With barely enough money to cover their airfares and costume expenses, Tacloban dance youth group KUSOG Performing Arts Group (KUSOG-PAG) wasn’t sure they would make it to Sydney for a global dance competition.
But never in their wildest dreams did they expect a miracle donation on their first day of arrival - receiving $4,000 from a generous individual and a $615 collection at an impromptu fundraiser hosted by community group, Adhika, Inc. on Friday night (September 29).
Josie Musa, founding president of Adhika, a not-for-profit community association for Filipino-Australian members of the media and the entertainment industries, said she found out about KUSOG-PAG’s funding problems on the morning of Adhika’s 7th year anniversary and Young Cultural Ambassador’s Night.
“Through Adhika and my various community affiliations, I have been very supportive of Taclobanons, specially after typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) six years ago,” she said.
“Adhika and the Australian Masonic Friends of the Philippines (AMFOP) provided financial aid, sent shipping containers of emergency supplies, medical equipment, fishing boats and clothing donations after the disaster. When I found out that this all-girl dance group came from Tacloban, I immediately accommodated a last-minute fundraising for the kids as part of Adhika’s program that night,” she said.
Despite the long travel from Tacloban-Manila and Manila-Sydney on Friday morning, the group's coach Mark Catindoy and the girls were happy to perform on Friday night to give thanks to their Sydney sponsors.
“Adhika and tita Josie already sponsored our train fares from the airport to our accomodation, we just want to show our thanks and dance for them at the event."
The struggle before Sydney
He said that they’ve been going door-to-door back in Tacloban to raise money and were grateful for any help. “We had this tin can that we brought to houses, knocking at their door. Some of them were sceptical and questioned whether we were running a scam.”
“Despite that, we met many others who were willing to help. We even said that ‘kahit piso lang’ (even one ‘peso’ or 0.029 Australian cents) would help.”
Through their door knocking alone, they raised 50,000 pesos ($1,431) plus additional funds through family, friends, politicians and businessmen.
Adhika and AMFOP come to the rescue
But with the cost of their trip exceeding this amount (their train fares alone can cost more than $800 over a week), they found themselves still in need of more money for food, costume and transport to and from Blacktown, where the World Supremacy Battlegrounds dance competition was to be held.
The miracle came shortly after their two dance performances at the Adhika night.
Warren Jack, chief executive of Skills Training Australia (and one of the Masons attending) was so impressed with their talent and faith that he joined them onstage to announce that he will be donating $4,000 (140,000 Philippine pesos). Someone in the crowd also offered to take them shopping while others approached their Sydney volunteer guardian Jo Tada for donations, collecting $615 in total.
Antoine Georges, the newly-elected president of AMFOP for 2019-2020, was among those who also donated funds and clothing items to KUSOG-PAG. Antoine has been a long-time supporter of rehabilitation programs for Haiyan victims and helped establish AMFOP after the super typhoon.
After such an outpouring of support, Musa, Catindoy, Tada and the young dancers were all in tears.
Tears of joy
"I’m so happy for my dancers that my dreams for them and their dreams were now happening in real life. I’m almost speechless because I’m shocked at the amount that was donated to us. All I can say is thank you so much!” said Catindoy.
“The $4,000 will mean a lot to us. We are motivated for our preparation for the upcoming contest, and this will help us find some costumes that we really need for the competition,” he added.
Ashanti Dre’ De Luna, the leader of the dance group, said: “I thank them because we flew here in Sydney without funds for accommodation and for our food expenses. This means we could now have some money for our food and travel.”
The group also acknowledged the help of other individuals, particularly Josephine Tada and husband Masa, who are giving them free accommodation for the entire duration of their stay in Sydney.
“We couldn’t contact the person that was originally going to give us accommodation so we didn’t know whether we would still make it. We’re lucky that Josephine Tada came to the rescue at the very last minute,” said Catindoy.
He also said thanks to a family friend Glenn Willkom, who gave the group a major donation of $1,000 as well as Irene Bee and Michelle Baltazar who helped connect them to Narra Co-op (Jo Tada) and Adhika (Josie Musa and husband Gerry Musa, member of AMFOP).
There are other individuals who also promised emergency accommodation and more help, including Ma. Jean Cabatingan-Moore who met them at the airport and immediately offered free accomodation after their dance competition.
KUSOG means ‘strength’ in native dialect
KUSOG Performing Arts Group was formed two years ago by coach and dance instructor Mark Catindoy. While most hip hop groups are made up of male dancers, Catindoy said he wanted to help an all-girl dance group to prove that female dancers are just as capable of excelling in the dance genre.
True to his word, the group was the Silver Medalist in the Visayas Qualifier, which made them eligible to compete in the Young Guns category of the World Supremacy Battlegrounds, to be held in Sydney this weekend.
The girls – Katrina, Aubrey, Ashanti, Lei Veronica, Nicole, Francine and Kizza – are all between the ages of 12 and 16 years.
Used to hard work and sacrifice for their passion, they didn’t complain when they each had to carry their individual luggages and knapsacks from Sydney’s international airport to their temporary accommodation in Seven Hills, a suburb two hours away by public transport.
When they were forced to drag their heavy bags uphill from the bus stop to their temporary home, none of the girls stopped to rest. Instead, one of them cheered the others to continue and shouted: “Don’t worry. This is part of our dance training.”
With such positivity and optimism, the universe answered. Having raised almost $6,000 in donations within their first 48 hours in Australia, the girls no longer have to worry about their food and travel expenses. They can focus on fulfilling their ultimate dream: taking home the top prize in the global dance comp.
While ‘kusog’ means strength in Bisaya, ‘adhika’ means ‘aspiration’ in Tagalog.
When aspiration meets strength, dreams come true.
Follow their journey on Facebook: KUSOG-PAG.