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‘We Are The World,’ Yolanda version

/ 02:20 PM November 18, 2013

We Are The World,” the 1985 charity anthem written by the late Michael Jackson for famine-ravaged Africa 28 years ago is enjoying a revival of sorts, thanks to creative netizens who updated the music video. Overlaid with a slew of images taken from the devastated towns and cities of Leyte and Samar, it is making the rounds of social networking sites because of its current and relevant themes.

The Yolanda version, so to speak is actually overlaid in the 2010 remake of the popular song recorded by a group of international celebrities for earthquake victims in Haiti, in which more than 200,000 died and hundreds of thousands more were injured and left homeless after an intensity 7 earthquake reduced the country to rubble.

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The backstory and success of the original “We Are the World” is interesting in the sense that the famine which hit the continent in the early ‘80s did not get the much-needed attention from western governments because they were wary that aid might be misused. Ethiopia in particular was running a Marxist government whose priority was buying arms in order to cement an illegitimate government.

The coverage of the international media highlighted the slow deaths in the continent. A staggering number of people (six to eight million) suffering from starvation could die in days unless the western world acted swiftly by bringing massive aid like water, food, medicine and shelter to the stricken area.

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The media coverage put pressure into much of Europe which eventually gave 5 million pounds in late 1984. As international awareness and involvement mounted, a group of musicians led by former singer and activist Harry Belafonte staged a benefit concert in Europe entitled “Band Aid.” The cover of the benefit show was the song, “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” which led the US Africa relief aid program to produce and record the monster hit, “We are the World.”

Ninety percent of record sales and merchandising promotion of “We are the World” amounting to more than $64 million went to the relief campaign that brought not just short-term but long term benefits for Africa. Needless to say, the public gave donations that equaled if not surpassed the gross revenues of the song.

I’m writing about the international hymn of charity because it captures the spirit of solidarity as seen in the overwhelming outpouring of aid and sympathy for the Philippines after Haiyan struck eastern and central Visayas.

As I have mentioned in a previous column, the coverage of international media like CNN made it possible for the Philippines to explode in the world map in much the same way it did for Africa in 1984 and Haiti in 2010.

We owe the international media a debt of gratitude, especially Anderson Cooper and the CNN team for focusing on the Philippines since day zero. The sea of human suffering broadcast live and replayed many times during the day jolted peoples around the world.

I think it took less than 48 hours after the horrific images came out for superpowers like the US, United Kingdom, Australia, China and equally wealthy countries like Israel, Hungary, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan, Thailand, the Vatican, etc. to come to the rescue of the Philippines.

The impact of international electronic media goes like this: our highest government official need not knock on the doors of foreign governments with begging bowl in hand because the images are so powerful that peoples and governments can only respond as humans would – with kindness and sincere desire to help.

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Personalities who are bashing Anderson Cooper do not know what they’re talking about.

Running parallel relief efforts being undertaken by public and private aid agencies in the Philippines are international rescue and recovery organizations like the United Nations Children’s Fund, American Red Cross, Philippine National Red Cross, Oxfam, World Food Programme, CARE, International Medical Corps, Doctors Without Borders, ChildFund International, International Rescue Committee, etc.

The recovery of the devastated areas does not begin and end with the sending of relief goods. Rehabilitation should be long term and transparent.

Someone said the destruction wrought by Supertyphoon Yolanda is something that you won’t wish even on your worst enemy. I certainly agree but then again, the positive dimension brought by the killer typhoon is difficult to ignore.

Countries of different cultures and ideologies have come together to aid our country. Typhoon victims in general have shown fortitude and quiet suffering that many westerners cannot grasp. People from all walks of life are contributing whatever they can to alleviate the sufferings of their brethren. Those who have no money to spare give their time and effort by packing goods and sending them to ravaged areas.

Anderson Cooper said it best when he said, “Filipinos have shown the world how to live.”

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