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Monday , 4 July 2022

Beer tastes better in Sydney

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Speech delivered by TONY MELOTO
at the 3rd GK Global Summit at Sydney University

Although I hardly drink, it was the perfect moment for beer… lots of it… for lots of reasons to cap an amazing first day of the 3rd GK Global Summit at Sydney University which was a huge success.

Through the leadership of GK Australia Chairman Andrew Chalk and his indefatigable team, the Summit raised the consciousness of the mostly non-Filipino crowd that GK is not only effective in a Philippine poverty setting but a viable answer to the aspiration of the marginalized in other parts of the world including the aboriginal communities of wealthy Australia.

The setting for the dinner celebration was also perfect.

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We were at the top deck of St Aloysius College with a breathtaking view of the Sydney harbor and the Opera House. On hand to receive us with warm hospitality on this cool evening were the present Rector, Fr Peter, and his predecessor, Fr Ross, the Jesuit Indiana Jones who led many of his boys into life-changing adventures in the Philippines. With them, serving and entertaining delegates, was a big army of young volunteers from GK YGAT and St Aloysius alumni who had their rite of passage into manhood digging toilets in some out of the way GK villages.

I parked at the dinner table of six grads who were now old enough to drink and had endless GK experiences to tell as the beer kept flowing in the sweet nostalgia of the moment and the nobility of the cause.

I was surprised at my capacity that night to imbibe the brew. I thought I lost the taste for what was once my daily beverage until GK came into my life to disrupt old habits.

I stopped drinking 16 years ago, not out of puritanical abstention or health reasons but simply to provide a good example to the men in poor communities who could not afford to have vices to stop drinking. Our strategy in building sustainable GK villages in the Philippines is to curb drinking and gambling among the men and turn drunks and gamblers into good fathers in the home and law abiding citizens in the community. This character building strategy was
particularly appealing to the NSW Aboriginal Land Council CEO Geoff Scott who mentioned that alcohol was introduced as an addiction by the foreign settlers to disenfranchise the original owners of Australia and made them weak and easy to control.

The cumulative pain of centuries of debasement and dehumanization was evident in the moving message of their Chairman Stephen Ryan. It was shocking for me to discover – exposed as I am to many expressions of man’s inhumanity to man – that the early census of Australia did not count the Aboriginals as human but as part of the flora and the fauna and that children were separated from their mothers by missionaries to keep their population from growing, short of culling them like kangaroos.

Their pain pierced my heart because it is similar to our own historical conditioning that we are less human by having darker skin and not smart enough to steward our land and our destiny. It is the same with other wounded societies, rich and poor alike, where only the strong feel entitled to wealth and power and the DNA of a slave mentality and the pain of the oppressed are passed on from generation to generation like a cultural chain, difficult to remove or to break.

Despite billions of dollars spent by a rich Australian government to help their marginalized aboriginal minority, not much has happened to restore their dignity and improve their lives, according to their leaders like Riverbank Frank who was quietly listening throughout most of the sessions until he had a chance to pour out his pain in the Sunday session.

It was a wonder for the best educated in this prosperous country – with the Great Hall of Sydney University as the historic setting – how a volunteer NGO with limited financial resources like Gawad Kalinga can build 2000 empowered communities for the most marginalized Filipinos in an underdeveloped economy.
Of course it was very difficult… it still is. It took a ragtag army of hope-builders who decided to grow an intelligent heart and a can-do spirit to overcome the odds.

Many other rich countries like Australia have poured vast resources to address the problem of cultural woundedness with purely economic solutions but poverty and the festering pain just won’t go away. Money and technology simply won’t mend a wounded heart and a broken spirit.

We have the same challenges with our indigenous and Muslim communities, who are victims of our own version of racial, religious and cultural discrimination that have made them our most marginalized, neglected and forgotten citizens, and worst – in the case of the some Muslims – even our enemies.

With all the incompleteness and inadequacies of our resources and efforts, our indigenous and Muslim GK villages are generally happy and hopeful as shared by former Muslim rebel now GK worker Bai Linda Eman, simply because we overcame our fear and our prejudice and treated them like family and friend, equal in worth and dignity and opportunity to what the land can offer.

We are far from a solution but we have found a clear direction. We will stop to bleed in conflict if we start to sweat for hope.

From the testimony of original GK volunteer Dale Lugue – it is not money, but caring, that can mend fractured communities, and sharing, that can help people rise together.

Of course money is necessary to do good. Perhaps, if we were a country as rich as Australia and more resources were poured into GK, we could have given more quality to our caring …to more people.

But tonight alcohol was liberating as a tool for celebration after the inspiring talks in the Summit made our spirit soar. Besides these young men with me in the table were not poor nor had a vice to deal with. The Ryan Cayabyab singers made the beer taste sweeter. They were in their best form dishing out songs of my youth when life was not so hard and my people were not so poor.

What were the highlights of my three days in Australia?

FIRST, is about LEADERSHIP to do the most good in the world.

GK has gained the respect of the global community because of its greatness of spirit and the quality of leadership that it fosters – transcendent, brilliant, servant, transforming, joyful, accountable, enlightened – down to the last caretaker, volunteer and village leader.

SECOND, is about FRIENDSHIP that endures.

Friendship in GK is about LOYALTY to the country and to the poor.

Friendship in GK is being HAPPY for each other in doing good together.

Friendship is about PASSION to care without counting the cost.

THIRD, is about being FAMILY regardless of color, status, gender or religion.

Anyone in the planet who passionately cares for the less fortunate and the environment is family.

The Summit was a home coming for me to Australia, the beautiful land of the Holy Spirit where I got the inspiration to begin my search for my soul and my heart as a Filipino and a citizen of the world. My journey led to Bagong Silang and to GK.

In Gawad Kalinga, the poor taught me that it is in restoring our humanity that we discover what is truly divine in God’s beautiful home and family.

This is a beautiful world and a beautiful life if we all learn to love more.Thank you Australia for many beautiful memories and lessons learned. As we toast Sydney for a great event, let’s look forward to the 4th GK Global Summit on June 8-9, 2012 in Toronto.

Please hold the beer until next year.

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