Last December 6, 2015 Xavier School sent a group of high school students, accompanied by Ms. Chaveli Ventosa and Mr. Roland Dela Cerna, to Nueva Ecija to participate in the Gawad Kalinga St. Joseph’s build. The Gawad Kalinga program proper provides an avenue for people to help out those in need of shelter to stay in by helping them build their own residences. This event was meant to help build homes for the people there, while also providing a sustainable way to ensure a self-perpetuating cycle of giving.
The reason why our visit to GK St. Joseph’s was so significant to us was because here we were able to experience firsthand what it was like to build a house in the conditions that the Gawad Kalinga organization goes through themselves. We had to lift heavy pails of concrete, toss chunks of rock through filters, shovel piles of soil into wheelbarrows, all under the scorching heat of the Philippine sun.
While this experience was grueling, make no mistake, and many of us were complaining of sore backs and arms by the next day, it was a sobering experience to realize that the volunteers that work for Gawad Kalinga go through these laborious tasks every single day. It placed our trivial concerns into perspective, especially in light of the fact that some of the workers there did not even have homes themselves.
Thus, this experience allowed us to build character in a way that no other experience could have, allowing us to appreciate the work that manual laborers do every day and doing away with the mindset that these people are worthless.
Moreover, as Xaverians living in the utmost comfort, it is so easy to be detached and unaware of the realities of the world and that is why GK St. Joseph was so significant to us. Aside from the gruesome but character-building and manual aspect of GK, we had time to interact with the people living in the houses which was a surprisingly eye-opening experience. Through it we were taught the true essence of happiness as well as to regard the poor not as a single narrative, but rather, as humans with difficulties that weren’t so different from our own.
It also helped us be able to understand their situation, so different from our view that the poor are always suffering all the time. Rather, we were able to learn that these poor people were able to find happiness despite their difficulties, being able to find the simple pleasures in a seemingly hopeless situation. This was staggering for us, pampered Xaverians as we are, since it taught us that it was possible to enjoy life without having all the high-tech gadgets that we are so used to. They even told us that they were much happier in the GK village than they had been in their previous experience, which really put into perspective the suffering that these people must have had to go through.
All in all, the GK St Joseph’s build was everything you would expect it to be: tiring, sweat-inducing, and a sure way to a sore body. However, aside from that, it was also a philosophical and eye-opening journey towards a greater sense of awareness and happiness. It allowed us to understand the plights of these individuals, to break bread with them and to take part in their lives as we never would have been able to otherwise. Despite the physical and mental pain brought onto us by the onslaught of manual labor and ruined shoes, Gawad Kalinga truly was an experience made worth it by the friendships and insights forged that would last a lifetime.
We arrived at the Gawad Kalinga build site that morning as proud volunteers who had sacrificed their Sunday for the benefit of the community. When we made our departure that afternoon, however, we were left with the staggering realization that what we had done paled in comparison to the countless sacrifices, the toils, labors, and sufferings that the volunteers and residents in the village went through day after day.