MANILA, SEPTEMBER 6, 2006 (STAR) By Ann Bernadette Corvera - One need not have a medal to be called a hero. Rising above self to unconditionally commit to a cause is in itself a kind of heroism, and this is the challenge that one of this year’s Ramon Magsaysay Award winners sees in order for Filipinos — especially the youth — to overcome poverty.

In receiving the 2006 Magsaysay award for community leadership, the Gawad Kalinga movement dedicated Asia’s most prestigious honor to its many faceless heroes — volunteers who give themselves "without counting the cost" to serve others.

"But the challenges we face today require more than just one-time or short-term volunteers," said Gawad Kalinga chairman Frank Padilla during a public lecture last Monday.

For instance, he said, someone who volunteers as an election watcher should work every day until the ballots have all been counted, "and so that the decision of the people is upheld."

"He must see beyond the vote counting of the moment, beyond the overall preservation of the integrity of the ballot and to look to the eventual transformation of a whole nation, starting with getting the people’s choices in office," Padilla said.

Beyond volunteerism, he said that the country "calls for heroism."

"Volunteers are fueled by conviction. A simple task becomes a cause because the volunteer appreciates the objective, but more than that, the volunteer finds his purpose in his chosen cause," he said.

Two young volunteers who found their purpose with Gawad Kalinga are Paolo Domondon and Eena Kanapi whose idealism led them to sacrifice personal gains for "love of country."

Domondon, 21, put on hold three medical scholarships in the United States after graduating magna cum laude at the De La Salle University in 2005.

"I thought all these would make me happy until I realized that even though I’ve decided to become one of the best neurosurgeons in the country, if I can’t do something for the nation, it would be useless," Domondon said at same public lecture held at the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation building in Manila.

"Eighty percent of our doctors are leaving the country. It is such a sad reality. If you are leaving because of hopelessness, think again," he said.

Kanapi, 25, was a successful advertising executive for years before leaving to join Gawad Kalinga as a volunteer.

Despite the good life she enjoyed in the corporate world, Kanapi said there was a "nagging feeling" that something was missing in her life.

As she set out to finally make real her dream of helping the poor, Kanapi made a "checklist" of worthy causes which she hoped to be part of.

"It has to be empowering the poor and the impact (of its projects) has to be immediate and sustainable. Lastly, it has be to be guided by God. That’s when I found GK (Gawad Kalinga)," she said during the lecture.

Like Kanapi, Domondon defines success in life not in terms of what one has — especially materially - but what one can do for the country.

"Padamihan ng paggawa para sa bansa," (Let’s do more things for the country.) he said.

Gawad Kalinga and its founder Antonio Meloto were separately honored for their contributions to community development in the midst of the country’s massive poverty rate.

So far, more than 850 villages span the Philippines 11 years after Meloto launched his "work-with-the-poor" ministry in Bagong Silang — a squatter relocation site in Caloocan City — that he called Gawad Kalinga, which means "to give care."

Gawad Kalinga envisions to build 7,000 new communities by 2010 as it implements five strategies to transform slums into communities, including enhancing self-reliance among the people and providing dependable water system and light for homes.

Meloto, 56, was recognized by RMAF for "inspiring Filipinos to believe with pride that theirs can be a nation without slums."

He and Padilla cited three "powerful causes" that are converged in their movement for change.

"The GK brand of heroism is all about bayan (nation), bayani (hero) and bayanihan (spirit of communal unity)," Meloto said.

While many have found the situation here "hopeless" and thus have chosen to leave, Padilla said, "there is still inherent love in the hearts of Filipinos for their motherland.

"It’s just that this love has been forgotten, even seemingly abandoned." But in partnership with local government units and corporations, he said Gawad Kalinga "has been able to draw out this love by showing a program with integrity and that truly gives back dignity to the poor."

The week-long RMAF event closed with the Gawad Kalinga lecture on Sept. 4 — part of a series of public talks by the awardees that also included Ek Sonn Chan from Cambodia for government service, Park Won Soon from Korea for public service, Sanduk Ruit from Nepal for peace and international understanding and Arvind Kejriwal from India for emergent leadership.

Kejriwal was honored for activating India’s right-to-information movement at the grassroots by empowering New Delhi’s poorest citizens to fight corruption by holding the government answerable to the people.

"People are the masters and the government is the servant. It is the duty of the master to take accounts from the servant from time to time," Kejriwal said in his public lecture entitled "The Anatomy of Corruption: Exercising the People’s Right to Information."

"Making social change everybody’s business" was the theme of Park’s lecture.

Park, head of The Beautiful Foundation and the Hope Institute in Korea, was honored for his "principled activism fostering social justice, fair business practices, clean government and a generous spirit in South Korea’s young democracy."

Meanwhile, Ek, director general of the Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority, delivered a lecture on rebuilding the people’s trust in public services.

He was recognized by RMAF for his exemplary rehabilitation of a ruined public utility and bringing safe drinking water to a million people in Cambodia’s capital city.

Ruit talked about how to make medical technology work for the poor based on his experience as medical director of the Tilgang Eye Center in Kathmandu which he established in 1994 and has now become "the hub of an ambitious expansion of eye-care services."

He is recognized for placing Nepal at the forefront of developing safe, effective and economical procedures for cataract surgery thus, "enabling the needlessly blind in even the poorest countries to see again."

Gawad Kalinga and Meloto are among three of this year’s Filipino laureates with Ma. Eugenia Apostol for the journalism, literature and creative communication arts category. She was cited for "her courageous example in placing the truth-telling press at the center of the struggle for democratic rights and better government in the Philippines."

The 2006 Magsaysay awardees each received a certificate, a medallion bearing the likeness of the late president and a cash prize. They were formally conferred the Magsaysay Award last Aug. 31 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines in Manila.

The Ramon Magsaysay Awards was established by trustees of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund in 1957 to commemorate the late President Ramon Magsaysay for his integrity in government and service to the people before his death in a plane crash at Mt. Manunggal in Cebu that year.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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