Surreal, simply surreal. On a small stage by a busy street in the heart of Boston, the national anthem of the Philippines was sung as the flag of the Philippines was raised. Witnessing this rite were hundreds of Filipinos who were proudly quietly celebrating their Independence Day.
This scene was happening in the plaza of the Boston Cambridge Marriot, host to the first GK Global Summit. Six hundred GK advocates and over one hundred volunteers from the Boston area converged to commit themselves to their people, to declare that there were Filipinos who would not give up on their own, who would commit themselves to be builders of dreams.
For a brief moment in time, Filipinos from the home land, from the United States, Canada and even from Singapore, “Filipinized” the Marriot, Harvard and MIT. From the way everyone sounded and looked, they seemed like scenes from Manila as there were more Filipinos than Americans. The hotel lobby, restaurants and function rooms became spots where Filipinos took over and where Americans seemed like tourists.
More than 230 years ago, Boston witnessed an act of defiance by Englishmen who had become settlers in America, an act now known as the Boston Tea Party. Last June 12 – 14, Boston witnessed another act of defiance, mostly by Filipinos who had become American citizens. The Boston Tea Party symbolized a determination for justice and independence, and strangely enough, the GK Global Summit symbolized a determination for the same.
Acknowledging the generous and valiant efforts of Filipino-Americans to match the work of local counterparts in building homes and communities in the Philippines, Gawad Kalinga chose to celebrate the Philippine Independence Day in Boston and use the occasion to send a powerful message to all Filipinos – that solidarity is possible, that hope is available, that honor is attainable.
The GK Global Summit was a grand reunion of people who came from different places and professions representing the multi-sectoral feature of a collective struggle to lift the impoverished out of their historical fate and the Filipino people out of their collective shame. Addressing the divisiveness and a lack of concern for poor Filipinos that had weakened and shamed us as a people, a band of patriots gathered to make a collective declaration of patriotism and heroism.
Special friends of GK attended the event to commit their continuing support, including individuals and families who have sponsored their own GK villages, partners from the corporate world and the academe, and representatives from the various branches and levels of government. Known personalities and public servants came, not just to be special guests of the event, but more as appreciative audience to ordinary Filipinos determined to take on extraordinary challenges.
It was an emotional weekend. For three days, delegates witnessed the progress of a work that began so innocently in a major relocation site where hundreds of thousands of informal settlers could not find the formula to transcend their poverty. With the help of determined volunteers, generous partners and a growing engagement with progressive public servants, Gawad Kalinga has become a beacon of hope for the millions of families that are enslaved by a historical poverty.
More than a format of community development, GK is turning out to be a powerful spirit of caring and empowerment, a way of relating to others, from the poor to those who help the poor. This has exemplified in several ways, from the way that local government officials have steered their towns and cities in a manner inspired by GK to the way that GK is establishing itself in Singapore, Columbia, India and Brazil without leaning on Filipinos or resources from Filipinos. They simply want to learn about the GK values and principles, and then the fundamental parameters in beginning to build relationships, homes and communities.
Many will have written about the GK summit in Boston by the time this article comes out. That is the way I wish it will be. Good news must sell if ever our people will have a clear sense of the power of hope and how the noble and inspiring can change people think, the way government governs. GK did invade Boston and has left many Filipino Americans there highly charged and eager to join the journey of nation building. GK’s 2024 vision presents a pathway towards lifting the poor out of poverty; it also presents a manner by which leadership is transitioned to the next generation.
The poor in the Philippines have found champions in all ages, if I am to assess the participants in the GK Global Summit who spanned three generations. Apparently, It was not enough for grandparents and parents to attend s the third generation of Filipino Americans were quite visible in the Marriot. And the spectrum of sympathizers for GK’s work will expand after a GK launch of an environmental shelter campaign in the United Nations last June 16, Tuesday.
It is difficult for words to capture the feelings that dominated the GK summit. This is made more so by the fact that each bone has a special story to tell. I will tell one, though, because it highlights the event for me.
When we were saying goodbye to one another after the event, I saw Celio Daculan, a GK advocate from Minnesota. His family and in-laws hosted me when I visited them last year to spread the GK movement. They were caring for a daughter who was being treated for cancer and I remember how touched I was when they had to shuttle between playing nurse to their child and host to me. I asked him how his daughter was and he told me that she had passed away just last March. I was shocked but Celio was serene.
I had seen how passionate he and his wife, Marian, were during the three miraculous days we had in the summit. I never suspected they were still recovering from a painful loss. Obviously, they found a deep meaning in the work where they are dedicating their lives. Or, they are offering their lives to a work where children of the poor may find a chance to live longer, to live better.
Celio and Marian are simple folks, but they are heroes to me.
“In bayanihan, we will be our brother’s keeper and forever shut the door to hunger among ourselves.”