Founder of Philippines NGO Links Housing to Peace

February 27, 2009

The founder of a Philippines-based organization said that building houses has helped build peace in a nation troubled by religious conflict and crime.

In a talk yesterday sponsored by the Master’s Program in Coexistence and Conflict, Antonio Meloto detailed the efforts to obtain donated land and build housing for the poor by the organization he founded, Gawad Kalinga (Filipino for “to give care”). In addition, the organization has worked to overcome dissention between the Philippines’ majority Catholic population and its Muslim residents.

“What’s made us poor is that we are fractured and divided as a nation,” Meloto said.

Poverty has “brutalized” the people of the Philippines, with a lack of social justice leading to crime and predatory behavior, according to Meloto. Conflicts arise over religion and politics, with elections marred by bloodshed.

Gawad Kalinga advocates for “patriotic development,” the notion that providing housing is in the national interest, said Meloto. Before the organization began, no one ever gave land to the poor, he said. But people soon discovered that such donations brought peace and increased home values in the community. “We focus development not on money but on human values,” he said.

Helping to build on the land are international volunteers and community members, highlighted in a video on the organization shown during the presentation. A video also highlighted its “highway of peace” initiative, an annual gathering that fosters coexistence between Catholics and Muslims.

The goal of the organization is to bring the Philippines out of poverty in one generation, according to Meloto. He also hopes to spread the model all around the world.

“We have to create a common good not to leave anyone behind,” he said.