Charity begins at home for support group

In her wildest dreams, Rosemarie Gaerlan never dreamed she would own a home, and a modern one at that, after her life as a squatter.

'It feels great,' the 42-year-old housewife beamed as she proudly showed off her neat, 20-square metre one-bedroom unit with running water, a toilet and a bath.

She and husband Mario, 47, had built an illegal shack on the government-owned Baseco compound, a former shipyard near the Smokey Mountain rubbish tip.

The family lived there for 14 years, raising seven children by selling clean water from a well to fellow squatters and tending pigs.

But last January, the family and thousands of others lost their shacks in a blaze. They were given makeshift shelter in an abandoned government building.

The tragedy gave a Catholic charity called Gawad Kalinga - which in Filipino means 'to give care' - the chance to showcase an alternative model for development that bypasses government red tape to provide new homes.

To date, the group has managed to build 6,321 houses across the country.

With the charity's help, the Gaerlan family has moved into a well-designed community of candy-coloured homes in just seven months, instead of waiting years for the government to house them.

The materials for each unit in the new development, as with most of the charity's projects, come mostly from individual and corporate donors, with some government assistance.

Charity volunteer Raul Dizon, who oversees the new project, said: 'We're not building houses. We're building a country of heroes.'

The payment exacted from each resident is in the form of 'sweat equity' - he helps build his neighbours' units. As well as providing housing, the charity helps its beneficiaries to find jobs and become self-sufficient.

Meanwhile, the development has helped to cut the area's once spiralling crime rate.

'The killings have stopped,' said Mario Gaerlan, president of the neighbourhood association.

Last year, the area was a popular recruiting ground for those attending anti-government rallies. Mr Gaerlan's neighbour, Antonio Pelambargo, 51, said he had stopped attending opposition rallies because he did not believe they were sincere.