A few months ago, while driving across the Bay Area, I happened to listen to Neil Conan’s interview of Anita Hill, on the release of her book, Reimagining Equality, Stories of Gender, Race, and Finding Home. Twenty years ago, she testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the occasion of Supreme Justice Clarence Thomas’ confirmation hearing. Her testimony in 1991 and the aftermath forced the entire nation’s tap dancing around a huge dead elephant (among other dead elephants!) to a grinding halt. Ms. Hill’s claims of sexual harassment while working as Justice Thomas’ assistant led to landmark laws that protect women in the workplace and galvanized women to take an even more active and substantial role in politics and public life. I will not discuss the events, the backlash, the eventual vindication through change that has become, in the beginning, fodder for talk show repartee, then filled academic lecture halls, and eventually, became part of our modern-day lives. I want to focus on her discussion of HOME.
It struck me as poignant that she zeroed in on the HOME — having one to call such, owning it, keeping it, — as fundamental to our well-being, our dignity, our identity, and our sense of equality. She traced the struggle of the African-American in the history of the United States, from the shackles of slavery to the current times. She explained how, through time, with changes in the attitudes and laws, African-Americans gained their freedoms, then were allowed to own property, then vote, and on to their current standing in American society.
I was reminded right away of an organization from the Philippines that started out as a small grassroots movement, founded by Tony Meloto sometime in the late 90’s. Because of his passion and perseverance, Gawad Kalinga has become a driving force for the everyday person to contribute to the alleviation of poverty in the country.
It appears they started out raising money and finding volunteers to build homes for people who could not afford four walls and a roof over their heads that would protect them from the elements. Many lived in make-shift shanties made of cardboard and whatever discards they could find on the streets. As the movement gained traction, they became more and more organized. Gawad Kalinga (GK) means, “to bestow care,” in Tagalog. By 2003, they launched GK777, which is a pledge to build 700,000 homes in 7000 communities for the next 7 years.
I remember, a few years ago, agreeing to sell some hand-made bracelets my friend, Loudette Banson, asked of me in order to raise funds to build these homes. She had taken it upon herself to be responsible for building an entire community of homes. Each home would cost about US$1000*. It sounds so little but this is probably just for the materials. The houses have been built by volunteers. Some volunteers were from the community itself and by people whose homes were already built for them. But many volunteers came from everywhere.
My daughter and her friends volunteered their time one summer in 2009. They joined other volunteers from all over the Philippines, and also from other countries, to help build some of these homes. They were equipped with gloves, tools, shovels, and whatever else it took to get the job done. In fact, the photos in this post are from their trip.
GK is providing not just a roof over a people’s heads. They are giving families a place to come together. In the confines of their home, they are a bona fide unit. The home validates their existence. Once the house is completed, there is an assigned address and it is registered in a government office. Their name is attached to the address. They are no longer transients with no roots. In this way, GK has given them back some of their dignity as human beings. This gives them a sense of worthiness to stand shoulder to shoulder with other Filipinos. Pretty much what Anita Hill has said of the African-American’s plight, the woman’s plight, over the centuries.
A few days ago, I listened to Rene Montagne’s piece on how Pakistani women play an important role in preventing their sons from being radicalized. She interviewed Mossarat Qadeem, founder of PAIMAN, which means “promise,” an organization that is committed to preventing the radicalization of young Muslim men (and boys!) by providing them with alternatives through education and economic opportunities. She urges these men’s mothers to plead with their sons not to join the Taliban and then she finds ways for them to get rehabilitated, counselled, and trained with new skills so they can eke out a living to provide food on the table and security for their families. These boys are enticed by radical movements with money and protection. If they can get it through legitimate means, without the strings attached (that could very well cost theirs and other people’s lives), then, everyone’s in a better situation for it.
Most people gravitate to wherever they hope to have a fair chance to survive with the basics—food, shelter, clothing. Then they just want their dignity and a fair chance to make something of their lives. Most people are not inherently dishonest, violent, nor deceitful. But in desperation, the worst in anyone can and will surface one way or another.
People want to be seen as human beings first before their skin color, gender, or religious affiliation. It’s a pervasive and recurring theme everywhere, whether it’s here in our backyard, in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, or Europe.
What can we all do to help it along?
*Recently, the costs have gone up to US$2000/house, according to a recent source.
PBS Interview of Anita Hill: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/law/july-dec11/anitahill_10-10.html