Jessica Veronique Ortiz-Yu, Humanitarian

The Gawad Kalinga Head for the Province of Capiz, Jessica Veronique Ortiz-Yu, with her husband, Anthony Dexter Yu, are the National Chair Couple for Family and Life Apostolate of the Christian Family Movement.

A graduate of the College of the Holy Spirit in marketing and psychology, she is the Managing Director of ABOCGO Land, Inc., Board Member of AnCor Corporation and Member of the Board of Trustees of the College of St. John in Roxas City.

What led you to work for Gawad Kalinga (GK)?
It was in 2007, when I started volunteering for Gawad Kalinga after a Bayani Challenge in Marinduque. That experience opened my eyes to the realities that our poor experience every day.

They are the most deprived of even the basic necessities and they don’t have access to livable land. After calamities strike our land—such as typhoons—they are the first victims but also the last to be served or given assistance.

After I shared my volunteer experience with my husband and children, we all started to volunteer for GK. I first served as the Child and Youth Development Coordinator for 32 GK Communities in Parañaque City and Muntinlupa for five years.

Then, I became a Bayani Builder (Volunteer Movement) for two years until Capiz was hit by Typhoon Yolanda in 2013.

With the help of GK Negros, GK Iloilo and my parents, we mobilized volunteers and conducted a week long relief operation for 6,000 families from different barangays and towns all over Capiz.

These were barangays in far-flung areas and we were guided by the Philippine Army, the Philippine National Police and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

As a Capiznon GK volunteer, I was invited to be the GK Head of Capiz to help the government in rebuilding homes and villages and implementing projects to build new communities.

Where are the GK locations in Capiz?
The oldest community in Capiz is the Holy Family GK Village in Milibili—with 60 homes. Since the onslaught of Yolanda, we have built seven more GK communities for 220 families.

There is a GK community in Dinginan in Roxas City; Buntod and Cabugao Oeste in Panay; Gabuc in Pontevedra; Intampilan in Panitan; Concepcion in Dumalag; and San Nicolas in Tapaz.

How can one avail himself of a house in a GK village?
To qualify as a GK Kapitbahayan member or homeowner, the applicant must have dependents. Married couples must also have a joint income of not more than P6,000 per month (for Capiz only).

They must be willing to live in a community and abide by the GK Kapitbahayan Kasunduan. Applicants who already own a house are not qualified. They must also be committed to do bayanihan work, give “sweat equity” and be willing to undergo the values formation program of GK.

They are also evaluated by GK volunteers in their current homes for validation and interview.

The goal is for these communities to truly get out of poverty, be able to run their own governance team, and practice shared values in running their own community programs that can make their lives better.

In all these, GK Kapitbahayan members and GK volunteers including those in the management team should be guided by the five tenets of GK, namely: “Padugo”, “Una sa Serbisyo, Huli sa Benepisyo”, “Bayanihan”, “Walang Iwanan”, and “Para sa Diyos at Bayan”.

What issues have you encountered in managing the GK villages?
There are so many challenges that can weigh down community-building. Values formation has to be repeated time and again. Local politics, biases and prejudices also affect community life. Then, gossiping and drinking and other vices also affect the peace and order of every village.

In team building, we lack volunteers who will conduct activities to engage the outside world and encourage them to care for and share more with the poor. We also need LGUs and government agencies to do more for these communities.

In food self-sufficiency, for example, the challenge is not just among Kapitbahayan members themselves—but also with land donors, tenants and barangay officials.

Are there livelihood projects in these villages?
None that were sustained to this day. We are just fortunate that some of the Kapitbahayan members have become more driven, hardworking and enterprising. They value trainings and participate in communal efforts.

We have university and college partners for livelihood training, simple bookkeeping and organic vegetable gardening.

Some of our friends initiated livelihood projects, but these were not sustained to fruition with their community partners. Lack of resources, time and commitment for these projects are the main reasons why livelihood projects have not been sustained.

What were you doing prior to your assignment at GK?
I was a young mother of three and ran small businesses from home and a nearby market. My husband and I belonged to a religious community and we both served at our parish church. I was not involved in social action or socio-civic organizations or any NGO prior to GK.

How do you juggle family and work—or Manila and Roxas?
I am a wife, a mom and a businesswoman in Manila. I am a daughter, a wife, a mom and a businesswoman in those four to five days I spend in Capiz every month.

Despite this, my husband and I are still able to serve our parish and the CFM. Above all, I am able to make time for prayer to commune with God.

I don’t know if one can call that juggling, but doing so many things, one after the other—like it’s never-ending—suits the term. I call myself an “All-the-Time Volunteer”, which means all my free time, whether I am in Manila or in Capiz, I give to my Gawad Kalinga Capiz Family.

And since I live in Manila, I am blessed to have a supportive family and an amazing local arm—the GK Capiz Provincial Management Team, who helps me with this mission.

How do you unwind after work?
To unwind, I love to watch movies. I like eating good food after a hard day’s work. I enjoy doing these with my family and with whomever I happen to be with when I am in Capiz. I am actually easy to please.

What were the fun things you did as a kid growing up in Capiz?
I enjoyed growing up in Capiz. I loved to dance, join in extra curricular activities in school, eat out with my closest friends at Pizza Junction and hang out in their homes.

I loved strolling along Baybay Beach, watching movies with my brothers, eating at Dew Drop Inn, Tatoy’s or Bornok’s on our way to Iloilo to buy school supplies, dining at Jeck’s Lapaz Batchoy with my family, munching on a D&E burger with Ate Auring, watching bangus harvests with Dad early in the morning—then feasting on “eat-all-you-can bangus” breakfast with family and friends.

So many fun things to do in Capiz while I was growing up. I just love Capiz!

Where do you see yourself in the next ten years?
In ten years, God willing, I see myself still involved with GK (unless there are no more poor people by then) in any capacity because it is a lifetime commitment. I would be serving the same religious community with my family. I may also be a grandmother by then and hopefully be well enough to prepare for retirement in Capiz with Dexter.

*Conversation with Capizeños is a series of interviews with Capizeños who are making a difference in their community. Charie Albar is a travel writer and lifestyle blogger. The founder of Balay ni Charie Foundation, a grassroots organization that gives school supplies to the children in Capiz, she divides her time between Capiz and California.