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Filipinos who complain about having only two arms yet being expected to do so much should meet Gerry Gamez, a one-armed man who actively promotes patriotism, constantly volunteers for community service and has built two classrooms in his hometown.
"Magsasaka po ang mga magulang ko at pinalaki po kaming nagsasaka habang nag-aaral. Noong 13 taong gulang po ako, naipit po ang isa kong braso sa rice thresher (My parents were farmers and we grew up helping them while studying. When I was 13 years old, my arm got stuck in a rice thresher)," Gamez, now 47, told Yahoo! Southeast Asia in a phone interview.
Surprisingly, however, Gamez sees the accident as a "blessing in disguise," as it forced him to go to Manila for treatment.
"Kung hindi ako nakapunta ng Maynila para magpagamot, hindi rin sana ako nakapagpatuloy ng pag-aaral (I wouldn't have finished school if I had not moved to Manila)," the Pitong Pinoy finalist said. He earned a degree in accounting and management.
Recalling his own plight as a student in Oriental Mindoro, Gamez in November 2010 gave up most of his savings--including what should have been his daughter's tuition money--to construct a classroom for children in the area.
"Nung nag-aral ako doon wala kaming grade five at six. Dalawang beses akong muntikan nang malunod sa ilog noon para makapag-aral ng ibang eskwelahan (When I attended school there, fifth and sixth grade were not offered. I almost drowned twice because we had to cross a river on our way to another school)," Gamez said.
Aside from his cash donation, Gamez physically helped in the classroom construction, prodding those who saw the feat to lend their arms to the cause.
Two classrooms have been turned over to Gamez's alma mater by March 2011, through the contribution of other organizations and private individuals.
"Naging bayanihan na kaya naging dalawa. Yung mga fraternities naman na nakabalita, nagbigay ng mga upuan (It turned into a concerted effort so we were able to put up two classrooms. Fraternities who heard about the plan also donated chairs)," Gamez said.
But he is not stopping there, as he still plans to build comfort rooms for the school.
Asked if he ever thought of his disability as a hindrance, Gamez said: "Iniisip ko na lang mas maraming nasa mas mahirap na kondisyon (I just think that many others are in worse conditions)."
"Gusto kong maging modelo sa may mga kapansanan (I want to be a role model for persons with disability)," he added.
“Sabi nga nila, anim na ang naging buhay ko at hindi naman sa pagmamayabang, lahat yun ibinuhos ko sa pagtulong sa kapwa (Some say I’ve lived six lives already and modesty aside, I’ve spent all of those lives helping others),” he said.
Aside from losing his left arm and almost drowning twice, Gamez also fell from a horse, almost broke his head on a plow and received death threats as a student activist.
Despite that, he has been actively involved in community activities such as feeding programs, medical missions, tree planting, relief operations, and youth leadership trainings.
Gamez believes that poverty should also not prevent Filipinos from helping each other.
“Nakasalalay ‘yan sa kagustuhan ng isang tao na makatulong. Kung mayaman ka at yung labis lamang ang binibigay mo, hindi iyon paglilingkod. Parang token lamang ito (It depends on a person’s determination to help. If you are rich and you only share what you have in excess, it’s not service. You are only giving tokens),” Gamez said.
As for himself, Gamez said he has set aside dreams of getting rich. He now earns a living by selling multi-purpose vacuum machines.
Gamez also hit individuals who make a big deal of their charity work, noting that the real heroes are those who remain nameless and faceless.
“Maraming Pilipino na tumutulong, di lang napapansin. Yun ang dapat nating tingalain, ang ordinaryong mamamayan na hindi naghahangad na maitanghal (Many Filipinos are dedicated to helping others but whose deeds go unnoticed. Those are the ones we should epitomize, the ordinary citizens who help without thought of recognition), Gamez said.
Asked about the Philippines’ biggest problem, Gamez said: “Hindi kahirapan, hindi katiwalian kundi kakulangan ng pagmamahal sa bayan (It’s not poverty, not corruption but lack of love for country).”
Gamez, who is usually seen wearing shirts inspired by the national colors even if it draws the ire of critics, says he hopes Filipinos will grow to genuinely love the country.
“Kung lahat—lalo na ang mga pulitiko—may pagmamahal sa bayan, mababawasan ang katiwalian. Ang pera dun, magagamit sa edukasyon at iba pang serbisyo sa mamayanan. Uunlad ang kabuhayan kaya mababawasan ang krimen at ang gulo, at lahat ng maganda para sa bansa, matutupad (If all Filipinos—especially our leaders—love the country, corruption will go down, freeing more money for education and basic services. This will lead to improved living conditions and thus lower crime rates and violence),” Gamez said.
This, as he noted that love for country also involves sacrifice. “Kailangan may magtiyagang magtanim ng maliliit na butil ng kabutihan (Someone has to toil to plant small seeds of kindness),” Gamez said.
“Kaya tinawag na bayani dahil bayan ang aani (Heroes sow the seeds; the country reaps the harvest),” he said.