Mabuhay-GK Walk

Community Round Up Sep 10, 2008 at 4:44 pm

Armed only with umbrellas and a strong zeal for a worthy cause, an energetic throng hundreds of people took to the streets of Toronto recently to promote the Filipino culture and at the same time raise awareness on the fight against poverty in the Philippines.

A joint effort by the Philippine Independence Day Celebration (PIDC) and the Gawad Kalinga (GK), more than 1,000 of supporters and volunteers from all over the GTA and as far as Waterloo and Kitchener area participated in this year’s combined Mabuhay Parade and the annual GK Walk.

The inclement weather did not dampen the spirit of those who showed up to celebrate the anniversary of the Philippine Independence by taking part in the 5-kilometer marathon walk to raise funds for the poverty alleviation efforts in the Philippines of the Gawad Kalinga (translated as Giving Care). The organization builds homes for the slum dwellers in the Philippines much like Habitat for Humanities. However, GK also incorporates a host of other programs such as livelihood projects, education, health and faith formation programs.

To date, Filipino-Canadians have helped in building an estimated 80 villages in various regions of the Philippines.  A village contains a minimum of 30 houses in which a community eventually evolves and wherein the lives of former squatters are transformed for good.

Colourful floats with revellers dressed in traditional Filipino costumes led the parade of cheering participants, while a gigantic Philippine Flag was carried by at least nine people as the group marched from Nathan Philips Square, up along the stretch of University Avenue, down Yonge Street and back to walk’s starting point.

The scattered rain showers only served to heighten the spirits of the GK walkers who wore light blue shirts with the message “Less for self, more for others, enough for all” emblazoned on the back.

Supporters from various agencies and organizations such as Canada Post; Couples for Christ; Circulo Ilonggo; Bukas Loob sa Diyos, among others joined in the charity walk.

A palpable vigour was felt throughout the two-hour walk with the presence of a strong contingent of youth walkers, who shouted slogans as they carried placards with statements such as: “Walking to cure poverty” and “Live Simply so that others may simply live.”  Members of Youth for Christ and Youth Build figured prominently at the fun-filled event.

Similar fundraising walks were also held on September 6 in at least eight cities across Canada and some 30 locations in the United States.

Sources from Ancop, GK Walk organizer, said that the number of participants in this year’s GK Walk was nearly double of those who attended the event last year.  A substantial increase in the funds raised this year is expected as a result.

As GK walkers and supporters gathered at a makeshift stage at the back of Nathan Philips, merrymaking with an atmosphere of a fiesta ensued.  Local talent Zena Zagala dished out with her staple Elvis Presley fare which precipitated dancing on the street.  Not to be outdone was singer Darius Ciria, who amused the enthusiastic crowd with lively OPM (Original Pilipino Music) numbers. The entertainers drew thunderous applause from the crowd with their powerful choral rendition of the song Ako Ay Filipino (I am a Filipino).

But even before the crowd started the revelry, guest speakers, including GK main supporter Dylan Wilks, were on hand to inspire the participants and supporters with messages of hope.

The English millionaire Wilks, who sold his BMW to finance the construction of a “village” for GK beneficiaries, called on Filipino-Canadians to join the battle to fight poverty in the Philippines by actively participating in GK’s rebuilding programs.  Referring to Filipinos as modern day bayani (hero), Wilks likened the Filipino expats to Jose Rizal, who made sacrifices while in exile to pave the way for positive changes in his beloved motherland.

“You are the new heroes of your country because you sacrifice for the sake of providing a better future to your country, ” said Wilks.  He added that the overwhelming success of the GK housing programs in the Philippines is in part courtesy of generous Filipino-Canadians.

Across Canada, Wilks said, people have been gladly parting with cherished antique collections or luxury cars to make substantial contributions to the GK programs.

Wilks also told the attentive crowd about the three young girls who chose to earmark their money to build houses for the poor instead of holding lavish debut parties.

Wilks, emphasized that the success of GK does not depend solely on the generous contributions from donors, but more so on the caring relationship and partnership between the supporters and beneficiaries.  “We change people by loving them,” he stressed.

He also challenged the participants to come and visit the communities built by GK and immerse themselves in the programs. Wilks said helping the poor reclaim their dignity and providing them with hope for a better future has been a “life changing process” for many GK beneficiaries and volunteers alike.