Thursday, July 17, 2014

Revisiting GK's Enchanted Farm

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

If you’re tired of the endless political bickering, mudslinging and other destructive maneuvers that aim to set back this country many years or stop its growth dead in the tracks, take a day off and spend time at the Gawad Kalinga (GK) Enchanted Farm in Barangay Encanto in Angat, Bulacan.
I did two weekends ago.

I had been there in 2011 and wrote a feature on it for the Sunday Inquirer Magazine, so I had an idea of what to expect. But this time, I was dumbfounded by what I saw and experienced. The farm has indeed metamorphosed into something even more beautiful and impressive. I am not talking here only about the structures and the scenic lay of the land but also of the human component—expertise, dedication, creativity and passion—that continues to develop and transform the place. The farm—the land, the community—just keeps evolving. As one of our guides said, you just have to keep coming back.

GK founder and driving force Antonio Meloto (Tito Tony or Tatay to countless GK volunteers and farm workers) was not there on my second visit as he was on a speaking tour abroad. But it was just as well, because one could see that the farm continues to take on a life of its own in the hands of the dedicated young people who are working it.

The Enchanted Farm is GK’s platform to raise social entrepreneurs, help local farmers and create wealth in the countryside. A nongovernment organization that pioneered in fast-tracking massive housing projects for the poor, GK believes that providing homes is merely a beginning on the road out of poverty and that the country’s wealth of resources can be harnessed so that every Filipino may live a life of dignity.  

Set on 14 hectares (maybe bigger now) of verdant, undulating terrain, the farm is a home, village and “university” rolled into one, where people’s dreams and ideas are tested, nurtured and turned into reality. It is rapidly transforming the Angat landscape by being a sustainable community and a place of learning, creating and, most of all, sharing. It is exactly what its more daunting name—Center for Social Innovation or CSI—connotes, a place for daring and creativity. Living the CSI way is for the big of heart, not the faint-hearted.

When GK quietly began in 2000 “by building communities to end poverty,” little did Meloto know how far he and his fellow dreamers could go. The story of how GK grew from its small beginnings is told in the book “The Builder of Dreams” by Meloto, a 2006 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Community Leadership and the Inquirer’s Filipino of the Year for 2005. As Meloto loves to say, “If you must dream, why limit yourself?”

The Enchanted Farm is GK’s second phase, a “Silicon Valley” for social entrepreneurship and “a Disneyland” for social tourism. Its village aspect comes from the realization “that it is our disconnectedness from our land, from the poor, and even from one another” that keeps people in poverty. It is a space where people can come together and plant seeds of goodness side by side with the poor.

As a “Silicon Valley” for social entrepreneurship, the Enchanted Farm provides an environment that will spark ideas, bring them to life and create social impact. This means staying connected with the community and gaining access to mentoring.

As a “Disneyland” for social tourism, it attracts visitors from all over the Philippines and abroad and gives them first-hand experiences of caring and sharing. These are not mere words. One must visit the Enchanted Farm and experience what is going on there. Countless young volunteers from the Philippines and abroad have come and left with lessons they will treasure forever.

Many structures, each one named and designed for a purpose, are now standing there, proof of people’s generosity and eagerness to make the dream grow. For starters, there is a GK community there composed of families that once had no homes to call their own. They provide not only services in various venues in the farm but also inspiration.

Must-visit sites are the Arch Angel GK Center for Arts and Culture, Bamboo Palace Center for Development Design, Berjaya Culinary Arts Center, Hyundai Center for Green Innovation, Iasis Health and Wholeness Center, Lifebank Center of Bayanihan Economics, Shell Center of Social Entrepreneurship, the Department of Agrarian Reform Farmers Center, and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Lotus Center of Environmental Sustainability. And, of course, the farm areas where food is grown.

Many products are now being made in the farm and other GK communities.

Before leaving, go to the Arch Angel Center, linger awhile and quietly reflect on the manifestos on the walls. Here are a few:

1. It’s TIME. I am a Filipino and I am now making a stand. A stand for God, my country, my people. A stand against poverty. I will end the #1 poverty of all in our country: poverty of the mind and heart. I will replace my colonial mentality with a proudly Filipino “Bayanihan” mentality.

2. God did not make a mistake in creating me Filipino. I am honoring God’s plan for me by loving my country. I am joining the fight to end poverty. Not just in words, but more in ACTION. I will not stand by idly as millions of my fellow Filipinos go hungry while I pursue my dreams and build my riches.

3. I will end poverty by creating wealth not just for me and my family but also for the poor because the poor are my family. I will use my TIME to make productive the time of the poor. I will use my TALENT to help the poor uncover theirs. I will use my TREASURE to invest in the poor and together we will build a worthy treasury for all.

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