My experience with the Civic Welfare Training Service program
(NOTE: President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. and Vice President Sara Duterte-Carpio has been very vocal about their plan to introduce the Reserve Training Corps or ROTC program as a mandatory subject for senior high school (SHS).
While the debate about the pros and cons of making ROTC a required subject for SHS students will surely drag on for the near future, the implementation of the National Training Service Program (NSTP) for college students has often been ignored.
The enactment of Repuclic Act 9163 in 2002 paved the way for the creation of the NSTP. There are three choices that college students can choose from to fulfill the NSTP program: the ROTC, the Civic Welfare Training Service (CWTS), and the Literacy Training Service or LTS.
How many times have we heard of people talking about eliminating poverty when they never went out of their way to witness it first-hand? Sometimes, it pays to move out of the confines of privilege (e.g. exclusive schools, luxurious bars, or extravagant coffee shops) to meet real people. Doing a volunteer work for Gawad Kalinga (GK) provided me with this rare opportunity.
As we all know, G.K has built homes for millions of homeless individuals in hundreds of communities across the nation since its conception in 2003. In giving decent homes to the homeless, Gawad Kalinga has been able to restore dignity to millions of human lives. This endeavor has brought out the best in us Filipinos – particularly the spirit of bayanihan.
We in the UP College of Mass Communication were tasked to do volunteer work for Gawad Kalinga for this Summer term in fulfillment of the Civic Welfare Training Service class requirement. We were sent to the GK Brookside community in Bagong Silangan, Quezon City. It was hailed as a designer’s village because it used to be a GK showcase community for others across the country to emulate.
I said “it used to be” because the once-admired village has seen steady physical deterioration over the past years. Aside from that, the community has also lost morale and the bayanihan spirit as well. As one resident put it, “nag kanya-kanya na kasi eh.” Aside for the task of giving the community a face lift, we also have to exert our best effort in trying to fire-up the people’s spirit again.
Before we started with the job, we have to lay the groundwork first. We toured the community and met the kapitbahayan (the neighborhood) on the first day of the tour of duty. As we were doing house-to-house visits like a typical candidate, you can feel their initial reluctance to talk to us. Later on, one resident confided to me that there were something that bothers them from fully interacting with us – and they are those students who we commonly refer to as “konyo.”
Anyway, there are those in our group that were very willing to talk to them, me included. It is very important for the members of the community to interact with us because they are the ones who know what their needs are. Gradually, our to-do list expanded – it now included home repainting, canal rehabilitation (if that’s the right word) and a little bit of landscaping. As we prepared for the work ahead, something unexpected happened.
In an unbelievable turn of events, some residents began sharing their life stories to some of us. Some recounted to me how they lived prior to being given a home in this GK community. There’s this isaw vendor who recounted to me that her family were just lowly garbage scavengers in Payatas dump site and in the elite homes of New Manila, Quezon City.She frankly told me that her eldest daughter, who’s age is 16, would most likely not enter college because of her dire financial situation. These stories makes me sad because I have seen that a quality education is the key towards a bright future. Since the doors of college had been shut, can we still expect this girl to have a life away from poverty?
Meanwhile, I have also talked to other residents who have lived in other depressed communities across Quezon City like Munoz and Don Antonio in Commonwealth. They have told me how thankful they were for the home Gawad Kalinga gave them. This only goes to show that giving the poor a decent home is tantamount to giving them a new lease on life.
Aside from sharing their humble beginnings, some residents also told me about the struggle they face everyday to make both ends meet. The families living in Sta. Clara St. usually rely on a single family breadwinner – typically the father. More often than not, they work as irregular construction workers earning the minimum wage. For them, it is not only ”No work-no pay” but “No work-no pay-no dinner” as well. To compound the problem, I have interacted with mothers who still managed to have eight kids (she’s not just one!). Among the residents, there’s a story of a housewife which really inspired me – the story of Mrs. Jennifer Jerusalem.
She never got to enter college and in fact, she candidly admitted that she has no birth certificate. I became close to her because she has been assigned as the leader of the Sta. Clara St. kapitbahayan and in that capacity, we students have to maintain regular contacts with her throughout our work. Even though she has an educational handicap, she was able to do many things that even our national leaders can’t. It is the ability to lead the residents and unite the community in order to accomplish what needs to be done.
A good example is when we in the group were already in the process of raising money to buy paints for the repainting task. To our surprise, she has already spearheaded the effort to make the Sta. Clara community involved by collecting donations of as small as Php 25.00 to augment our resources. If you think about it, Php 25.00 is no small amount for a family that earns less than Php 200.00 in a given day. In the end, she was able to gather more than Php1,000 – enough to buy three gallons of paint.
Together, everyone achieves more indeed! Whenever I see her two kids, particularly her 6 year old daughter Ronalyn, I can’t help but admire Mrs. Jerusalem for being able to raise such a young achiever! At a young age, you can see the child’s potential to finally help her family break away from the chains of poverty. You can see that with proper education, Ronalyn has a bright future ahead.
May 12, 2008 – this was our last day in the community! We have repainted almost all the houses around and on this day, we had a farewell party involving the community which we have learned to love over the past few weeks. The residents there can’t thank us UP students enough for what we have done for them.
The Farewell Party came to an abrupt end at around 2:30 that afternoon as the strong rain began to pour. The rain quickly became stronger over the next few minutes and for me at that time, the only logical thing to do was to let the rain stop. However, Mrs. Marife Flores, a resident of Sta. Clara who I will always remember for giving me free lunch said to me:
“’Wag sasama ang loob mo sa akin ah, pero kung ako sa ‘yo aalis na ako dito dahil baka magkabaha at hindi ka pa makauwi.” I heeded her advice reluctantly and about ten minutes after I left the place, a flash flood ravaged the GK Brookside Community – particularly Sta. Clara since it is unfortunately located besides the creek that caused all the havoc.