All Hands on Deck

Froilan Gallardo

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An inspiring story of how government and the private sector helped rebuild lives–and houses–after a disaster

(Editor’s Note: This story was first published by Newsbreak.)

“Welcome to GK Missionville.” The bright red sign painted on the wall of a house greets visitors to the village. One feels something is different in this tiny enclave in the middle of this southern industrial city.

Instead of smelly garbage on the sidewalks and other eyesores, neat rows of small but colorful houses and wide-open spaces welcome guests. The 20-square meter houses are painted in assorted pastel colors.

We see no residents playing cards. Nor are there children scampering on the narrow but well-paved streets. Instead, we hear children’s voices and laughter wafting from the village daycare center.

The village boasts well-manicured gardens and has black-iron lampposts to light the residents’ way at night.

GK (for Gawad Kalinga) Missionville is a story of how Iligan residents pitched in to help urban poor families rebuild their lives after a fire swept their community on Sept. 28, 2002. “The program became a community activity for Iligan. Everyone came to help,” says Iligan City Mayor Franklin Quijano. “What we did here will show other LGUs that even if we do not have any money, we can have a decent housing program for the poor.”

GK Missionville’s success story enabled the government of Iligan City to bag the coveted award for “most outstanding program” in the 2003 Gawad Galing Pook. Eighteen local government units (LGUs) from all over the country were given awards last December in Malacañang. Aside from Iligan City, eight other LGUs were cited for “other trail-blazing programs.”

The winners were chosen from among 134 LGU programs that were submitted in last year’s search. Iligan City and the other top winners were each given a cash prize of P100,000.

The 2002 fire gutted 168 houses and a mosque in Sitio Santilmo and left more than 258 families homeless.

One resident, Adeluna Catiloc, was away when a fire believed to have been started by an unattended candle razed the community. “When I got back my house was gone. Luckily, my two children were not harmed, but I thought the entire world had come crashing down. All my savings went up in smoke,” she recalls.

Catiloc, her husband, and two teenaged daughters spent the next several months in various evacuation centers in Iligan City, often sleeping on cold concrete floors covered with mats. “We lived a miserable life in the evacuation centers. There was no privacy because there were many families like us. My children got sick several times because the drinking water was not safe.”

Catiloc’s suffering continued until Mayor Quijano and members of the Couples for Christ joined hands to see what they could do for the evacuees. With some money from President Arroyo’s P30-million fund for low-cost housing, they drew up plans for a village right in the heart of Iligan City.

“Right from the start we knew the project would be different. It was intended to be a partnership for all stakeholders for Iligan’s future, Quijano says.

The city government bought a two-and-a-half hectare land for P10 million and asked help from the private sector. More than 160 business firms lent a hand. Soldiers, the Church, and students also pitched in.

For several months, business executives, traders, students, and professionals spent their weekends carrying pails of cement to help in building homes. Catiloc and the other fire victims were there too—working side by side with the volunteers.

“We learned that we could work together as a community. There were no rich or poor people once we started working. We were one community,” Catiloc says.

The first 10 houses were completed on Dec. 24, 2002. These were immediately given to the fire victims—a fitting Christmas gift. The next batch of 60 houses was completed by Feb. 14, 2003. The next 143 houses are still being built.

The village has given residents new hope. Gone are the days when they lived in a community saddled by drug and drinking problems, especially among the youth. Santilmo, the urbanpoor shanty village where they used to live, was a hangout of drug pushers and drug dependents.

Jennifer Hora, who teaches at the GK Missionville day-care center, says the children and youth are no longer exposed to vices. Back in Santilmo, she recalls, it was not unusual to see young children skip school or play cards like their elders. She said that GK Missionville has changed all that.

Hora, a fire victim herself, was hired by the city government and the Couples for Christ to teach at the daycare center. “The children enjoy the wide spaces here where they can play. They have become children once more.”

Marylou Engracia, the village finance officer, says the local government and the Couples of Christ have made the houses affordable for Catiloc and the other fire victims. The fire victims were each asked to pay P300 a month for the houses. Each of the two-bedroom houses is worth P40,000.

Each beneficiary, however, is required to render voluntary work for the construction of the other houses. It is work that Catiloc and the other fire victims gladly do. After all, the village has given them a new beginning. –

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