Freedom towards positive change: Gawad Kalinga’s Bayani Challenge

Published May 20, 2021, 12:12 AM

by Sonny Coloma


Sonny Coloma

In 2006, Gawad Kalinga (GK) launched Bayani Challenge (or Hero Challenge), an annual activity held during the summer vacation months, to mobilize and engage the youth in community-building activities and provide them a concept of nationhood: “a five-day test of courage, endurance and love for country.”

The first venue was Guinsaugon in Saint Bernard, Southern Leyte, where hundreds were buried alive in a massive landslide that occurred on February 17, 2006. Two weeks of torrential rains and a minor earthquake were the twin events that could have caused the disaster.

The collapsed face of a mountain ridge where an elementary school once stood was the stark image that greeted volunteer rescuers who rushed to the scene.  Hundreds of children and their teachers were buried alive in the avalanche of debris flow that carried with it some 1.2 billion cubic meters of mud and boulders up to three kilometers. The official death toll was 1,126; only 200-plus community residents survived.

Billed as “a race to rebuild a nation,” GK’s first-ever Bayani Challenge involved 400 volunteers who immersed themselves for nearly a week with the people of Guinsaugon and helped rebuild their destroyed homes. This became the template for the Bayani Challenges in the succeeding years: Focus on rebuilding communities severely damaged by natural calamities.

In 2011, on the 25th anniversary of the EDSA People Power Revolution, GK expanded the breadth and depth of its Bayani Challenge. This marked the start of GK’s social artistry phase, a period of refining and fine-tuning development strategies in terms of scale, scope and method. I was privileged to have witnessed and participated in the 2011 Bayani Challenge as I was then working in the government.

The municipal government of Bantayan hosted the 2011 exercise on Bantayan Island with full support from the Cebu provincial government. Through their animated street-dance ensemble, the winners of the Sinulog festival welcomed the more than 2,000 volunteers that included many exchange students from Europe, North America and Asia.

Transcending the usual scope of the Bayani Challenge, the Bantayan exercise went beyond home-building and into farm building, school building, health and wellness, island greening and the establishment of a Paraisong Pambata (Children’s Paradise). Three years later, the solidarity that was achieved in 2011 was concretized.  Many volunteers returned to assist the people of Bantayan in rebuilding their communities that were among those severely damaged by super typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in November 2013.

Last year, as the government enforced quarantine and lockdown to stem the COVID-19 outbreak, GK encouraged its volunteers to prevent transmission and help gather resources for assisting vulnerable sectors by working from their homes.

This year’s Bayani Challenge is designed to enable civic-spirited Filipinos to participate in-place and to internalize the causes being espoused through voluntary, personal acts or good deeds.  Gawad Kalinga’s Bayani Challenge 2021 is an innovative nine-week program that began on April 9 (Day of Valor or Araw ng Kagitingan) and culminates on June 12 (Independence Day or Araw ng Kalayaan).

The weekly themes are: Freedom from sickness, freedom from illiteracy, freedom from pollution, freedom from financial constraints, freedom from food insecurity, freedom from lack of usable water, freedom from hunger, freedom from apathy, and finally, freedom towards positive change. (The GK website lists the full program:

Each of the freedoms celebrated weekly provides a platform for individual action framed as personal acts of courage or valor, or even simply self-improvement. Little acts of kindness could send ripples of generosity that would generate a tide or groundswell of hope.

To achieve freedom from sickness, for instance, there are two suggested “sample acts of valor”: First,  “eat healthy – showcase healthy meals, avoid unhealthy snacks;” and second, “exercise – run, weights, do yoga, zumba.” For this week’s campaign to attain freedom from lack of usable water, the suggested activities are: build rain catchments, conserve or reuse water and clean up water sources.

Next week’s challenge is to work toward attaining freedom from hunger.  Raise funds for meals, donate in kind and “organize a feeding activity” focusing on children, senior citizens and pregnant women.  Six weeks ago, Ana Patricia Non set up the first community pantry on Maginhawa street — and unknowingly launched an initiative that literally spread a virus of kindness nationwide.

On week eight (May 31 to June 6), the Bayani Challenge is to actualize freedom from apathy by registering to vote in the 2022 national elections.  Finally on week nine (June 7 to 12), the three suggested actions are: First, “Write your #Bakit Hindi vision for the Philippines,” then post and share in social media.  Second, use the Philippine flag Facebook frame.  Third, “Celebrate Philippine Independence Day by doing any act of kindness toward your fellow Filipino.”

If adopted on a large scale, these could make a significant difference in achieving freedom towards positive change.