SCHAUMBURG, Illinois (JGL) – Tony Meloto, the miracle worker, who transformed slums into beautiful communities, squatters into proud homeowners and kaingeros into stewards and protectors of the forest, no doubt, shares the dream of Jose Rizal that the youth is the fair hope of the motherland.
And when the silver-haired Meloto, founder of Gawad Kalinga (GK) Community Development Foundation, Inc., spoke before volunteers at the 12th anniversary of GK, A Night of Thanksgiving & Looking Forward Dinner, on Nov. 16 at Chandler’s Banquets and Grill in Schaumburg, Illinois), he cast his lot more on the expatriate children of overseas Filipinos who can help turn Rizal’s dream into reality.
Conjuring images of a popular “give-a-man-a-fish-and-you-feed-him-for-a day; teach-man-to-fish-and-you-feed-him-for-a-lifetime” proverb, Meloto tells America “to help us not to send money but to send the best and the brightest students from the U.S. and the children of Filipino Americans and make Philippines prosperous and remove the shame of coming from a third world country.”
Perhaps, aware that during the early American colonial period of the Philippines, when the U.S. funded the scholarship of scores of Filipino students called “pensionados” to educate them of the U.S. Government system so that upon their return to the Philippines, they would administer the government in the same fashion, Meloto believes that if the second generation of Filipino Americans who obtained Ivy League education will return to the Philippines, they can sustain and improve the growth and developments now unfolding in their motherland.
He said, “32 universities from France are sending students to the Philippines to develop our chocolate and coffee, essential oil, rubber, dairy, etc. French produce 400 different types of cheese. They want our growth potential. We import cheese. Four percent of our dairy products come from Singapore although Singapore has no cows. We grow cacao; we sell our cacao beans to Dutch traders, who sell these to Belgians and Swiss producers and Filipinos buy the finished products. Send us your sons and daughters in Philippines so they will produce the finished products.”
GK NOW GENERATING JOBS
Meloto, named by France as Social Entrepreneur of the World and Reader’s Digest Top 4 Most Trusted Filipino in 2010, said the GK program is now generating “jobs; your charity (contributions) that you sent us are invested in the Philippines; a lot no longer charity but investment in developing all industries. We have now the first farm village university in the world. We relocated 5,000 families from Manila to Bulacan. We are now building communities, universities and building industries; from Carmelray, 150 families were relocated by GK, now its employees are getting double the minimum wage.”
If the Philippine industries can double the salaries overseas Filipino workers receive in Saudi Arabia and in Singapore, he said, “We don’t have to separate families; ang sayaw-sayaw ninyo dito (your dance fund-raising sessions here) ten years ago had turned dividends. They had produced villages and we are en route to become a prosperous nation.”
Meloto said the GK spirit had gone viral. “The GK virus has become very contagious as one of the board members, (Dr.) Charlie Capati, of GK would tell his story; open your hearts and be mindful of your kababayans in the Philippines and tell story and open your wallets.”
He urged the first generation Filipino Americans not only to visit the Philippines but to invest in the Philippines, which is having “competitive markets, pass your genes to your children, and be the best of America and be the best for the Philippines, pauwin niyo na sila (tell them to go home not just for immersion) or foreigners will take over.”
The crowd was jolted by the story of San Diego, California native Anthony Olaes, CEO and chairman of the board of GK-USA, who told them that “my parents told me ‘you are an American.’ But when I look at myself in a mirror, I’m brown; why am I not white?
‘Be white. You don’t have to speak Tagalog, you are in America now. And I have 200 family members in San Diego.”
But what electrified the crowd was the introduction of a white guy, Thomas Graham, who warmed up with, “Kumain ka na ba? Oo. Mabuti. (Have you eaten already? Yes. That’s good.) None of you speak like I do. Walang iwanan. (Nobody should be left behind). I was doing stories in London (England) as a business reporter and covered Europe, South America and Africa.”
STAYED IN THE PHILIPPINES
He visited the Philippines on a short-term assignment in 2012. Challenged and inspired by GK vision to eradicate poverty by 2024, he quit his job and spent a year travelling to GK communities and wrote his experience in a book, “The Genius of the Poor” (Oct. 2014). Graham said, “I saw the Philippines as a land of opportunity, growing three times faster than Britain when U.S. economy was low; with rapid economic growth.
“After one day of GK immersion (with his Dad), I asked, Dad, what do we do tomorrow? Snorkeling? Take a walk on a beach? Son, take me to another GK village.”
Meloto said Thomas just caught the GK bug; And he has just fallen in love with a Filipina, who could possibly be his business partner. Thomas is now working in close collaboration with GK and GK Enchanted Farm to promote social tourism in the Philippines and a co-founder of a recent social enterprise, MAD Travel.
Thomas story is close to the heart of Meloto, who recalled Thomas’ fellow Londoner, computer games company owner Dylan Wilk, who came to Chicago ten years ago to attend the National Association of Filipino American Association (NaFFAA) conference and pledged $100,000 to help alleviate the poverty in the Philippines after selling his expensive car.
“Dylan came here,” Meloto said, “gave up his life in England, after donating more than 700 homes in Philippines. It was not really the money but his decision to leave England and live in Philippines, and that was 10 years ago.”
A GK house costs US$3,800 to build and individuals, groups and organizations that came up with the funds can dedicate the house to whomever they wish.
“The 700 homes was really an advanced dowry (to me by Dylan). He met my daughter. He is now my son in law. I have now four ‘apocinos’ (grandchildren). My daughter is pregnant for the fifth time.”
“But Dylan’s decision was not just a blink of an eye.” He told me, “I cannot go back to England, and I have fallen in love with the Philippines, GK, and your daughter. I almost fell in my chair; I told him it was not part of the deal; For GK, you are Godsend. I really did not know that they had met. GK is work of God; you are Godsend; stay away from my daughter (for six months). You cannot write a letter without giving me a copy of the email; after six months, he came to us and said he had ‘done my part.’ Two months later, Tom found a Filipina in the Philippines.
“WORK OF GOD”
“In this night of grace, this work of GK is the work of God. It cannot be done by one person. Think of it this way, what brought you here on a snowy day to drive even if you are a senior citizen? We realize that God has blessed the sacrifice of many Filipinos who came to America; the best doctors, nurses came to America.”
Although the Philippines suffered a setback last year because of Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda), the Philippines would have surpassed the GDP (gross domestic product) of China.
He said according to HSBC (Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation), the Philippines is seen as the 60th biggest economy in 30 years, along with China, India, South Korea and Indonesia. Money does not just stay in few families; Lord will take to heaven many of our corrupt leaders; corruption will end and the world is becoming transparent because of social media; young people will no longer allow corruption.”
GK funded 2,923 houses, of which 70% (2,041 units) are under construction, for the victims of Typhoon Yolanda. It plans to raise funds to build 3,000 houses more by the end of 2015; provided nutritious meals to 3,652 kids and to address hunger for 50,000 children at the end of 2015; and distributed 797 Balangay boats that will be doubled by the end of 2015.
About 70,000 families (344,000 homeless Filipinos) have now been provided “roofs” by GK, which aims to end poverty for five million Filipinos by 2024.
Herminio T. de Guia, Jr., GK Chicago Area Coordinator, welcomed the guests while Consul General Generoso D.G. Calonge delivered remarks. Honey Joy Pacursa sang the national anthems of the U.S. and the Philippines and “Isang Mundo, Isang Awit” while Josie Disterhoft and Dr. Zita Yorro launched the $100,000 campaign. Broadcast journalist Janelle So emceed the program.