Friday, June 11, 2010

Transforming Slums in the Philippines

I have never been to the slums of the Philippines. But just browsing for images to upload in this blog entry gave me a brief glimpse of the squalid conditions and the lives of the slum dwellers. Makeshift houses made from whatever they can find (from cardboard to zinc sheets), alley ways filled with dirty sloshy water up to the ankles, litter everywhere, no sanitation, no electricity.

[From BBC News] Family living under a bridge in Manila. Mother sleeps on the table, oblivious to the traffic noise above & around her.

Even so, it's hard to miss the smiles on the children's faces! Perhaps this is all they know? And I suspect many of them don't know what can be beyond this. They don't imagine life will be any different, or that they will get out of these circumstances, according to some interview footage I watched on YouTube.

What I feel we must never do as outsiders is to impose our values & perceptions of what life should be on these people. While our intentions are good, it sometimes irks me that we descend upon places like Cambodia & the Philippines and try to help the people in a condescending sort of way, like we are modern day Saviours, and they are beneficiaries of our kindness.

What struck me about what our guest Aileen Ong, Chair of GK Hope Initiative (GKHi), said is that the slum dwellers they work with in the Philippines are partners. GK's approach is to work with them and to treat them as equals. The lingo & vocabulary is often so revealing!

Aileen was so convinced about the "GK way" that she gave up a 30-year career as a music teacher to commit to this cause full-time. She downgraded to a smaller home and chose to lead a more modest lifestyle ~ with the support of her husband Albert & four kids, of course. In fact, her daughter Lisa often accompanies her to the slums.

Aileen Ong, Chair of GK Hope Initiative (GKHi) shares with us about her work in the slums of the Philippines.

GK is an acronym for Gawad Kalinga or "give care" in Tagalog. Its Singapore branch, GK Hope initiative (GKHi) achieved 'international charity organisation' status last year, and is now working to make Singapore a hub for the coordination of efforts in the region.

GK's mission is to transform slums into communities of hope. The slum dwellers themselves spend months building their own homes. A decent home there costs about S$2,000 to build, the cost of a laptop or designer bag here! Their vision is to touch 5 million families by 2024.

GK Tripura Hope Town Village: Brand new homes built by the community.

From June 25 to 27, there will be GK Global Summit held right here in Singapore where we'll see experts & activists from around the world congregating here to discuss solutions to eradicating poverty.

The outgoing Vice-President of the Philippines will be here, and the Minister for Community, Youth & Sports, Vivian Balakrishnan, the Guest of Honour. The theme of this Global Summit is Icon of Hope Against Poverty. To find out more or to register, click here.

There will also be a choir that will be coming to Singapore next weekend that you will not want to miss! They come from a small church in the slums of Manila. Aileen stumbled upon them quite by chance, and was mesmorised by their voices. She issued them a challenge: If they can achieve a Gold Award, she will get sponsors to bring them to Singapore.

The choir members, all children & teens, took up her challenge. They were up at 5am to rehearse, often in the open courtyard, in the blazing sun. And within 3 months, these children achieved a Gold Award for their performance. Yes, a slum choir!

The children of the Gawad Kalinga Tatalon Performing Arts group at the ASEAN Festival of the Arts 2009.

And so Aileen is now keeping her end of the bargain! Come Saturday, 19 June, they will be performing at The Arts House (Chamber) to a Singapore audience! *grin* You can check out event details here.

Do you see what I mean about Aileen? Never look down on people, even if the rest of the world does! They are equal in God's eyes and gifted as you & I are. And if we see their potential, believe in them, and raise the bar for them, they will invariably rise up to touch that bar we hold up for them!

Find out more about about the Gawad Kalinga Tatalon Performing Arts group here. And please support them if you can!

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