After storm, songs of hope from children
IT TAKES minimal effort to market Malalison, one of the pristine islets near the famed Boracay Island, as a top tourism trove–white sandbar, tortoise waters and grassy landscape. What makes it unique, however, is a growing group of young welcomers eager to entertain visitors with their passionate singing.
“The island is undeniably beautiful, but the choir is what stole my heart,” says Hannah Essex, an American tourist. “I have them recorded and I watch them repeatedly up to now months after seeing them.”
Malalison or Mararison is an unspoiled 50-hectare hook-shaped island and one of three island-barangays of Culasi, Antique province. It is inhabited by about 145 families or 700 people, most of whom depend on fishing for their subsistence.
A day before Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (international name: Haiyan) slammed into the islet on Nov. 9, 2013, more than 150 children had been moved to the mainland town for safety. Those who remained felt the horror of being whipped by winds of 315 kilometers per hour.
In the months that followed, Malalison has started to recover and rise again. Its children, meanwhile, have lifted hopes on a high note.
Like singing and playing
“It is like we are playing and singing at the same time. We enjoy when we see our guests smiling while we sing,” said John Loyd Catamora, 8, one of the youngsters who now call themselves the Malalison Kids Choir or MKC.
With ages ranging from 5 to 13 years, the children have not undergone any formal training in singing. But they have already learned at least 20 different English, Filipino and Kinaray-a songs and have been performing to visitors.
“Once the guests request us to sing for them, we will call everyone, including Nong Joereyl, to play the guitar while we sing,” said Angel Macuja, 9, referring to Joereyl Amora, 22, who actually composed a Kinaray-a song, “Malalison sa Culasi,” after Yolanda.
“I made the song when I realized that our life became too difficult after the strongest storm destroyed not only our houses, but most of the fishing boats that our parents used as our source of living,” Amora said in Kinaray-a language. He originally wrote the lyrics to the tune of Asin’s “Cotabato.”
“Our parents can’t afford to send their kids to school, and some of their children have to go the city to work as house helpers. These are our struggles and hard life on the island,” Amora said.
Hopes of better life
The song not only tells about their hardships but also their dreams. “Some of the teenaged kids go to the city to work as house helpers. These are our struggles and hard life on the island,” the composer said.
Despite what happened to them, they have high hopes of a better life.
Most of the children attend classes at Malalison Elementary School, only a hundred meters away from their village. They believe that in order for them to get out of poverty, they have to study well and be good.
Amora used to play the guitar with the small, bubbly children singing his favorite songs with him. They were then fewer than 10, but their number grew to 64.
“I noticed before that only a few kids would join Joereyl. Lately, most of the island kids are jamming with him,” said Allan Macuja, the barangay captain.
“Seeing those little kids singing together brings joy to us parents,” he added.
After school, choir members meet near the sandbar to learn new songs and bond with each other. Since most of the visitors come during weekends, they consider it timely for them to sing because they don’t have classes.
“I got teary-eyed and saddened when the island kids sang for us. They sing from the heart and they really know what they are singing,” said tourist Alvin Sales, who visited Malalison last year with several medical students from Europe. That encounter inspired him to return to the island last Dec. 1.
Sales, who hails from neighboring Iloilo province, has a music scholarship for voice in University of Melbourne and was a choir member of West Visayas State University (WVSU). He assisted as voice coach and conductor of the Panayan, a WVSU Choral Group, and was a member of the Troubadours, a University of San Agustin Choir in Iloilo.
Together with his Australian friends, Andrew Liaw and Katherine Ong, he went back to give a music workshop on proper vocalization and voicing to the MKC members. Aside from singing techniques, the children learned about correct diction and pronunciation in English songs.
Liaw described the workshop as an “incredible, eye-opening experience.”
“Seeing the kids and how happy they were when they sang really showed me how grateful I am for everything I have,” he said. “It was a huge pleasure being able to sing-along with and teach the kids who have naturally beautiful singing voices.”
The choir has two sets of singers–those who can hit the high notes on the right side and those with low voices on the other side.
“The Malalison Kids Choir were like angels when I first heard them sing. It’s not every day you get to listen to kids their age singing their hearts out. It’s moving on my part,” said Regine Gracia, one of the nurses and travel bloggers who joined a recent medical mission to the island.
Blessed Jean Macuja, 12, a sixth grader at Malalison Elementary School, is grateful to be part of the MKC. The eldest in the family, she wants to inspire her six siblings to have a better life.
She was thankful because the guests gave them some donations when they sing. “I was able to save a little from the donations and bought a pair of pants and new slippers,” she added.
Another member, Joy Macuja, 11, who is in Grade 4, said she no longer needed to ask for allowance from her parents and would use her share from the donation to buy a P1 cheese snack and a slice of bread for P2.50.
“I am very happy every time I sing with MKC. Sometimes I already don’t need to ask for an allowance from my parents because the guests give us donations,” she said.
“These kids live on as little as a bowl of rice a day during low season for trade, and yet they were so happy and grateful that we were there, regardless of how little they had,” Ong said.
“I was so lucky to have had this experience, and I can’t wait to return to help this community again,” she added.
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