For people in their 20s, Friday nights are usually spent in bars, malls, or long queues for provincial buses. April 17 was different. A few days back, I decided to accept an invitation from a friend to volunteer for Gawad Kalinga. So that Friday night, after work, I found myself heading over to Padre Garcia in Batangas with a friend and a few people I know only by name. When we arrived at the site, I couldn’t help but notice the stars in the dark sky, the distinctive fresh air of Batangas, and most of all the familiar accent of locals greeting us, “masayang buhay!” These are the few things the city lacks.
Formal activities started the next day. We woke up at around six to be able to meet the call time. We gathered in the site’s mini plaza and from there we were divided into three groups. The group I got the chance to join in was assigned to Barangay Quilo-Quilo. Our group was even further divided into three. First were assigned to the Paraisong Pambata group—these are the ones who present a program to kids and conduct activities like storytelling, games, and presentations. Second were assigned to paint school roofs and walls. And the third group was assigned to cleaning pavements and dried waterways by the side of the road. Because of the materials I got to borrow from a family in the GK site, I decided to join the third group where bolos and broomsticks would be best utilized. Cutting grass and cleaning the dried canals were not easy tasks given the scorching heat that day. However when I saw how other people were so energetic and how hard and efficient they worked, I tended to shrug off every little piece of exhaustion off my shoulders. Positivity is really contagious! Next thing I knew, we were able to finish our tasks way ahead of time. We even got the chance to help the second group paint school walls and build flowerpots afterwards.
After the day’s activity, we got the chance to take a break and enjoy the rest of the day. Before dusk, we gathered by a place in the GK site and took a bath through water coming from a fire hose. Yes, fire hose with a real fire truck! One of the most interesting things about joining activities like this is that I get to be a part of a group. When I was feeling the cool water after a hot summer day and observing my surroundings, I realized that the people around me came from different walks of life. And the fact is that I was there, enjoying the cool water with them. It’s amazing how people regardless of age, social or economic status gather in one place to do something for the betterment of the community and after the day’s work we to enjoy the same thing. For an introvert like me, chances like these don’t happen very often.
Madel (lower right most) with volunteers from Bayani Challenge Padre Garcia
A few days after, a friend asked me if I think being a volunteer really made an impact. She asked me, “what if it doesn’t change lives?” Then I thought what if we hadn’t cleaned those waterways? Clogged canals lead to flood. What if we didn’t paint those roofs and walls? The school will look dull. What if no one volunteered to build the homes on the GK site? You get the picture. And what if she did not ask me to join her to volunteer? Then that weekend will just be another ordinary unproductive weekend.
Sometimes what we do might seem petty. But I believe in the cliché that big things come from the smallest gestures. Be it the picking up of a piece of trash, giving a token of gratitude, inviting someone for a volunteer weekend, or saying yes to that invitation. Because of that weekend, more than pictures and a good feeling, I get to take with me memories and first-hand knowledge on how other people live and how communities work. Maybe no matter how small that seems like, that is a part of the impact being a volunteer makes.
Madel Robles, June 16 2015