This wasn’t the first Gawad Kalinga Bayani Challenge I’ve missed. I was not around last year since we didn’t make it home in time. But somehow, this one is quite special to me.
This was the first real build of Tom, his first Bayani Challenge, his first time to be part of Team GK CamSur. Being his obsessive-compulsive self, he packed his clothes, first-aid kit, boy scout items (his flashlight, utility knife, matches, Human Nature bug shield) and sleeping bag about a week before the trip to Masbate. I knew he was excited. I was excited for him.
When I first met Tom, I can be certain that 90% of what I talked about was Gawad Kalinga. I remember the shock in my face when he told me he has never entered a GK village. He gave a shy smile – not quite understanding then what his parents did for the movement – but said that the next time he comes back to the Philippines, he’ll make time to check it out.
Between the two of us, I’m clearly the louder one. I talk more. I enjoy entertaining people – I like sharing stories and opinions. Tom likes to listen. He responds with warmth and the little he says is always with genuine interest and concern. So you can be sure that the few weeks we had getting to know each other was like GK101 or a crash course in the Builder of Dreams.
And he did come back to the Philippines. He checked out the villages in Quezon City all the way to Bagong Silang. And proposed. His first time to visit a Gawad Kalinga village was memorable in so many ways. He didn’t just fall for me. I knew he was falling in love with the movement and the people too – I just didn’t realize how quickly.
I started to realize how smitten he had become when he decided he wanted to move back home. We were in a hotel lounge in Coquitlam, listening to Joey Albert and her band perform – Tom with a beer and me with a cocktail. It was like we were in the Philippines, surrounded by Filipinos, except it was winter. I don’t remember what we were talking about but at the end of the night he made a statement. “Alam ko na kung bakit ako nabubuhay. For our family and for our country.”
He has spent more than half his life in Canada, away from his family and away from his country, but the love has been anchored deep, always there – just not finding a way to express it. At least not until that moment.
Call me a drama queen, but with the Filipino love song playing in the background, and my slight intoxication, I wanted to cry. It wasn’t one of those statements made for the world to hear. It was meant for me and for him. More for him.
Fastforward almost two years into our marriage, I watch my husband prepare for his trip. He grabs a red Habagat backpack (thank you, Gabgab) which has accompanied me to Rio Tuba, Zamboanga and Bukidnon. Bukidnon – the last Bayani Challenge that Team GK CamSur was able to participate in, the Bayani Challenge where I met his parents. Who would have thought that five years later, I’d be carrying their grandchild, watching their son pack for the trip?
Clearly, God works in the most mysterious of ways.
I will not pretend that I was not slightly jealous of all those going off for Bayani Challenge. Being pregnant is one thing, but being put on bed rest is something else. I have a very different challenge to tackle. But the silence of the past week allowed me to reflect and to listen – to accept this new role.
In me is the very reason why I do what I do. Our little boy, just five months in the womb, is the reason why his father wants to make our country a better place. Because our loved ones deserve the best, a country of heroes, with no more poverty.