WHAT MATTERS: Unity Concert, the long run

Community Opinion & Analysis Nov 16, 2009 at 4:53 pm

Living life with passion is like distance running. What matters is not one’s speed. It is one’s way of taking on the challenge with the vision and dogged persistence to complete the run, no matter how many times one trips and falls. It is crossing the finish line triumphantly, perhaps achy of body, but lucid of mind, gracious of heart, unyielding in faith and soaring in spirit. (MAG, May 1999)
With this life lesson, I revive my column (formerly titled “Lives and Memories”), to write about – you guessed it – those that matter.

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Less than a month from now, on Sunday, Dec. 13, 2009, some 80 or so musical artists from the Filipino-Canadian community, will be generously sharing their talents in a fundraising concert for victims of the recent typhoons that have ravaged the Philippines, at the grand MacMillan Theatre in Toronto.

“Unity Concert: Rebuilding People’s Lives 2009” is a project put together by various organizations that have responded to the call for unity to help the most vulnerable victims impacted by the flood.

The organizers, led by the Community Alliance for Social Justice (CASJ), were very much aware that several organizations were already doing their own thing for the same purpose. There were many ways to help. Collecting boxes of donated clothes and canned foods. Sending medicines. Supporting medical missions. And organizing concerts.

But why still hold another concert?

Help can never be enough at this point when the devastation has reached this overwhelming magnitude, in the wake of typhoons Ondoy and Peping: tens of thousands of devastated houses, schools, hospitals and even entire villages, parts of towns and cities, bringing suffering and misery to many people. An estimated seven million people have been affected by these storms that have killed over 700. And yet another typhoon, although not of the same disastrous magnitude, closely followed the two, causing further devastation. Still there seems to be no end in sight to these natural disasters at this precarious season of the year.

Hence, another concert, and even more concerts, should be welcome. This way, more help would find their way towards the typhoon victims.

However, the Unity Concert, beyond just being another concert, makes an effort to unite groups into a collaborative project that would maximize efforts and combine resources, so that significant outcomes may be achieved. Never mind if this concert comes a bit later than others. After all, doing good deeds is not a race, or a competition for recognition and glory, as in sprinting for the gold. What is important is it produces the results it aims for, generates goodwill, and brings forth a sense of joy and satisfaction to those who generously volunteer their efforts for a worthy cause.

The Unity Concert is an endeavor where everything is done and given on a voluntary basis, whether it is lending one’s organizing skills and technical prowess, or sharing one’s musical talent. Also, it is a fundraiser where all net proceeds go towards relief, rehabilitation or disaster mitigation in the most affected areas, in the hope that it would cover both the short term and long term needs of the recipient families.

Administering the Unity concert funds in the Philippines is the Citizens’ Disaster Response Center (CDRC), “a 25 year old non- organization that prioneered in, and continues to promote community-based disaster management in the Philippines,” informs a letter circulated to concert sponsors and donors.

“Organized in 1984, CDRC has touched the lives of more than three million of the most affected, least served and most vulnerable victims of disasters through disaster preparedness and mitigation, emergency relief, and rehabilitation programs,” the letter adds.

CDRC projects are based on what the most affected populations identify as their priority need – whether it is food, clothing, shelter, livelihood or any other kind of assistance. Also CDRC works directly with the people in ensuring that they take an active part in the organization’s relief, rehabilitation and disaster mitigation programs. It monitors and produces reports about the progress of these programs.

That assistance definintely goes to the most vulnerable disaster victims is what matters to many fundraising donors. In light of the present concerns that assistance coursed through some official government and institutional structures do not reach the victims on time, or do not reach them at all, having a reliable administrator like the CDRC indeed matters. News about goods being stockpiled in government warehouses, thus depriving the intended recipient populations of timely access to basic necessities for survival, and stories about internationally donated goods being stalled in their distribution and used by politicians to create electoral mileage, were enough to cause cynicism among many potential donors.

Against this similar scenario, we had had the good experience of knowing how CDRC performs as an effective, trustworthy and accountable organization, when CASJ and member group worked together in the first Rebuilding People’s Lives Concert in 2006 to assist the mudslide victims of Guinsaugon, Southern Leyte.

Despite a short preparation time, that first well-organized concert – thanks to the professionalism of the concert producers, directors and performers, the hard work and commitment of the key organizers, and the generosity of the donors and supporters – a significant amount of money was raised toward financing a self-help livelihood project for the affected families. Through the administration of CDRC, mudslide victims received assistance in terms of training and resources to enable themselves to produce food on the table for at least a year for their families. Aside from this, CDRC also provided training in disaster preparedness so that people themselves would know how to mitigate the damage wrought by natural disasters on their lives.

The good news about this forthcoming Unity Concert is that it is confidently building onto the track record success of the first Rebuilding People’s Lives concert, with most of the musical talents involved now performing key roles in the present project, and with most of the previous organizers working with new ones to come up with even bigger results.

This project was at first fraught with a host of challenges. Coming on the heels of a nasty recession where everybody felt its pinch, so to speak, one could only hope there would remain some generous souls willing to answer the call for help. Also, the search for the most appropriate venue alone took some time as it involved weighing several factors carefully to ensure that costs would be minimal and would not eat up into the concert proceeds.

With patient and determined efforts of the organizers, a beautiful concert hall that comfortably seats 815 guests was finally found and reserved for the event; tickets have been printed and are now selling fast; the production team and performers are now preparing to deliver a fabulous show; more organizations have signified to participate; sponsors and donors have responded generously to the initial call for support; and volunteers have stepped up to the plate.

If only to match the graciousness of the Filipino-Canadian musical talents willing to participate in this effort on a purely voluntary basis, committed organizers are giving their all to make this concert a success. The production and creative teams have lined up three unique segments to comprise one grand musical show that promises to be a real treat for people of various ages and varied musical persuasions: the first segment will feature Broadway classics and ballads; the second will offer alternative music; and finally, the third will deliver good rolling rock tunes.

There may still be more challenges along the way, kinks to smoothen here and there, but nothing big enough to get this united effort off track. For what matters most at this point is that this Unity Concert — with the vision and commitment of the organizers; the generosity of sponsors, donors, participating organizations, volunteers; the dedication of the production team and the performers; and the enthusiastic support of ticket buyers — will not only generate significant financial proceeds to rebuild the lives of some of the most vulnerable flood victims, but also bring goodwill and satisfaction to all those involved, with the realization that, at the end of the day, their colaborative efforts were all worth it.

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On a personal note, the opening quote of this re-born column, was a message I had penned and shared with gratitude to family and friends, in reflection of what the first half century of a life of struggles and joys had taught me. It conveys a valuable lesson literally learned through the rigours and highs of completing 5 k’s, 10ks, and half marathons. It expresses a truism figuratively affirmed through a life made fulfilling, yet humbled, by challenges surmounted, triumphs won, and blessings reaped along the way.