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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

(Editor's Note: Elizabeth Canoy-Franco is a Cebuano based in the United States. She worked for 18 years at a hotel in Times Square and worked her way up to become Director of the hotel's Loss Prevention Department. Franco is married to an American and has found a home in New York for over 20 years. Inspired by the world's response to the call for help of Filipinos in Central Philippine battered by Super Typhoon Haiyan, Franco wrote and sang "Salamat". 

"In memory of my dear aunt, Yolanda Dy Gimarino and to all those gone too soon." - Marie Elizabeth Canoy- Franco, written in New York



IN THE few days leading up to Yolanda making landfall in the Philippines, an overwhelming sense of panic and urgent dread came over me. Yolanda was forecast to be an apocalyptic event. Weather experts warned that its force was well over anything ever recorded and with projected sustained winds of 150 mph and gusts of 235 mph, I couldn't even begin to imagine the fate of those who lay directly in its path. I feared for my mother and my loved ones, dear friends included, who lived in the fragile little islands I called home.

Watching all this from New York, I felt so helpless seeing this vast and ominous perfect purple sphere with the clearly defined eye wall slowly barreling its way toward its helpless target. The sheer force of this monster typhoon promised widespread devastation and all I could do was pray, since I was thousands of miles away. I knew it was going to be very bad... How bad exactly, remained yet to be seen... and... when I finally saw its aftermath and the unfathomable destruction it left behind… I was numb -- There were no words.

My panic turned into frustration, as there was only so much I could do. Praying fervently and donating what I could, simply didn't seem enough. For those of us Filipinos who live outside the Philippines, there is a longing that never goes away and the ties that bind us to her are far deeper than we can ever explain. Though we may have come to adapt, love and defend the country we now reside in, a very big part of us still remains with the Philippines. No amount of time or distance ever changes that connection. Filipinos abroad seek each other out to lessen that melancholy and we find camaraderie and comfort in each other... It's like an old friend who has come to visit with the hope that they will stay with us awhile. There is a familiarity we share, a kinship that weathers all. This connection was deeply impacted by Yolanda and I'm certain those like me, who were far away, felt the same degree of frustration and helplessness. I felt like I had to do something more. The reality of logistics, schedules, finances and the everyday mundane routine of our lives gets in the way of our impulse to drop everything and head home. I'm sure a lot of us wanted to do just that... Everyone wanted to help. There were even children who donated their piggy banks and asked their mommies to give their savings to those kids who lost everything. There were Red Cross signs everywhere, private collections, fundraisers and celebrity PSAs all for Yolanda's victims. We felt compelled to do more and wished we could have been there to share the experience and help in any way. I know of good friends (from my college days) in Cebu, who rallied together and spearheaded a hands-on relief program. They purchased goods and personally delivered them to the northern portions of Cebu, which too, bore the brunt of Yolanda's wrath. There were countless others who did the same and I wanted so much to be a part of that. Their heroic actions made a difference.

I knew, help would come but had no idea of the immense outpouring of support, kindness and generosity that followed. The nations of the world descended upon the Philippines with determination and purpose -- and if only for a moment, put aside their differences and gathered there for the same reason -- to offer help where help was desperately needed. A monumental yet humbling display of humanity at its best unfolded and the world witnessed it all come together in my home.

Thus began the inspiration for this song Salamat, which simply means thank you in Filipino.

I wrote it right after seeing Anderson Cooper's commentary and coverage of the storm. I envisioned all the generous acts of kindness precipitated by this and knew I had to acknowledge it. I thought of what it must feel like to have lost everything and how a small and simple gesture of generosity could change one's perspective and sense of hopelessness. The actions of these nameless faces who, without hesitation, decided to help, sent ripples across the continents and touched the lives of those who lost it all.

Anderson Cooper further noted that even with all the heartbreaking footage -- the one constant that stood out was the smile that everyone still managed to muster. This was no surprise to me. I knew this was the smile of resilience and simple gratitude. It was reassuring to see that even when all else is lost, hope prevails. The smiles he captured conveyed the quiet resolve of a faithful people, weary from their plight but unbeaten and steadfast in acceptance without resignation - a coping trait that is so instinctive within us. We are an adaptable kind and this was another hurdle, albeit an overwhelming one, but a hurdle nonetheless, that we knew we could overcome. What struck me most was that despite the tragic loss of life and the devastation surrounding them, those who survived never seemed to lose their sense of perspective and optimism. Hope and faith were all they had left and that never wavered. As I watched the donations and aid pour in, a profound sense of gratitude stirred within me and it came out in this song.

I finally found an opportunity to record the song on Friday, December 13, 2013. I contacted a producer Steve Young who heard it and the story behind its inspiration and its goal to help the victims of Typhoon Yolanda in any way it can. Charging only for the production and studio time, he then offered to play the guitar tracks and waived his musician fee. I sang the vocals (singing not being my greatest strength), played the keyboard tracks and kept it simple. The other music producer, Mark Bauman, mixed it and it was all completed within 3 1/2 hours. It may not be perfect but it is truly from the heart.

The song's mission is to acknowledge the help received hoping that this will continue far into the rehabilitation period of this tragedy. It aims to lift up the spirits of victims still dealing with the storm's aftermath. While I was recording this, I sang with a smile to express the determination of the Filipinos who exhibited courage, grace and dignity throughout all this.

This song also acknowledges the inner strength that we are all innately blessed with. In the face of indescribable pain, loss and adversity -- the human spirit survives and adapts to meet whatever challenges lay ahead. I offer this simple song as a tribute to those who helped and to those who needed it. You are my true heroes.

I believe Yolanda is a metaphor for all the trials we face in our lives. If we support each other and are there for each other, then it doesn't matter which corner of the Earth we may come from. Together, we can overcome anything.

I know there is a sense of idealistic naïveté in all this but after we sort and strip through the muddle of all of life's complexities, the simple truth is that we really do need each other and we are truly never alone…and for that… We say… Salamat.


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