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Monday, December 24, 2007

An Englishman's Faith in the Filipino People

These days, it's so fashionable to give in to the belief that this country is hopeless, that it's catch as catch can and the devil take the hindmost.

But every once in a while, a story comes along that stands out because it highlights the best in every Filipino — the traits that we sometimes forget we have and that others have to see in us before we even remember that they exist.

Then, you realize that we're only hopeless if we think we are. And that we can actually do something to improve the lives of the people around us if we set our minds to it.

Many people have heard of the story of Dylan Wilks, the rich young Englishman who started a life of improving the plight of poor, homeless Filipinos by selling his BMW to build cheap houses for 80 families. But few people really know what led Wilks to do what he did two years ago.

Now Wilks has settled in Manila, where he has become one of the most prominent endorsers of everything good in the Pinoy. He was interviewed recently by Bo Sanchez for Kerygma magazine, the alternative Christian glossy, which is published by Shepherd's Voice.

Nowadays, when every politician seems to be talking about how to save the poor and the country without really doing anything, it's nice to here from someone who has actually dedicated his life to doing just that — one household at a time.

Dylan Wilks was born to a poor family. But at the young age of 20, he started a computer games company that made him a millionaire. Soon, Dylan operated in nine countries and ran his own TV channel. Then at the age of 25, Dylan sold his company for multi-million British pounds. He became the ninth richest person in the Great Britain under the age of 30.

But one night, while lying in bed, he was distressed by a nagging question that wouldn't let him sleep. "God, why am I rich?"

He asked if there was a reason for his immense wealth. Ironically, he also felt terribly empty inside. This, despite his ability to have any kind of pleasure he wanted. He had just bought himself a brand-new Ferrari and took one holiday after another. But he was discovering that pleasure was like fire... it constantly needed more fuel to keep it going. And he realized he would never be happy in the path he was taking.

One day, a Filipina friend visited him. She said she felt guilty going there because her plane fare could have built two homes for the poor. That made Dylan pause. How can you build two houses for that measly amount? He decided to investigate.

In January 2003, he visited the Philippines. And for three hours, Gawad Kalinga (GK) Director Tony Meloto brought Dylan to different GK villages for the poor. With his own eyes, he saw something that would change his life forever...

Bo: What did you see on that day?

Dylan: I saw hope. More than newly built houses, I saw transformed lives. We were entering rather dangerous slums, breeding ground for thieves and kidnappers.. . yet in the middle of that was an oasis... the Gawad Kalinga village. I saw people smiling, men working, children laughing... I've seen many other projects in South East Asia and across the world. And I've never seen anything like GK. This was different. This really worked!

Bo: So what did you do after your trip?

Dylan: I went back to England. I saw my BMW parked in the garage and realized I could build 80 homes with it... and affect the lives of 600 people. I saw the faces of the children I could help. I called up Tony Meloto and told him I was thinking of donating $100,000 to Gawad Kalinga and asked him if that was okay...

Bo: What did Tony say?

Dylan: He said, "No, I don't want your money."

Bo: Only Tony can say something like that. (Laughs.)

Dylan: He said if I was really serious in working for the poor, I should go back to the Philippines. So two months later, I sold my BMW and flew back to Manila. And in June of that year, I made a decision to stay in the Philippines and work for GK for seven more years.

Bo: Wow.

Dylan: I've decided to invest in the poor of the Philippines. Not in stocks or bonds. If I can help in uplifting the poor of this country, I can say that I spent my life well.

Bo: I presume your family wasn't too crazy about that decision.

Dylan: No! They thought I was brainwashed by a religious cult! (Laughs.) So my mother came and spied on me. But she was soon convinced of the beautiful work we were doing and went back home and told my sister about it. And my sister said, "Oh no, they brainwashed you too!" (Laughs.) But today, all of them support what I do.

Bo: You've made a decision to give up your wealth for the Filipino poor.

Dylan: I don't see it as a sacrifice. When you give charity out of pity, you feel pain parting with your money. But when you give charity because you love, you don't feel that pain. You only feel the joy of giving to someone you love. That's what I feel.

Bo: I hear you built an entire village for GK in Bulacan.

Dylan: I don't see it as my village. I just provided the materials. Architects, engineers, volunteers gave their labor. Together, we built 63 houses for the poor.

Bo: Amazing. What else do you do?

Dylan: I go around the world telling everyone that Filipinos are heroic. Because I work with them every day... the volunteers of GK.

Bo: What do you see in the Filipino that we take for granted?

Dylan : You're hardworking. You're always laughing, always eating, always singing. Even in your problems. You're loyal. And honest. Sure, there are exceptions, but generally, that's been my experience. And you have the bayanihan spirit. The pyramids of Egypt are beautiful but they were built by slavery. GK villages are more beautiful because they're made through the bayanihan spirit of the Filipino. It's especially this bayanihan and love of family and community that makes the Filipino more valuable than gold. If you take a golden nugget and kick it on the floor for 400 years, afterwards you won't be able to see much gold, just mud. This was what happened to the Filipino... for 400 years you were slaves and then you suffered under dictatorship and corruption. This is where the crab mentality came from; I don't think it's a natural Filipino quality because every day I see the gold under the surface of ordinary Filipinos. If we wipe away the mud by bringing hope and being brothers to one another in bayanihan, the gold will shine through and the world will see it.

Bo: Let me get personal here. I hear that you don't only love the Filipinos, but you've fallen for a particular Filipina.

Dylan: (Smiles.) Two months ago, I married Anna Meloto, the eldest daughter of Tony Meloto. She grew up with the GK work, so we're totally one in our mission. And yes, I'll be having Filipino children. The best way I can secure a future for my kids is to continue to help raise this country from poverty. Instead of building high walls in an exclusive subdivision to protect us from thieves and kidnappers, I will go to the breeding ground of thieves and kidnappers and help transform their lives.

Bo: Thank you for this interview. You don't know how much you inspired me.

Dylan: Thank you for being our partner in GK. I read Kerygma every month and I'm happy to see GK stories in every issue.

Bo: It's our immense privilege to tell the world about it and ask others to join the miracle.

Dylan: To me, GK isn't just Gawad Kalinga. It is a part of "God's Kingdom" in this world. Thank you.

Shared by Antonio Palma

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