Bahay Kalinga is a program of the Arnold Janssen Kalinga Foundation (whose central Manila operation we’ve visited several times) in which annual cohorts of roughly a dozen unsheltered men are given the opportunity to join a seven-month residential program intended to support them in their effort to (re)join the workforce and find affordable housing. We knew little more than this when we headed off to visit Bahay Kalinga, but were very impressed by what we found there.
The program is located in Caloocan, one of the outermost districts of Manila, just a few kilometers from the beginning of the mountains that block the urban expansion even farther north. Bahay Kalinga occupies the grounds of what used to be (and is still called by neighbors) the German Hospital. It’s a two-story building with several wings that includes many outdoor shady areas as well as both vegetable and ornamental gardens.
We were particularly impressed with the “humanity”, kindness, or care ethic at work in this center, which we observed in myriad small touches, the most striking of which was the integration of a large number of animals including dogs (and puppies), cats (and kittens), fish, chickens, and rabbits.
Care is at the heart of the Kalinga value system, which we detailed in an earlier blog. To recap briefly, the five principles are:
- If I make a mess, I clean up.
- If I hurt you, I apologize.
- If you do something for me, I give thanks.
- If I have nothing to do, I help others.
- I speak gently and truthfully to others.
We do not mean to over-romanticize what we understand can be a very difficult context. The program beneficiaries must agree to give up their freedom (and be apart from their families) for seven months as they are not allowed to leave the grounds of the hospital during the program. What we are emphasizing here is that our initial misgivings (secular and vaguely “anarchist”) about the ”disciplining” of program residents gave way to admiration for a feeling of complex and struggled-for community.
Our goal for the visit was to learn about Bahay Kalinga’s efforts and also to begin the distribution process of our bespoke project aprons. We joined the group for their evening meal, stayed overnight nearby, and rejoined them in the wee hours of the morning as they prepared the 225 meals that they currently distribute three days a week in local neighborhoods in Caloocan to undernourished children with disabilities.
A few days before we arrived, Bahay Kalinga welcomed their seventh “batch” of “beneficiaries” which we learned is the term the staff use for recipients of various support services (as bakers, we love the Filipino use of the term “batch” for cohorts of any program such as school years; see our discussion “Can Beggars be Choosers?” for some thoughts about what terms might be used to refer to aid recipients). Half a dozen residents from “batch 6” have stayed on to run the meals program, which has only been in action for three weeks.
In its current iteration, Bahay Kalinga is the fortuitous confluence of two programs we visited earlier–the A.J. Kalinga Foundation and the Federation of People with Disabilities, both described in the Tara Na! post. The recent program graduates at Bahay Kalinga have taken on the responsibility of preparing meals of the regional feeding program, taking over this burden from the community mothers who now only need to do the work of distribution.
We brought along several loaves of Michael’s whole wheat sourdough bread which were sliced and added to the dinner table along with pomelo rinds that Michael had candied.
After dinner, we distributed gifts. Everyone involved in a feeding program as well as administrative staff received aprons, while the new arrivals received facemasks. Both have the phrase WALANG GUTOM, which can be translated as either the imperative to END HUNGER or the description THE END OF HUNGER. (For a further discussion of the design and slogan, see the concurrent post “Walang Gutom“).
Meal preparation begins at 2 AM each day. We slept elsewhere but returned at 4 in time to watch the final boxes being filled and to help close them off and pack them up. The operation is smooth and efficient although also personalized.
After the boxes were packed, we had prayers and exercise before breakfast–the same meal as the one was prepared for distribution, though prepared in a different kitchen by a different team. At each meal, there is a recitation of the values listed above along with prayers.
After breakfast, one of the residents read out a news report that a staff member had prepared. We heard about the progress of a tropical storm as well as the government’s radical undercounting of the impact of the Duterte regime’s extrajudicial killings (Kalinga has another program that supports the families of those killed).
Between 830 and 9 AM, the meals are distributed by motorized tricycle to six locations where mothers handle the distribution of boxes. Most of the meals are taken to school for lunch by the children but at one location (the basketball court we visited in Bagong Silang on June 15), the children sit down to eat together in shifts as they arrive.
To qualify for the program, children need to be technically underweight. Most (but not all) are connected to a strong area network of organizations for people with disabilities, but it may be the case that the children or the parents or even a sibling has the disability.
Chef Randy, a graduate of Bahay Kalinga’s batch six, had been a chef in Boracay who became homeless when he lost his work during the pandemic. He supervises two cooking crews, one that cooks for the residents and the other that cooks for the distribution. Efficiency and variety are two of his hallmarks–he has a one month cycle before repeating a meal for the residents, and in the 15 times he has cooked for this distribution, he has yet to repeat a menu. Some of the foods that have been prepared include chicken filet in mushroom gravy and pork asado–we wished we could have been there to help on the day they hand crafted 800 fresh lumpia (spring rolls).
The visit was delightfully slow-paced, with much time between activities to relax, chat, and play with six adorable puppies living on the grounds. During one leisure interval, Michael was asked by an on-site addiction counselor, himself a former addict, “Why aren’t you afraid of us?” Michael’s answer was a relatively simple one, but the backdrop of a question like this is so complex, conjuring the multiple dimensions of bias that keep large parts of the world in poverty.
We are grateful to the Kalinga administration for making it possible for the residents to share their lives with us, and would particularly like to mention Windel Pasion who organized our site visit and took us along on his distribution route.