Gawad Kalinga Diaries: Spiritual Sanctuary

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The verse below was on a tiny piece of white paper, given to me by the marketing team during the Gawad Kalinga recollection last week. It was my first Gawad Kalinga recollection in exactly two years.

JEREMIAH 29:13-14 “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back form captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you, “declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”

I clearly remember my last recollection before ending my tour of duty. Tito Ernie said something that struck me hard – he said that we are GK. That we can’t “leave” Gawad Kalinga because it is within us. It’s the culture of loving, caring and sharing – and even if we are not physically present on the ground or in the country, we bring GK with us. It seemed so apt for the moment – young Gawad Kalinga worker about to leave the country and all. And of course, I cried. My friends cried. I was ready to devote myself to the movement as a fulltime worker and the whirlwind romance that came my way changed my life plans in the most extreme ways. I was not meant to be a fulltime worker. I had to break up with TM. I had to go.

I appreciated that recollection. I appreciated how, although at the back of my mind, I knew that you could never really leave the work, there was that strong emphasis on how the movement was not something we could just leave. It wasn’t about me not being fulltime anymore – it was about me accepting a new role in the work.

My sincerest apologies to everyone that sobbed with me – because I know we cried so much, and in way, I know we all felt like I was going into exile. I slightly feel like an idiot for all those tears. Clearly, whatever role I could have played for Gawad Kalinga abroad did not materialize, because in the same whirlwind fashion, God throws me a fast one, and I end up in Bicol nine months later.

So, God did not mean for me to be a fulltime worker or a patriot in exile. He had other plans. He meant for me to learn what the work was truly about – beyond the reports, beyond the schedules, beyond the deep friendships I had with the people I worked with. I sought after Him. I truly did. And He said, if I really wanted to know Him, I had to go back and see GK from a different perspective. I believe now, that may be why He allowed us to come home.

All aspects of the work are important and all have a level of difficulty that takes a special kind of person to keep things moving. We all have our own skills and talents and we are placed where we can be of most use to the movement. As someone whose GK world revolved around TM’s Revo, writing a book, the Kalinga Bills and academic institutions, being on the ground (like, for real – none of that one week visits, being fed like a fattened calf and then going home happy that our work has spread far and wide) makes me feel like the most inefficient Gawad Kalinga worker ever.

We have always honored the caretaker teams and local volunteers of the provinces, knowing that it is really their hard work, dedication and love for the poor that keep the movement going. But wow – it was only this past year in which I was allowed to see how difficult the work truly is. How different it is when you are far from Manila, far from media, far from the good news, the corporate partners and HQ. There is so much for me to learn – starting with the virtue of patience.

And so I find myself at this month’s GK recollection (Thank God – because really, I needed it).

Kuya Mari asked if GK was a sanctuary for us. If the GK workers we encountered were a sanctuary for us. Years ago, I would have answered yes right away. As a volunteer in Mandaluyong and Tatalon, I savored my monthly visits. As a fulltime worker, I would have answered yes right away as well. Despite the craziness of the work, I was always at peace. Ate Eena calls it that moment of grace that we have when working with TM – as if we could do everything and attain everything because we were doing the work of God.

But now, I had to stop and think before answering. Do I feel like I can be who I really ought to be in GK now? Yes. But do I feel at peace? I do not know. Honestly, I feel more restless. There are so many problems that the communities face and solutions seem far and difficult to reach. Gawad Kalinga seems more like panic at the disco than spiritual sanctuary.

The real question of Kuya Mari though was if I found sanctuary in the GK workers I know. And I remember the titas and titos that continue to stand by their communities with or without complete caretaker teams, thinking about my in-laws – Papa who takes so much time away from his own responsibilities at work and at home to be with the volunteers and Mama who continues to pray and push all of us to believe in the work and the changes that can happen if we persevere. Our AC, who has Masbate, Sorsogon, Albay and Camarines Norte to worry about – as well as his beautiful wife and their new business. They all believe in the mission. They have been there from the beginning. They have not left the communities behind. Christ is very real in all of them.

So the answer is Yes, I find peace and comfort in knowing them. Yes, I can say they are a spiritual sanctuary to me – someone who is still finding her way and learning what it is like to pour out everything for the communities in a way I never knew how.

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord.

My search for the Lord continues and I find Him everyday. He has led me back to the movement, and although my tour of duty has ended years ago, my real work is just beginning.

~~ found this on my climb up ~~