Rob converted his bunkhouse room into a makeshift studio using mattresses on the windows to keep out the noise.
In 40 years writing songs I’ve never met a fellow songwriter who didn’t want to get some sort of reaction from their songs. As I’ve grown older I’ve begun to realize the extraordinary power of song to engage people. These days my goal is to create the sort of reaction that causes people to change their behavior, ultimately saving lives.
Songs are the best thing we have in the tool kit to help people remember critical information. Songs combine rhyme, rhythm, repetition and melody to create a single integrated musical event that can cause an emotional experience. This experience helps to imbed the song in the subconscious for recall on cue.
If you think your messages are important and you want people to remember them, then you must use songs. Songs are also, by a huge margin the most cost effective way to disseminate information. It’s great to see IOM leading the way using songs.
I live in the town of Oamaru on the South Island of New Zealand. We have a sizeable Filipino community so many of us watched with great concern as typhoon Yolanda made its way ashore in those early days of November 2013. However, nothing prepared us for the shocking images that followed.
I wanted to do something to help so I called my Filipino friends Robert Gonzales and Thienne Bulatao asking if they’d help me write some songs about water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). We completed the first song within 72 hours. This Tagalog song detailed ways to make water safe for drinking. We sent the song to First Response Radio for broadcast to the people of Tacloban.
We continued to produce Water Sanitation and Health (WASH) songs from New Zealand but it soon became apparent that our life saving messages would be more effective in Waray, the language of the region so I began to lobby various organizations in a bid for funding to travel to the Philippines and write songs in the local dialect.
In April I was contacted by Amy Rhoades who runs IOM's Communications with Communities (CwC) programme. We discussed the situation and how songs could be used to communicate key messages.
Amy explained the rebuild had started in earnest but many were building back in unsafe ways exposing themselves to greater risk. IOM was keen to deliver key construction messages and Amy asked if Health Songs International would be willing to assist with songs. I started packing immediately.
Over 12 years writing health songs has helped me refine a way for creating accurate and effective health songs in languages other than my own and this process came under scrutiny with a schedule that demanded one song per week. I am pleased to say that although things didn’t go entirely without a hitch the process withstood the test.
Only time will tell how these songs affect behavior but early indications are very positive. They’re written for ordinary people facing extraordinary circumstances. Here are some personal stories.
Song writing session at CwC Workshop in Ormoc
One morning shortly after the release of Tindog Kita, our first song which is a call to rise up and build a better future, I received a text message from an IOM staffer who told me that she heard a four-year old-singing Tindog Kita in front of her house.
I was escorted around Tacloban by a very shy driver. He was kind and helpful but he didn’t speak much at that time. But when Tindog Kita came on the radio he suddenly began to sing and to my surprise he seemed to know most of the words.
I was grabbing a quick lunch at a restaurant one afternoon and asked if anyone had heard the song. The said that they hadn’t so I called the station manager at Radyo Abante, Fred Padernos and asked him if he could play it. A few bars into the song an older woman gave a little shudder and began rubbing her arm revealing goose bumps and a big smile.
I’ve worked on projects with other groups before but I’ve never had such a supportive team as I found with IOM. I look forward to our next venture together.
Rob Greaney lives in Oamaru, South Island, New Zealand and is the Director of Health Songs International, an organization dedicated to bringing critical health messages to vulnerable communities throughout the world through the use of songs. Visit the website and support his valuable work at Healthsongs.org
Listen to the song here Tindog Kita