Gawad Kalinga founder, Tony Meloto

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MANILA – The leading French newspaper Le Figaro recently lauded Gawad Kalinga and its founder, Tony Meloto.

This, after Meloto delivered a keynote speech at the opening of the United Nations Scientific and Cultural Organization’s Planetworkshops Global Conference early this month.

In a column by Marielle Court, Meloto was hailed for building homes and villages for the poor.

Court cited Meloto’s famous quotes (translated into English) such as “You build with values, not only with money” and “I prefer the freedom of serving to the power of directing.”

Court said Meloto “spreads these kinds of quotes in every place he goes. And for those who wouldn’t be fully convinced yet, he will add a few keywords: honesty, sharing, simplicity, work.”

Court said it was amazing how Meloto, 63, could mix with the world’s most powerful people, yet find his happiness and reason to live among the poorest of his country.

Court added that Meloto manages to combine two words that are often incompatible in today’s world: liberal and social.

But the columnist said it is not surprising, given Meloto’s communicative energy and his degree in economics.

Court cited Meloto’s humble beginnings, having been born to a poor family.

“Meloto was a good student. After high school, he was granted a one-year scholarship in the US and, in order to make some pocket money, he worked as a model for swimsuits,” Court wrote.

Meloto worked for seven years for Procter and Gamble before creating his own, the column said.

Infiltrating Manila’s big slums

Court cited how, at 35, everything suddenly changed for Meloto.

“He could no longer stand the kind of life reserved for an elite while millions of people are left behind in extreme poverty and violence. It no longer matched his Christian values, which had been deeply inculcated in him,” Court said.

It was then that he decided to drop everything.

“I became a Christian missionary at first,” Meloto told Court, before he decided to tackle the transformation of society. “I had to find some humanist values in order to be able to show humanity myself toward the poor.”

Meloto told Court that in his forties, he created his non-government organization called Gawad Kalinga, which means to give care.

He infiltrated Manila’s big slums where there was violence, and dealt with gangs and dealers.

“Some are interested in the victims, the women and the children. Me, I am targeting the men, the ones responsible,” he told Court.

Meloto said his goal was to have the people change by giving them back their dignity – and this begins with building houses and villages with schools, health centers and farms for them to have livelihood.

These men who Meloto is dealing with are the same people who build the houses and villages – after signing a strict commitment to rules of good behavior.

Meloto admits that there are some who fail – around 20 percent.

“This means there are around 80 percent who succeed,” Meloto told Court. “Even in the worse thugs there is always something good. This is what I target.”

Meloto added that sometimes, disappointments may come from the least unexpected areas.

He said he was taken aback on the day that several top figures from the Church denounced the campaign he was carrying out against tuberculosis because a subsidiary of the large pharmaceutical company which was supporting him was selling condoms.

“This issue caused much comments. It made me very popular,” said Meloto, who is also a radical optimistic. Source: The Philippine Star

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