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What's a Filipino? What defines us—and more important, what binds us; what dreams unite us—now that we're scattered all over the world, born to a mix of races, into different cultures, speaking different languages? This article is one of a series exploring the notion of "being Filipino" in a globalized world and time. Follow @interaksyon on our #WhatsaFilipino discussion on Twitter, and on this special coverage on InterAksyon.com.
"I don't think anyone's used lipstick to build the country before," said Human Nature co-founder Dylan Wilk. We were at the Gawad Kalinga Enchanted Farm in Angat, Bulacan on Sunday.
He was one of the mentors for a camp initiated by GK, while I was one of the participants. The British man who built a computer game empire was once among the richest people in England under 30 years old.
He would take a helicopter to work if he didn't want to be stuck in traffic. Luxury cars filled his garage, including the Ferrari of his dreams.
"I loved that car," he said, recounting the days when he would just drive around just so he could take his prized sports car for a spin.
For six weeks, he was in vehicle-induced nirvana. Then the Italian manufacturer announced that they were releasing a new model.
"Wow, I've gotta have the new one!" he thought. Then he paused. There was something wrong with that, he realized. Here he was, with the car he'd always fantasized about, and he wasn't happy with it?
So he packed his bags, traveled around the world in search for meaning, and came back to the UK, disappointed.
Then he met a student who came from the Philippines. She was feeling guilty about her plane ticket, he learned, because the cost of it could build a number of houses back home for her homeless countrymen.
He was intrigued.
She told him about Gawad Kalinga, and took him back to the Philippines to see what the organization was about with his own eyes. He came. And he immediately wanted to donate money to build a village. (The village was eventually built in San Jose del Monte, Bulacan. He called it the GK BMW Village, after the car he sold to finance it.) It was here he met the founder of GK, Tony Meloto, who told him, "If you really want to help, come back."
Dylan Wilk has been in the Philippines for almost ten years now. He has since married one of Meloto's daughters, Anna, with whom he has three kids (a fourth one is on the way). She is also his business partner in Human Nature, along with his sister-in-law Camille.
"There is a big difference between pleasure and happiness," he told his rapt audience at the GK Enchanted Farm.
"They don't really have much purpose anymore," he continued, referring to the people back in his old home, the United Kingdom.
They were trained to think that the path to happiness is through "clubbing, drinking, having a bigger home," focusing only on "me."
On the other hand, Wilk seems to have found his purpose.
Human Nature is a "pro-poor, pro-environment, and pro-Philippines" brand of cosmetics and personal care.
The only local brand carried by Beauty Bar, Human Nature has dealers all over the country, and is being wooed by mall moguls to open in their stores.
"The key to progress is love for country," Wilk said. "Every time you bought a British product, the profits sent me to school. So, thank you for my education."
His audience laughed, but it was a bitter truth we found amusing. "You are a special people. You deserve a life of plenty."
And he and his team do that for farmers who grow the ingredients they use for their products, paying them above minimum wage, because he doesn't think it's enough to live on.
"I couldn't live in Forbes or Corinthian if my workers were living in shanties."
The problem with traditional businesses, he said, is that executives are overpaid to underpay the "lowest" employees. He does his best to correct that through Human Nature. "Doing things the right way works."
Sourcing your ingredients, manufacturing your products, and getting your employees from the Philippines works, he said.
And so, his employees who mostly come from Gawad Kalinga communities are able to feed their families and their children to school.
"Can you do something for me?" he asked his audience. "Yes!" we said. "Can we all sing the national anthem together?"
In that sunlit pavilion, in a farm where lemongrass is grown, duck eggs are harvested, and goat cheese is made by a community who reap what they sow, we campers stood up, placed our right hands over our hearts, and sang Lupang Hinirang, led by this brown-haired British man with a microphone in his hand.
For the first time in my life, I understood what the song was saying. For the first time in my life, I meant what I was singing. "…Ang mamatay nang dahil sa 'yo." I was willing.
At Gawad Kalinga, we are called to be heroes for our countrymen. It builds on bayanihan, a trait we Filipinos have had even before the colonizers arrived.
Through building houses, creating businesses that leave no one behind, and simply sharing time with those who would have otherwise been forgotten, GK has taught me how to be Filipino, and what a Filipino truly is.
(Tricia is a Gawad Kalinga volunteer and a writer for InterAksyon.com. You can also follow her on Twitter. She invites you to visit the GK Enchanted Farm in Angat, Bulacan, and join the GK Social Innovation Camp on July 21 to 22. Check out their page at www.facebook.com/gkCSInight.)
(Contributions in the form of essays, pieces, photos, and yes, even short films, that try to answer the question are welcome at editor at interaksyon.com. Contributors should also include short biographies and profile photos to their submissions.)