by Jason L. Sy (SA 21 – Section M)
As I entered the Gawad Kalinga (GK) conference room in the Institute for Social Order (ISO) complex of Ateneo, my informant greeted me and introduced me to the rest of the group. Moments later, it was already ten minutes past the set meeting time and the GK employees were waiting for two more people to arrive. My informant was able to spend the time well by acquainting me with their current activities and also told me about the agenda of the meeting.
The meeting that day was a kamustahan (feedback) session, according to my informant. They were going to hear from GK volunteers who acted as mentors and hosts to an Australian delegation who visited the country last January for four days. Though my informant said that the evaluation is a month late and that the Australians have already left, this was the first time they had this mentoring system and they wanted to evaluate how this new system faired. These mentors were part-time GK volunteers who had professional jobs. They were tasked to introduce GK to their “mentees,” the Australian guests, who were curious about this organization and were willing to be a part-time volunteer as well on top of their current occupations. The mentors were asked to show them how life is like being a part-time GK volunteer while being a full-time professional. They hosted the Australians in their homes. Since a weekend fell on this four-day period, the mentors were also asked to bring them with their family outings just as what they would do on a typical weekend.
Before the start of the meeting, I already felt that the group accepted me warmly. One of them even offered me candies before the meeting began. They started with a prayer led by my informant. The people then introduced themselves one by one and I myself did so as well while explaining why I was there. My informant headed the meeting and he outlined what each mentor was to do. He highlighted four lenses that each mentor would reflect and share about. These lenses are family, listening to the guests, time, relationships and faith or a sense of God.
The first mentor went on and shared his experiences. He also shared about how his two Australian mentees who were able to see not only the positive side of GK communities but also the negative aspects such as the lack of sanitation, relationship conflicts and the like. The meeting was informal as seen in the light banters and laughter that filled the room as the mentors recounted some of their experiences with their mentees. One mentor recounted the time that his mentee wanted to buy and ride a tricycle from Palawan’s capital, Puerto Princesa, to El Nido which was around 200 kilometers away. The organization fostered a culture similar to a family setting. The GK workers addressed their seniors as tito (uncle) or tita (aunt) instead of the formal sir and ma’am while the regular employees preferred to be called “full-time volunteers.” The people in the meeting were very candid, sharing both bad and good things they felt during the mentorship program. They also cited ways in order to improve the program and to streamline it into the main thrusts of GK.
Coincidentally, the agenda of the meeting itself was all about cultural sensitivity. Through the reflections of the mentors, I could identify that what were being said were in line with the concepts discussed in SA class discussions. The mentors and even the guests themselves exhibited cultural sensitivity as exhibited in how they hosted and dealt with their mentees. Being immersed in one culture is something that makes people
One of the mentors shared about him even texting his superiors asking about his guests’ religion upon realizing that his family would be going to a Catholic mass on Sunday. He expressed his admiration for his guests for being open to attend the religious service despite not being a Catholic and being interested in buying religious artifacts after the church service. Moreover, though he and the GK villagers were both uncomfortable conversing in English for the guests to understand what they were talking about, he was surprised when the Australians told them that it was okay for them to speak in Filipino.
Just like the typical Filipino who would always say yes, another mentor narrated about the time when he politely said “yes” to one of his guests who wanted to use his cellphone to call a loved one in Australia because a storm was passing through despite knowing how much a long distance call would cost him. Laughter ensued in the room when he said that his blood pressure shot up knowing that he would incur a lot of charges when his guest’s long-distance calls dropped several times. Language “barriers” were also present. A mentor said that, at one point, he was asked by his mentee what “dog” was in Filipino upon seeing a dog in a GK village. The mentor replied, “aso” to which the Australian replied in shock, “What did you just say? Are you referring to me?” It turned out that he mistakenly heard it as the two-syllable English vulgar slang word for one’s behind.
For the most part, the meeting involved the mentors sharing their experiences and evaluating the new mentorship system. “GK is not about building houses, it’s all about building relationships,” said one of the mentors, realizing that hosting these Australian guests was actually an exercise on relationship. In organizations, relationship-building is indeed a key to cooperating and reaching a common goal. In GK, the vision of building the nation is transformed into a reality by making the organization foster camaraderie like a typical Filipino family where you could simply call your co-workers tito or tita. These good relationships maintained among the GK volunteers is even shared to others such as the Australians, spreading the spirit of GK while also showing the warmth and hospitality of Filipinos.