Luis Oquinena, Executive Director of GK International, spoke at the Plenary Session of the GK Global Summit in Toronto Canada on 9 June this year aboutthe need for long-term strategies for poverty alleviation and the realities of life on the ground. He said that when a simple meal is almost impossible to find, then it’s difficult to talk about building a nation or changing and transforming a community.

The Philippines is prone to natural disasters and massive resources are spent on rescue efforts, Mr Oquinena pointed out that in the last seven years the Philippines has been hit by major typhoons – including Typhoon Frank in 2008, and Typhoon Onday in 2009, a landslide in 2006 in southern Leyte caused by heavy rains and a minor earthquake, and this year typhoon Sendon. Thousands of lives were lost in those disasters. The challenge, he said, for GK and the whole global community was how to rescue families before their lives were lost. At what point he asked, can governments be influenced to relocate families into areas that will not be as badly affected?

Looking to the future, he said that [in the next few years] the Filipino population will grow to over a 100 million – 50 percent of whom will be under 22 and mired in poverty.

He said that the Goliath that GK is now facing is how you can build an aspiration to dream and aspire to a better Philippines that can compete globally. In order to do that he said, you need to be able to bring that aspiration to the grass roots, otherwise it would have no impact. He said that the Global Financial Crisis had had no effect on the GK sites because as it was pointed out to him “We have been in crisis for the last 40 years”. He said the people who were panicking were the rich and the middleclass - the majority of Filipinos were not panicking because their life was in constant crisis.

After Typhoon Ondoy, Mr Oquinena said that a study by the government showed that over half a million families who had been on their way out of poverty had been downgraded back to where they were 5 years ago.

Mr Oquinena pointed out that it was not easy being on the ground; dealing with the loss of life and the trauma that results from natural disasters and the daily crises that are normal parts of life for the poor. He also said that because GK received so many awards and accolades it waseasy to become complacent. One challengethat GK had, he said, was breaking that complacency, but being on the frontline had a way of dealing with that complacency.

Mr Oquinena gave some examples of the villages that GK is working with:

GK Lorega in Cebu

This community is located in a cemetery where according to Mr Oquinena, there are more living than dead.  A 3 storey, 64 unit medium rise building which is just 3 months old is located in GK Lorega. Mr Oquinena said that he spoke to one family who told him that for the first time they have an address, before they had never been able to put down a physical address even when filling out birth certificates.

The owner said that he had almost been disqualified from owning a home, because when asked to fill out a form in which he described their home, he was asked for a description of the floor,and he had said marble!!

GK Condoville

Mr Oquinenapaid a surprise visit to this village – something he does quite often, because he said in an official visit, you get a band, a big welcome and lots of food.On a surprise visit, you turn up very early in the morning and get pandesal and 3 in 1!

On this visit, the man he spoke to said, “We have a community, it’s not perfect and life is still difficult. Life is still hard, but I don’t feel poor anymore”.

Mr Oquinena said being in a community brought about societal transformation.

Sulu, Mindanao

Mr Oquinena said three years ago, GK took 200 volunteers to the Philippines.

He said: Some of them were Australians and we asked them, “Did you get a pass from your parents”?

The said, “Yes, we told them that we are going to Davao”.

“Well”, he said, “Davao is in Mindanao but it is not Sulu. This was at the height of the Red Cross kidnappings. We built 30 houses in Sulu. There are 4 GK communities in Sulu”.

“I was talking to this old lady and I could see that she felt bad and I thought that it was because she wasn’t a beneficiary”.

She said: “I’m poor but I am crying because you entrusted your lives to us. I never thought that non-Muslims trusted Muslims in this country anymore. It is such a big thing for me”.

“When people from a different region will take risks to demonstrate that he or she is part of our community, to me that’s nation building,it’s as simple as that. Sometimes we complicate nation building into a big philosophy, Muslim, non-Muslim, safe or not safe.

The reason I speak about that is that most of them were young people that went to that place, Australians, Singaporeans, Filipinos. I think we can really build a global campaign for young multi-national youth.

It’s not just about helping the Filipinos it’s about investing in a template that can change the world.

Related Links

GK Lorega– Cebu Typhoon Sendong - Hope rises in Iligan

Residents get decent homes Sun Star Cebu, May 11, 2012

Officials break ground on cemetery housing site Cebu Daily News, 23 January 2011

Group to City: Lorega cemetery must be preserved,, March 6, 2011