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  • Kiana Abiva

A Journey of the Brave: GK USA’s Philgrimage in Mindanao

Two days after Team GK USA’s Ormoc, Leyte trip, a new batch of pilgrims headed to Mindanao for a similar experience!

Last February 19-16, pilgrims of GK Texas, GK LA, GK Florida, and GK Chicago got to experience the wonderful areas of Zamboanga, Sulu, and Davao! The trip lasted 8 days with 2 days in Zamboanga, 3 days in Sulu, and the last 3 days in Davao.

According to Thelma Managad  and Eva Domantay from GK Tampa, Florida, and Corry from GK California, the most exciting and intriguing part of the trip was their opportunity to visit Sulu– a place they’ve known or grown up to know as a dangerous and notorious place in the Philippines. Admittedly, they were wary and afraid of visiting the sites of Sulu but, thankfully, they all took the leap and learned that the once dangerous provinces in the Philippines are now safe and quite beautiful. 

Team GK USA had the privilege of riding a Philippine Navy boat to travel from Zamboanga to Sulu. There, they were able to visit GK Parsugpatan. The female head of the village, Surai, talked about how she and her family experienced a change in their lifestyle with Gawad Kalinga’s support. Their community was able to establish organized systems of feeding and education with the help of Gawad Kalinga. Despite differences in faith, they are grateful to Gawad Kalinga for accepting and seeing them as their equals.

The next day, the Team visited Minis Island, another GK community, where they held a quick feeding activity for the children. The island is very secluded so the children only get to see visitors sometimes. They have one small classroom that serves as the school from 1st to 6th grade. Despite having only one teacher for all the children, they all seem eager and diligent to learn and continue their studies. 

After visiting Minis Island, the group visited the GK Batu Itum community. As per usual, they shared a meal with the beneficiaries they met and shared more stories! Batu Itum has a thriving Community Food Farm where they plant a variety of vegetables, as well as a developed Kusina ng Kalinga which they proudly spoke plenty of. After sharing stories and giving GK USA updates on the state of their community, the team gave them a solar power system donated by Synchrony! They were joyous as one of the major struggles they face is the lack of an electricity source. The first thing they did to test out the solar panels was to connect them to a sound system and play music! 

The team’s trip to Sulu involved numerous visits to military bases in the area. Sulu, being part of the southern Philippines, has had a history of conflict and insurgency, primarily involving various groups and militant factions. The Philippine military maintains bases in the area to address security concerns, counter insurgency efforts, and ensure the safety of both civilians and visitors to the region. 

One of the bases and groups they visited was the Philippine Army Kalis. There, they gave the pilgrims updates on the state of Sulu. They were glad to learn that Sulu is safer than how it was years ago. Elmer Gonzales from GK Tampa, Florida shared that the image of Sulu that he had was very different from what he experienced during the pilgrimage. Jose Mari Oquiñena, a long-time GK advocate who we fondly call Kuya Mari, also shared the same sentiments. They, as well as most of the group, were afraid of what might happen during the trip. Following their visits to several military bases, the team felt a sense of security, relief, and genuine enthusiasm for the development they witnessed. This newfound sense of safety and optimism further fueled their desire to extend assistance and support to the community even more.

Most of the pilgrims in GK USA are Catholics, so it was a different culture they were experiencing in Mindanao which is a heavily Islamic community. Despite these differences in religions, everyone was very respectful and open-minded to experiencing new traditions. One of the most thrilling experiences during the trip was visiting the badjao communities. The badjao or “sea nomads” live most of their life on sea. For the longest time, they have also resided in stilted houses along the shore. The team was able to hold a quick feeding program for the children in one of the badjao communities in Poblacion, Sulu where they had to walk through thin bamboo poles to get to the different houses.

Another beneficiary the team visited is the GK Darayan Community at Patikul where the team witnessed the turnover of a two-classroom renovation project! Patikul is one of the more notorious areas of Sulu, but thanks to government support, it has become peaceful enough for the students to resume classes and for visitors like GK to experience! Gawad Kalinga aims to establish good relationships with areas like these so that trusting and helping each other becomes easier! Currently, GK wants to continue helping them through project ARAL (Advancement in Reading And Learning) as the children in their community got delayed in school due to the state of their province.

Another project that the pilgrims supported during the trip was SipaG, a leadership and capacity-building project that uses sports, specifically soccer, to train the youth to become better individuals. Our Butchie Impelido from GK Chicago was able to give donations to Barangay Panamo in Sulu and Barangay Kinawayan in Arakan in the form of soccer balls, soccer shoes, and other sports equipment. When the team reached Davao, they were able to talk to more of the young soccer athletes to encourage them to keep persevering and playing their sport. Butchie is very passionate about the project and not only inspired the male players to continue working for their dream sport but spoke to the female players as well! He shared with them that working hard for their sport would lead them to more opportunities in life such as being able to play for university or even abroad!

Lastly, during the Davao leg of the pilgrimage, the team focused on Community Food Farms and the adlai farms. Adlai rice is a healthy alternative to rice that Gawad Kalinga farmers sell as a source of income through Bayan-Anihan’s support. The team was able to see adlai in all of its forms! From planting them, to harvesting, to processing and to finally seeing them on the table to eat! Those who shared the adlai farm management and processing team about the farms were graduates of SEED (School for Experiential and Entrepreneurial Development) Philippines who are now working with Bayan-Anihan as Community Enterprise Officers. The pilgrims were also lucky enough to witness a SEED Recruitment Camp for Davao where Jaypee Jose, a SEED graduate turned SEED Davao Campus Director, who is also now mentoring the future students of the program.

GK USA truly had an unforgettable experience during their two consecutive pilgrimages to Visayas and Mindanao. Thelma Managad from GK Tampa emphasized that the GK USA team is the essential storyteller who will tell other people about their experiences during these pilgrimages so that other people can also know more about the amazing communities in the Philippines. Sulu, Zamboanga, Davao, and the rest of Mindanao are beautiful. This pilgrimage proved how people should change the way they think about these once-notorious places in the Philippines. Gawad Kalinga’s immersions in these areas show that we shouldn’t let differences in culture, religion, and economic status separate us. The pilgrims learned from the different beneficiaries that community is important to achieve peace and the development we strive for. 

Jun Domantay of GK Tampa observed that it doesn't take much to make the people around us happy. Simple dance segments and salu-salo (sharing of meals) are enough to make our beneficiaries happy and happy to be with us. The trip and opportunity to help the different GK villages and communities are always priceless.

Continue to spread joy and promote the spirit of kapwa by learning more about Gawad Kalinga USA through our website or our social media platforms to learn more about the team’s pilgrimage to Mindanao!

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