Nowadays, when Filipinos are sadly, yet understandably, wary and suspicious of every Chinese-looking stranger they meet, it is a welcome breath of fresh air to come across this group of Chinese Filipinos (Tsinoys) that, unknownst to many of us, has been our people’s faithful partner in nation-building for 32 years now.
Kaisa Para sa Kaunlaran, Inc., or KAISA, is an organization of Tsinoys whose blood may be inherently Chinese, but whose “roots grow deep [and spread wide] in Philippine soil.” They consider the Philippines the land of their birth and the home of their people. And like the rest of our countrymen, they toil, sacrifice and give to this nation because they consider it their duty as Filipinos.
Organized in 1987, KAISA is a product of the EDSA People Power inspiration.
In their serious desire to serve as a bridge of understanding between two cultures and to inculcate civic responsibility and social awareness among its members, KAISA is vigorously involved in cultural/educational activities (maintenance of a museum, library and research center, a Chinese-Filipino digest that they issue fornightly, and books that they publish); social development initiatives (relief assistance, rehabilitation, livelihood and housing projects, outreach programs, Alay Medisina, among many others); and various worthwhile advocacies (political participation, peace and order, and good governance).
In the wake of almost all major calamities in the country, for instance, KAISA has always been a reliable presence in the communities most heavily affected by the ensuing devastation.
For Typhoon Ompong, KAISA volunteers had to ride a motor vehicle for four hours and hike three hours more just to get to the typhoon victims who lived in the mountains of Benguet.
For the victims of Supertyphoon Yolanda, their volunteers experienced riding every means of transportation available — C-130, private plane, banca, pump boat, Coast Guard cutter, motorcycle, mountain bike, and dump truck. All their efforts and sacrifices paid off because they were able to reach and deliver relief goods in all the seven provinces where Yolanda made landfall.
In 2003, KAISA built 14 schools for the seven Mangyan tribes of Mindoro. They managed to get all the tribes come together for bayanihan in building their schools. The farthest target community was 9 hours away but they were able to pull off the project when even the women and kids helped by carrying bricks and dos-por-dos woods up the difficult, treacherous, and mountainous terrain.
On the last week of November last year, I went back to Samar to assist KAISA with their outreach program. (I was there in late September with another colleague to distribute, on behalf of Team Pilipinas, teacher’s kits to the public-school teachers assigned in far-flung communities.) They chose the same recipients after having read the articles we wrote about the heartwarming stories of the teachers, some of whom have to travel up to 11 hours across rivers, mountains and rice fields just to get to their students.
A few days after our trip, I received an invitation from Teresita Ang See, the co-founder and a prominent member of KAISA, to their Christmas Party. When I and my husband arrived, we were immediately made to feel welcome despite our inability to understand Chinese, the language used by most of the older Tsinoys who were in attendance that afternoon. But what really made an impression on us was when they started the program with the singing of our national anthem.
Imagine a bunch of people that looks very Chinese, yet sings the very Filipino Lupang Hinirang. It was a sight to behold.
After the national anthem, they recited their credo, every word of which gave me goosebumps.
“The Philippines is our country,
it is the land of our birth,
the home of our people.
Our blood may be Chinese
but our roots grow deep in Filipino soil,
our bonds are with the Filipino people
We are proud of the many cultures
which have made us what we are,
it is our desire, our hope and aspiration –
that with the rest of our people,
we shall find our rightful place
in the Philippine sun.”
Right there and then, I decided to volunteer for KAISA’s next outreach project.
And, so, I was with them again last Tuesday for their fourth relief operation for the Taal Volcano victims. With two huge trucks full of donated goods, we went to four communities in Lemery, Batangas.
Yes, kaisa na ako ng KAISA!