Kara David has devoted most of her life to media practice. From being a production assistant to researcher to writer, and now journalist, she has stories alright.
Since 2002, Kara has produced almost a hundred “life-changing” documentaries, some of which have garnered international acclaim.
For “Bitay,” she was honored as Investigative Journalist of the Year by the Rotary Club of Manila. In the documentary “Selda Inosente,” Kara entered the world of children born and raised in prison. That won her the UNICEF Child Rights Award, besting more than a hundred entries from all over the world.
Then there’s “Buto’t Balat,” where she explored the state of malnutrition in the country and the reality that extreme inequalities and the absence of a concrete and cohesive nutrition and population policy has resulted in a state not far from what occurs in Africa. For this documentary, she was chosen as one of 20 finalists for the Japan Prize. She also won a silver medal at the US International Film & Video Festival.
Another is “Ambulansiyang Paa,” which is about the lack of access to health services of the Mangyan tribe, who live in Mindoro Oriental. Kara documented the plight of the Mangyans, who have to carry their sick in hammocks for eight hours just to get to the nearest hospital. This documentary won the Peabody Award, and she is only the second Filipino to win it.
But while she continues to be celebrated in the field, Kara feels there is another “sad thing” to the immersion she does to get the story. That is, she gets emotionally invested in her some of subjects, shall we say, a little too much.
“The guilt kills me,” she confessed. “Like, you go there, you document everything. Then you show it on TV, you get your salary plus you’ll receive an award sometimes. But after that, when you call them (subjects), nothing has changed with their lives.”
She admitted to have almost quit when her case studies died one by one due to malnutrition, just as she was receiving numerous awards abroad for the documentary she did on them.
“I just felt really, really guilty that I wasn’t able to help them. Then I told myself, I will shift career as nutritionist, ” she shared. “So I talked to a broker to sell my house, talked to my mom, I told my boss that I’m going to quit my job. Because at that time, I felt my job as journalist wasn’t enough, that I could do more.”
Just when she thought that was the end of her career, a new purpose dawned on Kara.
In 2002, she founded Project Malasakit — a non-stock non-profit foundation that sends poor Filipino children to school. It also does outreach programs that give food, medicine and school supplies to remote communities that do not have access to basic government service.
The idea of creating the foundation started when she went to a far-flung area in Mindoro and featured a story about the lack of electricity.
When she completed the documentary, she discovered that a young girl named Myra Demillo from the province rode a jeep and followed her to Manila in hopes for a better life.
“I was scared what would happen to her. So, I asked her to go back to Mindoro and promised that I will send her to school,” Kara shared.
With the help of donors, the journalist was able to support her through high school and even send her to college. Myra now has her own computer and cell phone repair shop and is supporting the education of her siblings.
From there, Project Malasakit now has 21 scholars (most of them child laborers and victims of child abuse). It has helped more than 800 families through its quarterly outreach programs.
In 2017, one of Kara’s scholars graduated with a degree in maritime transport. He is Joselito Padilla, a sea urchin diver.
The two met when GMA’s “I-Witness” featured the hardships of a family in Bolinao, Pangasinan, whose daily life depends on their daily harvest of sea urchins.
Back then, the young boy was a fourth grade honor student. 10 years after the documentary was aired, Kara was more than proud of Joselito’s feat.
Apart from scholarships, the journalist has also embarked on long-term projects for communities.
“Paraisong Uhaw,” her documentary on waterless communities in Masbate, has led to the construction of 10 water wells in the municipality of Balud. Kara and her Project Malasakit team also constructed a sustainable solar power facility in a community of Mangyans in Mindoro Province.
Kara believes money alone can’t solve poverty.
“It is very easy to give out money to the poor. But change can never be truly achieved with dole outs. There is a difference between ‘pagpapa-asa’ at ‘pagbibigay ng pag-asa.’ We do not want to create parasites out of children. We want to help them help themselves,” she said.
Hand in hand
Kara and her “Project Malasakit” initiative recently worked closely with Ayala Foundation as part of a sustained effort to provide relief and rehabilitation support for families severely affected by the April 22 earthquake.
The team conducted relief operations in Porac, Pampanga last May 4, wherein they distributed food and water to at least 300 Aeta families.
Ayala Foundation also came with the Manila Water Foundation to the relief operations, with assistance from the Apl.de.Ap Foundation, the Pampanga Social Welfare and Development Office, and the Philippine Air Force stationed at the Cesar Basa Air Base in Floridablanca, Pampanga.
The relief initiative was the second of several similar activities for Aeta families who lost their homes and livelihood during the 6.1-magnitude Luzon earthquake. The previous week Ayala Foundation and internationally renowned performer Apl.de.Ap distributed sleeping mats and drinking water for 800 families in Floridablanca, Pampanga.
“For any initiative to have an impact, it must be sustained and done in collaboration with the community and other partners,” said Ayala Foundation President Ruel Maranan. “This is why the Ayala group is actively consulting local stakeholders and the community members themselves on their needs after the earthquake, not only in terms of immediate relief but also for reconstruction and rehabilitation.”
The group has also started the delivery of plywood and galvanized iron sheets to help at least 1,000 Pampanga families who lost their homes to the earthquake.
Aside from helping rebuild shelters, Ayala is coordinating with Pampanga communities and officials in identifying other needs, particularly in the area of reconstruction and rehabilitation.