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  • It was written as a song of revolution, but history has turned it into a vigil prayer.

    Dozens of Filipino diaspora members and supporters gathered in the mid-November chill on Wednesday night to hold vigil for the victims of Typhoon Yolanda. Several people coordinated to gather donations and organize relief events. Others quietly held candles, worried for family members in Leyte – one of the hardest hit areas – that they have been unable to contact.

    As the vigil came to a close, members of Bayanihan Kultural Kolektib joined together to lead the gathered group in song. “Awit ng pagasa” was originally a song from the populist uprisings in the Philippines that began in the late 1960s. According to Jonna Baldres, one of the singers, it is a song about hope. “It says that even if there are so many storms, so many typhoons that are coming in our lives, eventually we will stand up with the help of the masses,” she says. “And through collective action the workers, the peasants, the communities will rise up again.”

    Baldres, who first came to the United States in 1999 when she was 15, has sung the song many times. Due to the regularity of typhoons in the Philippines, there is a consistent need for support among the diaspora community. “Whenever we sing this song we are empowered. We feel that we can overcome everything, every problem that comes to us.”

    Baldres is also an organizer with NAFCON USA, which organized the vigil. Baldres’ family mostly lives in Bulacan, which was substantially less damaged by the typhoon, but she is taking a role in organizing monetary donations to be sent back to affected areas. Much in the spirit of the revolutionary song, NAFCON USA’s donations are being sent back to grassroots organizations and NGOs, not through overarching government powers. Many members of the community find it easier to trust the smaller organizations and personal connections.

    “We started out small,” says Baldres, of the relief effort. “But now everyone’s into the movement, into the alliances. It’s really heartwarming to see everyone getting together under the same cause.”
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