunteers with hearty dinners and amazing stories. At the end of the day, all the volunteers went to bed feeling anxious and excited for the next day.
The volunteers were welcomed the next morning by the grueling heat and the difficult work that lay ahead. After a quick morning exercise, the team, which now included members of GK Ateneo who had arrived late the night before, decided to help out. There was also a group of Americans who came to help. The team was split into five groups, each to be assigned to do a certain task. While most of the volunteers were tasked to help around the GK site itself, one group was asked to help paint the local school, which was almost ten kilometers away. Those left at the construction site then proceeded to go about their assigned tasks until the need to move the cinder blocks proved too much for the small group assigned to that job. The resulting reaction was quite extraordinary. The majority of the team, as well as a few locals, and even more young children came together to form a human chain. This amazing show of unity and strength proved to be enough to overcome the task at hand as the moving of the cinder blocks proceeded at a much faster pace. This “human chain” then became a recurring theme throughout the entire experience. It became a movtivating factor in overcoming more ordeals and addressing larger, more difficult jobs. The day proceeded with the team having lunch together and was concluded by a small program prepared by the GK Ateneo team.
The second day followed the theme of the first one, with the volunteers being assigned different jobs and naturally coming together as a community to complete more difficult tasks. The tradition of sharing lunch with the other volunteers also brought along a sense of camaraderie among the team, one that was even strengthened more through the hardships they endured with each other. However, it was on the third and last day that working together as a community began to really affect the volunteers.
The morning of the last day came as a welcome surprise. The children of the community decided to be absent from their classes for the day, just to be able to send the volunteer team off. It was around this time that the volunteers really felt the warmth and hospitality that the community provided to them, and along with this was the realization that these people who possessed so little could give so much, while they themselves who had so much could only give so little. These people who have experienced so much hardship throughout their lives still somehow find it in themselves to spread love and joy rather than nurturing any bitterness they might have towards their current or past situations.
The real heroes aren’t the volunteers who took time out of their lives to help build houses. The real heroes are the families who, with open arms, welcomed the volunteers into the homes they have built with their own hands and gave of themselves so generously. They are the true bayanis who, despite all the hardhsips they have been through, continue to nurture a magnanimous spirit.