Saturday, August 21, 2010

A Bid for Hope for Gawad Kalinga

If Beliz Balkir-Crook had the right lever, she would move mountains.
It’s a moot point if the strong-willed, clear-of-vision and purposeful
Turkish national (and wife of The Peninsula Manila’s General Manager Jonathan Crook) spent the 30-something years of her life looking for that lever because, recently allied with Gawad Kalinga (GK) and Travelife Magazine, she now has it firmly in her grasp. And she will be using it to move as many mountains as she can.

The obstacles are difficult, to say the least: poverty, limited efforts at community building, and the distance of little-regarded communities in Mindanao. But by uniting disparate sectors of Philippine society under the first Annual Gawad Kalinga Hope Ball, she seeks to tap generally disinterested sectors and individuals for something more than donations and fundraising: nation building. We get to speak to Beliz Crook, Chairperson of the GK Hope Ball, and Travelife Magazine EIC Christine Cunanan, the ball’s vice chairperson, who are spearheading this remarkable effort; and learn why the GK Ball, as it is succinctly known, is worth everybody’s time. Yes, even yours.

Give us a background on Beliz Balkir.
Beliz Balkir-Crook: I come from a family with very strong values. Both my parents are working; my mother is an academician and my father is a civil engineer. My mother was involved full-time in politics, which meant
she was mostly traveling, working late hours, attending events, and making speeches. Looking back, we always had either my mother or my father there for us. I can confidently say that my brother and I we were raised with much love and constant family support. We were always encouraged to stand on our own feet, and we were taught early to be responsible for our actions and learn from our mistakes. Believe me, I made a lot of mistakes!

At 19, I left Turkey for college in the US. I graduated and took the difficult path by staying there, getting a job, and paying rent. I remember I couldn’t wait to get paid: my rent was over half of my pay! Looking back however, it’s that sense of achievement that made every tough day I went through worth it; from almost calling my parents for help but then forcing myself to face the obstacles on my own. These I believe are experiences that made me who I am today. I am forever thankful to my parents for giving me the opportunity to find myself.

What is the GK Ball all about?
BBC: The first Gawad Kalinga Hope Ball is a nation-building ball. For the first time, the GK Hope Ball will bring together the diverse sectors within the Philippines to create something more important than history, and that is hope. We are seeking to join Manila’s elite to raise support and build holistic communities through GK’s Holistic Development Program in Mindanao. We want this event to begin the process of building a bridge of understanding and friendship between the Philippines’ wide spectrum of communities, and channel it into something productive.

That’s quite cutting-edge! What inspired you to conceptualize this event?
BBC: I wanted to do something with GK that was going to make an impact. I know of GK’s commitment for this country. Their dedication, passion, vision, and most importantly their love for this beautiful country has already contributed to changing so many lives; to me it is just impossible not be part of this rewarding journey to build a nation and end poverty. With the confidence of having my husband’s support and knowing Peninsula’s strong philosophy of giving back to the community where they have a hotel, I decided on an over-the-top, red carpet, triple A crowd, fundraising ball, with never-seen-before live auction items at the Peninsula.

The GK Hope Ball will be on October 8, 2010. This is incidentally the first big opportunity for GK to reach out to the Philippines’ elite in this capacity.

Is the GK Ball just another fundraising?
BBC: By uniting Philippines’ elite, influential and major corporate players in such a historical project, we are hoping this will be the start of the means for a better future for our brothers and sisters in the Southern Philippines.

This is a ball about nation-building, not just fundraising. This is part of a very big healing process for the country. We want to increase our presence in the Sulu area in Mindanao. By doing so, we will help reinforce the new culture of caring and sharing that will further build relationships and long lasting peace.

And who is the primary beneficiary?
BBC: We are going to build holistic communities is Sulu. I am saying holistic as this entails community empowerment and values formation, infrastructure, community health programs, food sufficiency, child and youth development programs, environment and productivity programs. These, in return, are meant to affect greater areas and surrounding communities.

Why Sulu?
BBC: GK has already built smaller communities in different municipalities in Sulu. Their peaceful and well-meaning developments have earned them strong goodwill in the area. GK currently has land donated in Sulu and would like to continue to empower the surrounding communities.

This will strengthen the GK movement in Sulu by increasing our team of community organizers, teachers, and other caretakers who will manage and ensure sustainability of all existing GK communities and build new ones.

So it’s meant to involve sectors and individuals who normally wouldn’t be able to pitch in with GK. Your thoughts on this?
BBC: I believe Philippines is one of the most giving countries to its people. Every sector or individual, in their own capacity, is involved in helping the nation’s poor. In GK, we are all here to make a difference in building a nation and bringing hope to a loving and most deserving country. We are
very committed and passionate in what we do. In the process, if we can influence people and have them join our cause, I think that will already accomplished a lot. Sometimes all it takes is for the right door to open, and we just walk through and begin our journey. I hope that with this project we are going to open many doors. This is not a question about being pro-GK advocate or for another foundation; this is about Filipinos helping other Filipinos.

Who are some of the entities and individuals working with you?
BBC: I am the Annual GK Hope Ball’s chair, and my dear friend Christine Cunanan is vice-chair. She has been very supportive of all my GK activities and other humanitarian work. I couldn’t imagine partnering with anyone else but her on this project. We had many occasions when things got very challenging, among the biggest sometimes are the cultural differences. She has taught me to be patient, to learn the right ways of
doing business in the Philippines. Of course as GK Hope Ball honorary chairman, we have our father Tony Meloto, who has attended every meeting that he has been invited to. He is a true inspiration, and a person with such endless vision and a great sense of humor. He truly amazes me! There is also, of course, Eena Meloto, our executive coordinator, who is also in charge of marketing. In charge of auctions are Wee Ramas-Sullano and Johanna Chuaunsu, and for finance we have Rose Cabrera. Heading Production is Pinky Antonio, while the Secretariat is chaired by Aurora Pijuan. We also have on board Rustan’s as a co-founding sponsor, and Weber Shandwick and Crown Fine Arts, among many others.

This is a ball about nation-building, not just fundraising. This is part of a very big healing process for the country

At this early stage, will you tell us some of the items for auction?
BBC: I cannot tell you how generous and excited everyone is to be part of this legacy. Saying that, the goods we are seeking are items with legacies themselves, items that will be cherished for generations. We have a painting exclusively commissioned and donated for the ball by Betsy Westendorp, and signed gloves and jerseys from boxing champion—and Congressman Manny Pacquiao.

Why did Travelife Magazine decide to become involved in the GK Ball?
Christine Cunanan: The Travelife Magazine team strongly believes in the philosophies of GK regarding empowering communities and rising above differences towards true nation building. This is especially important right now. And the GK Hope Ball is the perfect venue for Travelife to become involved in this high-profile event that merges these two GK philosophies with Travelife’s core principle of helping to enrich one’s quality of life through travel and involvement in communities near and far. Having enjoyed many blessings that have helped make us the leading travel and lifestyle publication in the Philippines, we feel this is the best way we can give back to the community.

Will Travelife continue to be involved in GK projects?
CC: We’ve met and gotten to know the key persons behind GK and we admire and respect each one for their dedication and true commitment to helping others. We would certainly like to continue to be involved with GK in various capacities. One very concrete way that ties in with our expertise in travel and journalism is to partner with GK and help them promote their idea of organizing immersion stays for local and foreign youths in GK communities. Through these immersions, young people can learn more about these empowered communities and donate some of their time and effort to concrete activities to help these communities. This is an alternative
form of travel that can be extremely enriching for young people, that Travelife Magazine fully supports.

This interview appears in the August-September 2010 issue of Travelife Magazine.


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