On Saturday, August 25, 22-year-olds Alexis Buffet and Laure de Buyer arrived at Silliman University in Dumaguete City, having travelled on foot and by boat from Janiuay, Iloilo, since August 3.
The two are business students at Haute École de Commerce (in English, “higher business education”) in Paris. They were in the country to volunteer with Gawad Kalinga (GK) (http://www.interaksyon.com/article/38581/french-couple-to-walk-350-km-in-visayas-to-learn-from-the-poor).
Here are excerpts from their reports from the field. The two plan on compiling their chronicles into a booklet for European students who wish to volunteer or intern with the movement that aims to end poverty in the Philippines by 2024.
Day 1: Janiuay, Good Samaritan GK Village
An impressive welcome from the community! The 56 families and the 81 children were all there to wish us the best for our walk.
The Good Samaritan GK Village Community is organized by Tita Sally and Tito Peter. This community was born three years ago and seems to epitomize the GK success for giving people confidence in themselves.
Tita Sally, the “godmother” of the village, has helped them to be proud of their lives and families by giving them simple things: lipsticks for the girls to be “the most beautiful ladies of the area” (according to a priest); better dental hygiene for everybody thanks to Tita Sally’s orthodontist friends and the compulsory cleaning of teeth for the kids; and slippers for everybody so that no child plays barefooted in the area.
The result: the Janiuay GK Village is no longer considered by the city as a village of poor people. They are now seen as the lucky ones!
Day 2: Walk from Janiuay to Pototan Salad Master GK Village
Even after an exhausting 16-kilometer walk under the heat of the sun with 19 GK volunteers (who did not want breaks along the way; they were the ones who taught us how to trek!), there is nothing better than sweating with construction workers in order to bond with a whole village.
Physical work immediately makes people become partners and trust one other. That is what GK has showed to the country and to the world since 2003: give and you will be given even more! And indeed, people have cared for us: Tita Erlinda and Ate Melanie cooked us delicious meals and all the children have given us great love by playing with us up to nightfall. We were definitely ready to walk to Banate the next day!
Day 4: Walk from Banate to Barotac Viejo
After a restful night, we woke up under a pouring rain. We wondered whether to wait it out, or to start walking, and we decided to get soaked. After the two-hour-walk, even with raincoats and umbrellas, we were totally wet. It was raining harder and harder.
We had a great welcome in the farming village. It was actually different from the other villages we visited: much more isolated. The beneficiaries are mainly farmers, working in the rice, corn, or sugarcane plantations.
In the beginning, the kids were shy. But thanks to a teen who translated for us, we managed to organize plenty of games in the multi-purpose building. After ten minutes of playing, both the adults and kids were laughing, shouting, and running everywhere!
The kids are the easiest way to create the first contact in a village. They are curious, they rapidly stop being shy, and they love to laugh and to have fun, just like us. And when they had gotten used to us, it was easier to start talking to the families.
We were totally exhausted at the end of the day, and after having eaten delicious native chicken, we had a peaceful night. (Even if, of course, like every morning, the poultry woke us up around three a.m.. But we are getting used to it and next time, we plan to wake them up!)
Day 5: Walk from Barotac Viejo to Ajuy GK Village
The 35 kilometers traveled to reach Ajuy GK Village under a blazing sun were full of surprises. But the best thing was the kilometer we walked with two policemen who volunteered for the trek along a beach in the Banate region.
We saw them enjoying with us even though we didn’t have a lot in common. This is the GK way of building communities: even if you have trouble understanding each other’s language, getting connected by being together makes people happy!
Doing our laundry and sleeping early reminded us one more time that happiness lies in simple things… and particularly in sleeping soundly after so long a walk!
Day 7: Last day in Ajuy GK Village
The kids of the Ajuy GK Village gave us a really surprising Sunday afternoon. They taught us everything we had to know about the turning coconut-tree leaves into toys and jewelry. Playing with kids helps you use your imagination… and tires you also!
Day 11: Walk from Silay to Bacolod
At six a.m., we had the craziest breakfast ever. We were seven friends, joined by our GK guardian angels, the Silay tourism officer, and the caretakers, and we tasted plenty of delicious specialties from Negros. We cannot remember any name but it was really hard to start walking after that.
We then had a historical visit of Silay. There were many old and beautiful houses that belonged to the owners of the sugarcane fields at the beginning of the 20th century.
We wanted to avoid walking along the highway, so we decided to take a longer but nicer road in the fields, together with our friends, the GK Food Sufficiency Program Director, and a Silay beneficiary. The road was indeed very nice but much, much longer than expected!
We walked 20 more kilometers even though Silay is only 17 kilometers away from Bacolod. This is why we decided to ride during the last few kilometers, because we had already walked more than 10 extra kilometers and we wanted our friends to stay alive!
Day 14: Walk from La Carlota to Hinigaran
We began our day walking three kilometers to La Carlota Plaza with Bea, Nicolas, and three GK beneficiaries. We split there and Laure and I undertook a long and sunny 22-kilometer walk.
After having visited a village of fishermen along the way (they even presented us with their fish catches!), we finally arrived a bit exhausted in the Hinigaran GK Village. At first, we felt tired and just wanted to rest, but the village gave us an unexpected energy. We spent one of the most incredible nights of the trip with this community of fishermen.
After a quick speech in their multi-purpose hall, we shared stories and prayed for almost an hour. We could feel real happiness in the room while exchanging stories and laughs. This village helped us realize that walking allows us to discover communities that are located off the beaten track; those that are not used to receiving visitors. If we were commuting, we would probably only have ended up in Bacolod, Dumaguete, and Siquijor!
Last but not least about this very surprising night: we ate incredible seafood. Good food definitely worth the trek of hundreds of kilometers.
Day 15: Walk from Hinigaran to Himamaylan
What a surprise when we discovered that the president of the community used to be a maid in Tito Tony’s (Meloto, the founder of GK) house in Quezon City when he was starting GK! We shared a lot about what GK has become for the last 20 years. You can imagine how long this conversation could have become if the rain had not stopped us!
Days 16 and 17: Walk from Himamaylan to Kabankalan, and weekend in Sipalay
We had only 14 kilometers to walk to reach Kabankalan, but this short leg was actually a bit harsh for us since we were really beginning to need some rest. Once there, we decided to go and rest for the weekend in Sipalay.
The bottom line of this break is that the Philippines is definitely one the best places to go for a foreigner who wants to discover the beauty of Asia. Good food, incredibly beautiful islands, and warm people… what else can you ask for?
Day 18: Walk from Kabankalan to Mabinay
Time flew! But our feet definitely walked. Alexis had a blister so big that one would think another toe was growing on his foot!
Day 20: Walk from Mabinay to Bais City
We had an impressive welcome thanks to the craziest children. We learned “How to Dougie” for more than an hour after having heard them practicing songs that were to be sung the next day. Indeed, the village was receiving Tito Tony for the turnover of two new houses in the community.
Day 21: Walk from Bais City to Tanjay
Tito Tony was coming to Bais because Mayor Karen (Villanueva) wants the city to create a new GK Enchanted Farm (a farm in Bulacan where community-based enterprises thrive) around the existing community.
The father and founder of GK is now leading the second phase of the NGO called “social artistry” which targets to create a platform for wealth-creation. In a nutshell, he wants to raise an army of 500,000 social entrepreneurs who would create businesses employing the poor and taking advantage of the important natural resources of the Philippines. These social entrepreneurs could land their business ideas in the GK Enchanted Farms where they can find land, investors, and a workforce.
Mayor Karen, the municipal officials, and the whole community thus organized an event for Tito Tony’s visit. During his inspirational speech, he made us realize that GK had managed to bridge the most neglected people of the city with the most influential ones, and thus already paved the way for sustainable and socially responsible wealth-creation.
The ceremony ended around noon. Gigutom ko! (I’m hungry!) We had a boodle fight with everyone!
This village is one of the most beautiful we’ve seen. The garden and the surrounding farm were perfectly landscaped and the houses brightly colored.
Day 22: Walk from Tanjay to San Jose
We left our last GK Village at around 6 a.m.. This is the end of three weeks of warm welcomes, delicious food, amazing people, and not always comfortable beds but restful nights!
We tasted Tanjay’s specialty: sweet and sticky rice dipped into hot chocolate. “Lami” (delicious) in Cebuano! As usual, we forgot the name of this delicacy.
Day 23: Walk from San Jose to end in Silliman University
This last walk, even if it was short (only 13 kilometers), was one of the toughest because of the sun. But the leg from San Jose to Sibulan along the sea was very beautiful and the last kilometers before arriving at Silliman University were very moving for us.
All in all, we have walked more than 350 kilometers in three provinces, we have visited 15 GK communities, more than 100 Filipinos have walked with us (mainly GK beneficiaries), and we have eaten at least 50 kilos of rice.
And now we need to rest and reflect about all we’ve experienced through this amazing journey!
Salamat (thank you) GK!