Paano Kita Mapasasalamatan: How a former ABS-CBN employee brought hope, sustenance to seaside villagers in Zambales

Many people dream of experiencing what it’s like to live a life away from the noise of the metro. And what better way to fulfill it than to spend a peaceful life by the calm waves of the sea.

One of those who found contentment when she chose to spend life by the sea is Karr Cotamora, the program director of Greenspace Artist Village in Liwliwa, Zambales. Karr had extensive experience in media as she previously worked as a production assistant, researcher, coordinator, segment producer and floor director in various ABS-CBN television shows from 2005 to 2015. And during these years, Karr was very grateful for all the success she achieved in her career. Aside from her work in the network, she also had jobs on the side which gave her more source of income. And Karr was privileged enough to live a comfortable life during these times. She was able to buy herself anything she wanted. Apart from that, she was able to provide for her family and supported them financially.

However, because she was too focused at work, Karr became unconscious of the fact that she was missing a huge part of her life while being too much occupied with her career—her beloved lolo, who raised her ever since she lost her dad when she was young. Karr’s grandparents have always supported her in everything that she does. That’s why when her grandfather passed away because of an accident that happened inside their house, Karr blamed herself. She thought that maybe if she was just present during that time, she could’ve done something to save her lolo’s life.

After the incident, Karr couldn’t live in that same house again. She spent her time travelling in different places and meeting new people. Until she found herself in Sitio Liwliwa, Zambales, where she had the privilege of meeting selfless and contented people who are always willing to give help even if they have only little to give. Karr was amazed by how genuine the people in the city are that they willingly share their blessings to other people without expecting anything in return. Although Karr had to adjust her lifestyle because she didn’t have much income anymore unlike what she had before, she was surrounded by a very giving community who has been there for her.

That’s what made Karr decide to relocate to Liwliwa, where she found a sense of belongingness and contentment which lacked in her life before. And she was able to give back to the community by helping a bunch of talented kids hone their talents.

One of the kids that Karr was able to help was Dhenice Bulacan, a talented 15-year-old music artist from Zambales. Dhenice’s mom used to work as a housekeeper at a resort in Zambales, however, she lost her job due to the pandemic. Dhenice’s father meanwhile works as an ice scramble vendor. She’s the youngest among three girls.

And because music always has a special place in Dhenice’s heart, she decided to join the You-Kalele Kids Zambales group that was formed by Karr. And Dhenice is able to express herself whenever she’s sharing to everyone her talent. However, it’s always seemed like it’s the opposite when she’s at home with her family. She shared that her parents have been stricter ever since her eldest sister got pregnant and had her own family at a young age. Although Dhenice has always wanted to hone her talent in music, her parents weren’t very supportive of her at the start.

When she wanted to join You-Kalele Kids, her parents didn’t support her because they thought of the possible expenses that might come with it. But Karr saw the potential in Dhenice that’s why she motivated her to join the group. Dhenice was even able to be more confident when she became the leader of the group.

The talented music artists from You-Kalele Kids were able to share their talents to a larger audience when they gained more exposure through performing at huge events in Intramuros and in Pampanga, as well as in television variety shows like ASAP Natin ‘To. That’s also when Dhenice’s parents started to appreciate her talent in music, making them support their daughter in reaching her dreams. And Dhenice is very much thankful to Karr, who formed You-Kalele which honed her talent and motivated her in sharing it to people. Dhenice gave her a plant which symbolizes her and the rest of the members of the group whom Karr was able to give guidance to and was able to inspire and motivate.

Karr wasn’t only able to give chance to those talented kids like Dhenice to hone their talents, but she was able to provide the opportunity as well for visual artists like Cherry Ann Fulo to have a safe place where they can express themselves through sharing their talent in art. That’s when Green Space Artist Village was born. It served as a haven to many tourists and soul searchers in Liwliwa, but for Cherry Ann, it has become her home. She originally came from San Jose del Monte, Bulacan where she lived with her retired OFW parents and her siblings.

When Cherry Ann’s parents left to work abroad, it was a struggle for her and her siblings because they needed to be more independent and responsible. What was more challenging for Cherry Ann was the arguments and misunderstanding she had to deal with her siblings. It was a really difficult time for her, and this made her decide to live on her own. She was able to focus on herself more when she entered college.

It was also during this time when she discovered her interest and talent in the arts as she learned how to create accessories and tie-dye shirts. Not only did Cherry Ann discover that it could actually be a source of income for her, but it also gave her a sense of fulfillment. While looking for peace and independence, Cherry found herself meeting new friends and sharing her talent in Liwliwa. She once dreamt of having a safe place where she can be more inspired, and she found it in Liwliwa. She was able to conduct workshops in various local resorts which became her steady source of income.

It was also in Liwliwa where Cherry met her partner in life whom she built a family with. She wanted to provide a safe space for her growing family and fortunately, they were able to have their own kubo in a space they called “Home Along The Liwa,” that was inspired from the popular sitcom series Home Along Da Riles. However, later on, Cherry and her family were forced to find another place where they could stay as they had to deal with the conflict regarding the land where they were staying. Cherry didn’t know what to do, and that’s when Karr helped them as she provided a home for Cherry and her family. She was very grateful to Karr for saving not only her life but the life of her family. She was able to have a venue where she could continue her passions for the arts while also having another source of income through her arts and coffee online shop called “Likha at Kape.” For providing her and her family a safe place they can call home and for helping her enhance her creativity, Cherry is more than thankful to Karr.

The city is also a perfect surfing spot for tourists, however, the people weren’t able to maximize it very much. That inspired Karr to establish Liwliwa community lifeguard which was developed out of the need of the community to have lifeguards who could patrol and ensure safety in the beach. Karr helped the resorts in Liwliwa to have lifeguards so that they could have business permits. And because of what Karr did, Liwliwa was able to develop and enrich its tourism. More and more people discovered the beach resorts in Liwliwa as perfect surfing spots. Most importantly, people’s lives prospered. One of those was Von Erick Verano, a surf instructor and lifeguard who originally hailed from Pangasinan.

When Von was still young, he and his younger sibling were forced to live with their father and his second family. It was a struggle for Von and his sibling because their stepmother didn’t treat them right. That’s why he decided to leave his father and bring his sibling with him. Von didn’t have any idea how they would survive. It was probably the hardest phase in their lives as they were forced to live in the streets. Their lives were even put into danger when he and his sibling were stuck in the middle of a river. It was certainly a very traumatizing experience for Von. But what hurt him the most was when their father seemed like he didn’t care for their safety.

But Von turned his fear and trauma into something that he became passionate about - surfing. His boss at his first job taught him how to surf and that’s when he started to be in love with it. He learned how to be a surf instructor and he was then able to teach the tourists in Pangasinan. Being a surf instructor became his source of income. Until he met a couple who brought him to Baler, Aurora. They were also able to go to Zambales. When the couple had problems, they went back to Baler but Von decided to stay in Zambales, until he found himself having a home in Liwliwa.

Although he was able to work as a caretaker in a resort, surviving everyday became a struggle for Von. But Karr was there to help him through giving him the opportunity to have a stable job as a lifeguard. Karr initiated the free training for aspiring lifeguards that helped the locals to have a stable job. Not only was Karr able to help Von, but she was also able to give hope to the rest of those who graduated from the lifeguard training. Von gave Karr a bracelet as he expressed how grateful he is for her for changing his life and for giving him the purpose of saving other people’s lives.

With just one individual’s genuine concern and kindness, people in this vibrant community experienced the wonder of sharing, and how this affects the lives of the people around you. Karr Cotamora might just be happy she found the solace and belongingness in Liwliwa, but the way she gave back to the people who surrounded her in this place she now calls home is truly inspiring.

These inspirational stories of kindness and hope are told weekly on Paano Kita Mapasasalamatan, hosted by Judy Ann Santos-Agoncillo, which airs Saturdays at 7pm on the Kapamilya Channel, Kapamilya Online Live, and A2Z Channel 11.