Though I have been to only a fraction of Gawad Kalinga (GK) villages (if you are not sure what GK is check out Building Houses With Hope)(GK builds homes for the poorest of the poor in the Philippines giving people not only a living structure but a new perspective on life with an attitude to succeed), the Iriga Character village in the Bicol region of the Philippines was an astonishing example of how improvements are feasible in the midst of poverty.
I caught a 1.5 hour bus from Naga City to the sleepy and ultra humid bus terminal in Iriga City. A local volunteer with GK accidentally but essentially bumped into me at the terminal and was heading in the same direction towards the village and let me tag along. The GK Character village is located roughly 20 minutes (7 km) from the Iriga City proper (rather difficult to find if you are a newbie). It is accessible by riding the Filipino version of a tuk-tuk, known as the tricycle (a motorcycle with a makeshift pedicab welded together with somewhat of a bike tire making up the third wheel, and in Bicol they fit 10-12 riders, I still don’t know how it is engineering-ly possible, but somehow it works).
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I was greeted by smiling people and happy children, willing to show me around their village even if they did not feel comfortable speaking English or talking at all. Being rainy season, it was raining, and one of the boys from the village took the liberty to find an umbrella and personally carried it above my head as we walked up the hill for the view of the village, the flowers, and the dominating Mt. Iriga in the background.
Just as in being Immersed in Payatas, GK Jack and Jill, and GK Libmanan (all GK village sites), the folks at GK Character village were hospitable, willing to share everything, and genuinely cared for my concerns. They were willing to listen to any questions I had.
A homeowner, Tita Norma (who was always cheerful, far right), graciously provided me with meals and cooked a glorious array of fresh Bicolano garden produced vegetables in fresh coconut milk and rice. For breakfast I was treated to a dazzling mix of various wonderful tasting Filipino breakfast dishes such as fried noodles with vinegar, fried rice, egg, and Filipino pancake. Just like in Bangkok where little things make a difference, and Bali with the house of life, together with In Search of Sanuk founder Dwight, I was inspired again by the graciousness of people who have very little but are happy and willing to share what they do have. An immersion into a local persons home if it be in the Philippines or anywhere else in the world is valuable exposure to a different way of life. If we can strive to have a positive attitude, we can retain a better judgment and an improved knowledge of passing wonderful time while encouraging and pushing fellow humans in a positive direction. Often it is little unspoken things such as merely spending time visiting, joking around (Filipinos love to joke and laugh), listening to stories, and showing appreciation for what others do that will uplift someone as well as yourself. In the words of one of my favorite philosophers Alain de Botton in his book the Art of Travel– “If is is true that love is a pursuit in others of qualities we lack in ourselves, then in our love of someone from another country, one ambition may be to weld ourselves more closely to values missing from our own culture.” Let us be thankful for what we have, grateful for what we can do, and happy for the life we have. There is no better place to learn this than in a GK village where people have little but are usually content and excited with what they do have. -Migration Mark
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