Building Homes, Building Lives

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7/30/2010

Knights and community members work at the K of C Village site. The Gawad Kalinga project has provided numerous houses for villagers in the Philippines and seeks to build a community that is vibrant and sustainable.

In a secluded village about 17 miles north of Manila, Knights of Columbus have assisted in building scores of new, colorful houses along the rugged hills. Many of the residents were formerly homeless, but now they and their children have a new start in life and hope for the future.

Their houses comprise the Knights of Columbus Village, a building project funded by the Knights of Columbus Fraternal Association of the Philippines, Inc. (KCFAPI), the insurance arm of the Order in the Philippines. Located in the city of San Jose del Monte of Bulacan, the village is part of a larger housing development sponsored by Gawad Kalinga, a faith-based organization whose name in Filipino means “giving care.”

A priest blesses the newly opened residences.

This past April, five new units in the complex were dedicated and named in honor of Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson. This made a total of 22 houses and one chapel built at the site by the KC Philippines Foundation with support from KCFAPI.

Jocelyn Tusi, a mother of four children, said that coming to the village was an answer to her prayers. She and her husband helped to build their house and also took lessons from Gawad Kalinga instructors on building a better a life.

“We live under one roof that we can now call our own,” she said. “It seems that our confidence, dignity and hopes were restored with our new home. They brightened up our lives with goodness.”

The houses are simple, yet durable: concrete, steel-framed units that are brightly painted and measure about 76 square feet each. Room is limited, especially for larger families, but there are outdoor common areas where families can gather and children can play. For the time being, residents use a deep-well pump for drinking and washing until the government extends water lines into the hills.

Akin to the worldwide Habitat for Humanity program, residents provide “sweat equity” by joining hundreds of other skilled and unskilled volunteers in the construction process.

A knight receives a cinder block from a fellow volunteer during construction of the Knights of Columbus Village.

Monetary donations to Gawad Kalinga provide the remaining construction funds. Knights in the Philippines have been major donors and volunteers since 2008.

In addition, volunteers from KCFAPI have staffed a mission to monitor the health of village residents and to ensure that they understand the basics of nutrition and hygiene.

The Gawad Kalinga project includes dozens of homes in addition to the K of C Village and seeks to build a community that is vibrant and sustainable, despite being isolated from the surrounding villages. It has a school program that provides children with a pre-school, primary school and vocational education, and a livelihood program that develops farmland for the benefit of the whole community.

The spiritual needs of the residents are met by Couples for Christ, a Catholic organization that provides Christian mentoring, prayer meetings and Mass, as well as catechetical programs for children. In addition, the Knights of Columbus constructed a chapel named for Father George Willmann, a Jesuit missionary priest who is known as the “Father McGivney of the Philippines” for his work with the Order for 40 years until his death in 1977.

Volunteers shovel gravel during the village's construction.

Justice Jose Reyes Jr., a federal judge and the chairman of the KC Philippines Foundation Inc., said that the new homes are just the beginning of an ongoing effort to house the area’s poor, who live in cardboard or scrap metal shacks along the highways and dirt roads of the country.

“The Knights of Columbus has long been helping the poor,” he said. “We really wanted to help this project … an honest to goodness help to the poor. This is now a realization.”

According to Reyes, Knights maintain a close relationship with village residents and provide ongoing faith formation to help build a small Christian community among the people.

ROY LAGARDE is a staff writer and photojournalist in the media office of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines and a member of Manila Council 1000.