Last Saturday we woke early to begin the trek in convoy from Manila to Angat, Bulacan. As I had never been outside of Manila and I had read a lot about our destination, it was a trip I was keen to make. I enjoyed taking in my new surroundings as we drove to the GK Enchanted Farm. (You can check out the map here)
When we finally arrived, the birthday celebrant came out to greet and welcome us. In my case, we were also introduced, as I had not met Tony Meloto before. I was not alone. Such is Filipino hospitality, that attending a party without personally knowing the celebrant is perfectly acceptable. In the Philippines, everyone is invited to the party!
As well as meeting Tito Tony I was also introduced to several other guests, including a large group from Texas, USA and the Philippine Consul, Felix Pintado, from Melbourne. And then, we were seated in an open air auditorium and formalities were underway.
I had forgotten about the Filipino party style and before long I was deeply immersed in a myriad of speeches, singing and dancing presentations to Tito Tony. As much was in Tagalog, I missed some of the content but it was abundantly clear to me that Tito Tony was a much admired, respected and loved father and leader. His love and respect for his country, and the Filipino people, especially the poor, quickly became apparent and remained an ongoing theme.
After a delicious lunch there were further formalities and many of the guests from Manila said their goodbyes and headed back to the city. It was at this stage that I started to feel tired and overwhelmed, not just by the day, but also by the full agendas of the previous days. Fortunately, I gained a 'second wind' and became re-energised and re-focused during my conversation with the SEED students. (Read about that here)
Mass was at 5:pm and then, true to trademark Filipno hospitality, more food was served. Just as I was wondering if I should exit and make my way up to my room for an early night, Tito Tony reiterated the invitation to the evening's festivities. He assured us all that it would be a wonderful gathering.
The band played popular hits from the 80's right through, and the dance floor was packed. There was a definite party vibe and the feeling of welcome was apparent. It was such fun!
This was also an opportunity to 'people watch'. Of particular interest, was Tito Tony's interaction with the villagers. True to his word, Tito Tony was there dancing and partying with everyone. I learnt that Tito Tony is definitely one who walks his talk. The words at his birthday were not merely words, but words that translated into genuine action.
It was delightful to observe the mutual respect and love between Tito Tony and the villagers. Their words and actions showed the depth of their feelings as they thanked their mentor and wished him a happy birthday.
It was 11:00pm before I left the party. As I walked to my room I reflected on what I had seen and heard both today, and in Melbourne, just a few weeks ago. Gawad Kalinga was most definitely an organisation for the people and one that relied on a head, heart and hands approach. My research into Tito Tony and Gawad Kalinga had been verified!
Happy 65th birthday Tito Tony! May you continue to be blessed with good health, with the ongoing love and support of family, friends and team members, with inspired vision and deep faith, and the commitment of both rich and poor as you journey together to create a country whose abundance is shared with all.
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