Homebuilding, take 4

Gawad Kalinga is an organization that builds homes for the needy in various countries. Apparently in the Philippines they rely solely on private donations and corporate sponsorship, of which my employer is one. On this trip, 25 of us from various countries joined together to help refugee families living in the GK site. Each day we awoke, had breakfast, and boarded a Jeepney for a bumpy, dusty, (did  I mention hot?) hour-long ride to the village where we’d be helping build homes for the poorest of the Philippines poor. We had to wear makeshift face masks to help guard against the ever-present exhaust fumes.

After dropping our backpacks in one of the classrooms, we assembled outside to do warm up (no pun intended) exercises, led by a different country’s team of volunteers each day. It felt like a little like keystone cops meeting basic military training – pretty laughable actually! Then we’d regroup to get our assignments. Apparently it’s not a well-oiled  machine. Each day we waited for supplies and help from the local villagers. We’d work until lunchtime, helped along by bottled water and Gatorade; our assignments included:

  • pumping water into various vessels and transporting them (they were HEAVY) one- and two-at-a-time uphill to a well-used cement mixer
  • Shovelling gravel from a big pile by the road into recycled bags and carrying them over to the cement mixer, dumping the gravel out to create a smaller pile. Ditto for sand
  • Schlepping 50# bags of cement from the school, uphill to the cement mixer (are you getting the picture?)
  • Once the cement mixer was started up, gravel, sand, and cement were combined and dumped into a reservoir from which shovelfuls of the stuff were deposited into recycled containers and transported, fire line style, up and over a weed-covered hill to workers waiting to dump the slushy stuff into wall frames or onto the foundation
  • Digging in the hard ground (using primitive tools) to create a deep hole for a septic tank

If you think you know what sweat is, think again! I can honestly say there is no way to accurately describe the combination of the sun beating down on us  and  humidity so thick most of us “wore” rolled up towels around our necks to keep from looking like we’d just taken another shower. Sore joints and muscles? I don’t even wanna go there…

After a simple and hearty lunch made by the ladies of the villages (“the Moms”) we’d take a rest. Some would literally try to sleep in the heat, others would play with the children waiting outside. Our afternoon work was a continuation of the morning session. We’d usually call it a day between 4 and 5pm, grab some water, and board the waiting Jeepneys for another bumpy, dusty, (did  I mention hot?) hour-long ride back to the hotel. We’d have a rest period until dinner time (how good it felt to dive into the “resort’s” pool), eat quickly, and then spend a few hours planning activities for the children for the next day. (We were there to WORK, and work we did!)

Homebuilding, take 3

After a 7am wake up call in Manila (and you know I don’t do mornings) I was up and headed down to breakfast. You really get to know your co-workers when you have the chance to see them bleary-eyed after a long day of travel. After breakfast, we loaded up in vans and headed to Laguna (close to the build site) for lunch. Apparently I am the only vegetarian they’ve ever had on this trip so the cook kindly offered to make me a plate of veggies – and then cooked them in the same chicken-based sauce that everyone else’s stuff was cooked in. Oh well…

Then it was  onto the GK build site – it reminded me a lot of AZ during the time of Hands Across America. Lots of dust, heat, and obvious poverty. 150 families living in tents (provided by the Saudi Arabia government).  (photo coming soon) No running water. Trash everywhere. And amid all this: the children and their adorable faces are heartbreaking. Their clothes are clearly second (or third) hand. Many have dental issues (missing and rotted teeth)  and still they smile at us, seemingly unaware of their situation.  I wish my own children could see this; perhaps they’d feel better about having grown up in a middle-class single parent household.

After walking around to view some recently-built homes (rows of 20meters square cement row houses which will each hold an entire family!) we headed back to the Laguna hotel to prepare for our first “build” day. It’s quiet on the ride back. The reality of why we are here is sinking in…

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As for me, I will take the road less travelled…