Catholic New World: Newspaper for the Archdiocese of Chicago

Young adults bring grace to the Philippines

By Kristin Peterson
Staff writer

In less than 10 years, Gawad Kalinga (GK), an initiative of Couples for Christ, has overseen the building of more than 1,200 villages in the Philippines. Its goal is to build 700,000 homes in 7,000 villages in seven years. But it is not just about building homes; the organization also helps form communities, heal relationships and restore dignity.

Four young adults from the Chicago area will travel to the Philippines in August to be a part of the first GK Builders Corps from America. Patrick Curran, Beth Filipiak, Heather Macphee and Jonathan Wittig have committed to volunteer in the Philippines for six months with the option of staying for up to two years. All four are graduates of Loyola University Chicago.

Last summer, Wittig went on a threeweek trip to the Philippines with Gawad Kalinga. “Once I was over there, I fell in love with the program,” he said. “The mission of GK is to restore dignity to the poorest of the poor. I feel that is what God calls us to do.”

Wittig heard about the chance to return to the Philippines with the GK Builders Corps in August. He encouraged some of his friends to go with him, but for these four young adults the decision to volunteer in the Philippines for six months came after a period of discernment and prayer.

Patrick Curran had been working as a youth minister, but he realized that was not what he was called to do. Now he works for Charis Ministries, a program in Chicago that provides retreats and spiritual direction for young adults.

Curran said that a lot of things in his life just lined up and he realized that now would be the right time to go on this trip.

“It was a moment of clear insight where God said, now is the time,” Curran said.

“It wasn’t anything really exciting— nothing fell through the window. It was just the deep peace of knowing that God is moving.”

Beth Filipiak initially considered going on the GK trip, but when some of her family members got sick, she realized how difficult it would be for her to be away from her family for several months.

When the others decided they were going on the trip, Beth began to reconsider. “It was one of those lightning bolt moments for me as I was reading about the program,” she said. “Everything fit—community living, holistic lifestyle, real solutions.”

Heather Macphee just graduated from Loyola’s nursing school. “Through spiritual direction, I have been trying to figure out where I want to work and where I want to use my nursing skills,” she said.

When the opportunity came up to volunteer with GK, Macphee felt that it was a good fit. “Yes this is a crazy big step and not what I expected to do, but it’s what I’ve been looking for,” she said. Macphee will also be able to use her medical knowledge in the Philippines.

Each person from the Builders Corp has been assigned a specific job. Macphee will assess the health care needs of the villages and write funding proposals for the ten villages with the most needs.

Wittig will be able to utilize his background in international marketing with his job assignment. He will work with several villages to find ways to make their goods and services marketable to buyers in the U.S. “The goal is for villages to be self-sustaining financially,” he explained. Curran’s job is to make sure that each GK village has a marker at its entranceway, which includes the name of village and the sponsors.

Filipiak will use her sociology background to assess the values formation program that GK uses to prepare those who will live in a GK village.

The people who agree to live in a GK village work together to build the village. They purchase their house through sweat equity.

GK has also been able to repair relationships. In the Philippines there is still an ongoing conflict between Muslims and Christians, but there are GK villages where both Muslims and Christians live.

“It is bringing people together in God’s work regardless of the history and the conflicts,” Filipiak said. “Anything that is able to repair that kind of pain, that kind of violent history, that is beautiful beyond words to me.”

Even though these four young adults are giving up six months of their lives to volunteer, they do not find what they are doing to be so amazing.

“What we’re doing isn’t any more incredible to me than anyone else who is following God’s will and God’s plan for their life,” Filipiak said.

Curran recognizes that what they are doing is small in comparison to God’s work. “You have a very small opportunity to do something that seems so small, but at the same time you have that fear that God is going to do something tremendous with it,” he said. “It is not often that you get to touch and actively be a part of the kingdom of God on earth in a way that is so beautiful.”

The GK Builders Corps members pay for their travel and support themselves while in the Philippines. For more information on the Builders Corps and ways to support them, visit their Web log at