It was the kind of fund-raising benefit concert the Filipino community in northeast USA has not seen before. Pinoy Relief, the organization that staged the star-studded show at The Theater at Madison Square Garden hoped to raise funds for the victims of typhoon Haiyan—the worst natural disaster in 2013 and one of the worst in recorded history.
The organization was created to enable impacted communities in the central Visayas to recover.
The benefit concert was also meant as a celebration of the global community, a thank-you-world kind, for their generosity in helping the affected people to recover from the devastating typhoon.
Pinoy Relief has partnered with leading international and Filipino organizations, businesses and local leaders in order to accelerate the recovery in the regions hit and for the communities to return to normalcy.
“For Gail and I, our greatest inspiration comes from the people we meet during our visits to the affected areas. Their dignity, resilience, strength and gratitude energize us and give us confidence that our work is having a real impact,” said Tony Alvarez, co-chair of the Pinoy Relief board.
In their speech during the show, the couple thanked their partner organizations across the globe for helping them in this endeavor. As Tony said, generosity knows no borders.
Tony also shared a few anecdotes about their various trips back to the affected regions weeks after the typhoon struck.
Last December, during one particularly long day spent surveying the damage and interviewing families in the town of Guiuan, they met a woman who lost her son when Haiyan happened. She had just come back from lining up for relief goods, consisting of crackers, canned goods and noodles.
What struck Tony was when they were about to leave.
The woman, who lost her home and all her property offered the biscuits and water to Tony and his team. “You must be hungry, take my food,” she told them.
It was that random act of compassion from a typhoon victim no less, that stuck with Tony and reinforced his ambition to help as many as they can.
“This I will never forget and this will keep me going,” Tony said.
With headliner Jennifer Hudson—who brought the house down with her back-to-back Saving All My Love for You and And I Am Telling You songs—the concert showcased Filipino, Filipino-American and American performers who agreed to pitch in and help.
The concert showcased a diaspora of performers – from local discoveries in the Philippines (REO Brothers) to Charice, who conquered the entertainment world with her booming voice; to Filipino-Americans who have made it big like Apl.de.Ap, Dante Basco, Robert and Kristen Lopez and Jessica Sanchez to current pop and rock groups who are lording it over on the charts and social media views.
The show began with A Great Big World singing their hit Say Something a monster hit with almost 60 million hits on YouTube.
Pentatonix, winners of NBC’s The Sing-Off Season 3, performed their hit covers including Daft Funk and The Evolution of Music, viral sensations both, with combined views of almost 100 million on YouTube.
“This is the least we can do. We know and we are aware that we have a lot of Filipino fans. We want to visit [the Philippines] soon. We have a lot of Filipino friends, too,” shared Scott Hoying, one of the members of Pentatonix. “That’s why when we heard about the project, we knew we had to be involved.”
Jessica Sanchez did a couple of songs – Clarity and Let It Go. For the latter, she was accompanied on the piano by recent Oscar winner Robert Lopez.
“I am so excited to perform. Anything that helps give back to my people, I’m really very happy to do. And this is Madison Square Garden. And I’m performing with Robert Lopez!,” she exclaimed during our red carpet interview. “He’s just the nicest person in the world. He is so humble.”
Jessica added that she did not hesitate a bit when she was asked to join Pinoy Relief. It was an opportunity that she had to grab. While meeting Robert and Kristen Lopez was a major highlight, Jessica turned giddy when our conversation turned to her fellow American Idol alum Jennifer Hudson.
“I am so obsessed with her. I’m such a big fan, I love her voice and I listen to her album all the time. She is one of my inspirations and I am honored to share the stage with her tonight,” she said.
Also star-struck? The REO Brothers.
The Otic brothers hail from Tacloban City and their family was rendered homeless and penniless by typhoon Haiyan. Their story of resilience and survival and their innate talent in performing paved the way to their inclusion to an ABS-CBN telethon last November to raise funds for the regions affected by the typhoon. Their performances elicited wild applause from the audience, punctuated by a couple of standing ovations.
They sang Help during last week’s Pinoy Relief fundraiser and mingled with the guests at the after party in downtown.
On the red carpet, they seem lost and floating, oblivious to what was happening around.
“Hindi po kami makapaniwala na nandito kami ngayon sa New York,” Reymart told us. “Parang kinakabahan kami, siyempre iba na ang audience dito. Tapos kasabay paa namin yung mga malalaking artista.”
While waiting for their cue to rehearse, the brothers stayed on the sidelines near the backstage to watch the other bands rehearse.
Reymart said that they were so happy to meet Apl.de.ap and Jessica Sanchez. “Nakaka-starstruck,” he said.
“Malaki ang pasasalamat namin sa mga organizers para sa tulong at pag-asa na ibibigay nila sa mga nasalanta ni Yolanda. Malaking karangalan para sa amin na nandito kami ngayon,” he added.
Pinoy Relief Efforts
Pinoy Relief efforts are geared towards three specific program areas: restoring livelihoods, building classrooms and providing shelter. Initial work has been done in the town of Guiuan, where the typhoon made its first landfall. Despite the extensive damage in the municipality’s mostly coastal community, the town has only been receiving a little of the aid and attention going to larger cities.
When Tony and the rest of the Pinoy Relief team visited the town of 55,000 residents, they were told that majority of them rely upon fishing for livelihood, and that nearly two-thirds of fishing boats were damaged.
They also saw the damage wrought by the typhoon in all of the town’s schools, to such an extent that classes did not resume until two months later. More than four months have passed and yet, thousands of families in Guiuan still live in emergency shelters.
“Livelihood is important to these communities. The fastest way that our donation could work was through boats. Build a boat today and tomorrow, the fishermen are able to go fishing,” Tony shared. “And when we asked around, the fishermen told us they just want their boats and they don’t want to rely on others for food.”
Pinoy Relief hopes to enable Guiuan’s residents to return to their normal day-to-day lives, one or two barangays at a time.
Beyond that, the group’s roll-out plan includes expanding access to capital for the program beneficiaries and providing skills development for construction, boat maintenance and assembly. They are now ready to start helping the rest of the town, with the goal of fulfilling all of the remaining needs for fishing boats, classrooms and shelter.
How they got to Guiuan is quite serendipitous.
They met with organizations who have done initial work in the town and shortly after, the group met the former mayor of the town.
“It fit the bill. All the pieces were in place – Habitat and Operation Blessing were willing to help, we were in touch with the local government and most specially, there was a dire need. We were stunned by the devastation we saw,” he added.
In partnership with Habitat for Humanity Philippines and Operation Blessing Philippines, Pinoy Relief launched a pilot project in mid-January this year. They provided fishing boats to two pilot communities, began building new homes for them as well and they werealso the first group to complete construction on a damaged school.
In his most recent trip to Guiuan this month, Tony was surprised by the change that happened since they started with the pilot barangays last January. Residents in the two pilot communities have almost fully returned to their normal routine, with new classrooms, new homes and new boats.
“The transformation that has occurred in such a short time is so amazing. It is inspirational. You can see the hope in their eyes. The dignity and strength of the community throughout this rebuilding has truly been an inspiration,” he said.
The goal for now is to reach between $3 to 5 million to be able to bring much-needed help and support to the rest of the town. “The more we can raise, the more people we can help,” Tony said.
(To donate, please visit www.pinoyrelief.org or send checks payable to Pinoy Relief Fund to
Pinoy Relief Fund
600 Madison Ave., 8th Floor
New York, NY 10022
(NYNJ March 21, 2014 LifeEASTyle Magazine pg.2)