The Genius of the Poor: A Journey with Gawad Kalinga

The Genius of the Poor, Thomas Graha

Author: Thomas Graham

Title: The Genius of the Poor: A Journey with Gawad Kalinga

Publisher: Art Angel Printshop Commercial Quests Inc.

The Genius of the Poor

The Genius of the Poor documents author, Thomas Graham’s, journey to understand how the community development organisation Gawad Kalinga (to give care) (GK) is working with the poor and the rich to end poverty in the Philippines.

He spent a year travelling to and visiting with various GK communities in the Philippines and in Indonesia to see GK’s work in action. He also spoke to GK beneficiaries and partners to find out how its philosophy translates to its work on the ground.

While the book tells the stories of the different types of communities, it also highlights the stories of GK workers and volunteers who give of their time.

From full-time GK workers Issa and Bai Linda whose stories are part of GK lore, to Doc Helen, (p.62) a medical practitioner, who works in a neighbouring village but has visited the GK Sacred Heart Village in Davao, Mindanao every day for the last six years helping to educate the women in basic healthcare and hygiene.

She is also someone whose continued and ongoing presence lets the community know that people outside of the community care about them.

In spite of Doc Helen’s ongoing presence she worries about the future of the people and their children, she worries about access to jobs and education.

As someone who took part in a GK Study Tour in 2013, that was one of the questions that I also had.

Visiting a GK village in rural Nueva Ecija, in 2013, it was very easy as an outsider (and everyone knows it’s easy to be a helicopter observer) to observe the structural inequalities in the Philippines that kept people in poverty.

I observed that GK did actually work with the poorest of the poor and provide them with houses, but this also meant that the reasons they were poor still existed, lack of education and lack of a job, or lack of well-paid, long-term and sustainable work.

Some of the men in the village worked in the nearby rice fields that were owned by a big estate, some of the women made wigs that were sold overseas.

Other people in the village left their families there while they went to work in large towns that were many hours away or even overseas to Dubai.

One reason they could leave their families was because they knew that they would be safe and cared for in a GK community.

While we were in the community, one of the mothers told the visitors that her family would not be able to afford to send their children to high school because they could not afford the cost of transport to the high school.

There is a Sibol school in the village (3-6 years) and a primary school nearby but the secondary school involves the use of some form of transport.

GK is very well aware of these concerns and Thomas also writes about the need for opportunities for the poor that take them out of poverty.

Thomas writes that Gawad Kalinga, founder, *Tito Tony Meloto’s vision is for large scale enterprises to partner with the poor in order to get them out of poverty.

Every year GK hosts a Social Business Summit at which entrepreneurs, people from all over the world, come together to discuss ideas to tackle poverty through social enterprise.

In his book, Thomas mentions some of the social enterprises that are part of GK communities.

But Tony Meloto also wants people, especially the young to engage with the poor and partner with them.

With that goal in mind, the GK Enchanted Farm at Bulacan operates as an experimental hothouse where young people can come and work with villagers to see whether their ideas could work in practice.

Thomas also writes about the transformation that takes place within individuals and within communities but he also emphasises that, “On each occasion the key to this transformation was the presence and partnership of others, who came alongside the lost and marginalised and gave them the confidence and belief to rebuild their lives.” (p.128)

He emphasises that the poor cannot get out of poverty by themselves, it is a long process and it is very easy to fall back into poverty through continuing natural disasters and life’s many very real convolutions.

It is a tribute to Thomas that he managed not only to visit the Philippines and travel to the various GK communities but that he also managed to write a book about his experiences and journey.

Many people visit GK and many have the intention of writing/talking/explaining/publishing information about GK, but people often find that they cannot explain GK’s philosophy in a way that makes sense and that often their own life gets in the way of their intentions.

While GK’s emphasis on love and continued presence is at one level easy to explain, the reality of the ongoing commitment of volunteers and the quite structured way that GK works is somewhat harder to explain.

It is a tribute to Thomas that he has taken all the bits of GK and managed to tie them into a coherent whole.

What happened to Thomas at the end of his journey?

Did he continue with his privileged life as a globe-trotting journalist?

Well, actually, he is in the process of starting his own social business MAD Travel  – Make a Difference Travel – connecting the ‘bewildered rich’ with the enterprising poor.

© Suganthi Singarayar

 * Tito means Uncle

Disclosure: Suganthi Singarayar is a volunteer with Gawad Kalinga Australia

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