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Reach Out And Take Them - Part 1

It is impossible to spend time with Tony Meloto and not come away awestruck at his boundless energy and extreme focus on the work with the poor. You cannot but be infected by his optimism and idealism, or be carried away by his grand plans to improve the lot of the poor and the disadvantaged. His every waking thought (and perhaps even his subconscious ones) seems to be how he can fulfill his mission of bringing God's glad tidings to His poor brethren.

The poor have all the reason to rejoice that Tony Meloto walks in our midst. His vision has enabled many poor families all over the country to improve their lives through the projects of Gawad Kalinga. The literal translation of Gawad Kalinga is Award (“gawad”) for Caring (“Kalinga”). Gawad Kalinga refers both to the nationwide network of projects designed to address the needs of the poor and to the awards given out to project areas established by the different CFC Sectors throughout the country.

Through Tatag (a Filipino word that means to establish or to set up) many homes have already been built or repaired. Through Sikap (Effort), many communities have been taught various skills and crafts that have enabled families to augment their income. SIGA (an acronym for Serving in God's Army) refers to out-of-school youth, some of them rescued from a life of crime, who have been transformed into young men with hope and with greater resolve to be productive members of society. Sibol (to thrive) takes care of educating preschool children who otherwise would not have the benefit of care in their formative years. Sagip (meaning to save but is actually an acronym for Sagipin ang Gating, Isip at Pangarap ng Kabataan or (Save the Talents, Mind and Dreams of the Youth) brings new hope to street children through education and nurturing programs.

Tony explains that the success of Gawad Kalinga owes much to one basic ingredient: the people who work at GK seek less to change the lives of the poor than to transform their own hearts. Their service stems from the conviction that loving the poor is not a burden but a privilege, a source of fulfillment and joy. The quality of work with the poor becomes defined by the quality of attitude. The basic difference with other groups who work with the poor is that CFC volunteers spend time with the poor as friend and brother, not as benefactor. Since the focus is on the spiritual dimension, it becomes easy to enter their world and to establish affinity with them.

“You know”, Tony says, “as you enter their world, you begin to know them. You may have started out doing things for them but as you spend more time with them, you begin to be concerned. You find that you are now doing things with them. Another thing, as you spend more time with them, you realize that you are helping them discover their own abilities, you are helping them to dream again.”

Tony himself is amazed at how everything came together for him and how all his roads eventually led to Gawad Kalinga. “When we started out in Bagong Silang, the very first pilot project for our work with the poor, no one was an expert on community development, we had no book or manual to consult. Our only guide was the Bible passage that we were sure was directly given to us by the Lord – ”…bring glad tidings to the poor.” But as it turned out, everything fell into place so quickly we can only surmise that God had planned everything from the start.”

The “start”, for Tony, was 1985 at the Holy Cross Parish in Amparo, Novaliches, where he took his Christian Life Program. In 1986, when CFC began to be active in the parish, he hooked up with Fr. Nonito Adorable, C.P. who was then the parish priest of Bagong Silang. CFC helped Fr. Adorable build his parish church in the area. Tony eventually left Novaliches and his work in CFC took him to many provinces and to countries around the world.

It was in 1995, while in Melbourne, Australia on one of his regular visits as country coordinator, that he remembers receiving the call to work with the poor. God's message was made even clearer when he was instructed to start working with out-of-school youth. After sharing this message with Bangy Bangayan and the Living for Christ Foundation, a group of Chinese and Filipino businessmen engaged in working for the poor, the ANCOP Foundation was born, with ANCOP being an acronym for A Network of the Church of the Poor. The first activity of Ancop was a youth camp for 127 youth, some of them gang members, over the Christmas holidays of 1995.

Continue to Part 2

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