Aug. 7. It is a beautiful day and the sun shines very brightly over Ipil Port in Ormoc City. There is hardly a cloud in the sky, the sea is a vibrant blue, and against it is this strip that juts out in a “T” out to sea, chipped and broken here and there. On each side of this port are colorful little boats, anchored still, swaying gently by the bay. Where it has rained on and off for days, today’s sunlight make for a lighting coup so perfect the whole scene can pass as an establishing shot in some movie: the perfect backdrop for what the gut tells you is a beautiful story about to unfold. Attached to a grand mill (that has since folded up) back in those days when sugar was the backbone of the Ormoc economy, the Ipil port has, for many years now, been reduced to a quiet version of its former self. Where once it was sparkling and glorious in its usefulness, it now just basks in the whispered, wistful stories of what it used to be. Of course there is also always talk of what it potentially could still be, but for now it is what it is.
Scarred but still beautiful, worn and torn here and there, efforts to both maintain and improve it have dwindled significantly through the years. Today, though, it buzzes with renewed life. Dedicated men, burly and strong, have toiled since the night before to set the stage for the distribution of 100 fiberglass fishing boats donated by industry giant, Bench. One by one, they have loaded the boats into big trucks that gingerly traveled the highway to Ipil Port where they are then unloaded and carefully lined side by side in two rows, like neat little soldiers. Around us, life goes on. I am happy to see the boats that were awarded weeks prior being used. They come and go, pretty little vessels that they are, dotting the sea with color and character. The fishermen wave to me as I walk along the port; they point with their fingers to the boats they are on, flashing the thumbs-up sign, wide grins on their faces, as if to say, “Look, we are using the fishing boats, and how!”
The heat intensifies as the morning deepens, it drenches us in sweat. The breeze gives us temporary relief every now and then. Everyone seems happy to bear with it. We are, after all, gathered together for what is a happy occasion. Before long, the beneficiary fishermen, whose names were drawn raffle-style to be fair to all wishing and hoping for boats of their own, trickle in and stand by their boats. They all had been informed the night before, save for three who would be happily surprised. Some have come with family — one with his pregnant spouse, another with his son, one more with his brother. There is a lady as well, middle-aged, and she tells me her husband was the one who taught her to fish. I ask them about their lives. One says he catches shrimp, which is always easy for his wife to sell in the market. A couple tells me that, through fishing, they were able to put all three of their children through high school. After Yolanda, though, they have had to start from scratch, and have collectively agreed to put off college until finances are better. This they say with no bitterness, just palpable faith that things can only get better. One guy who could not stop smiling, Orlando Villamor from Brgy. Lao, says he was beside himself with joy upon learning he was getting a fishing boat and in the course of our conversation even extended an open invitation for me to go to his house where he would cook and serve his catch. This raw display of joy, the generous spirit, touches the heart.
The 6200 Mission Possible Project in Leyte IV, so called for the 6,200 registered fishermen that need fishing boats, beautiful as it is, has had its share of challenges — in terms of logistics, in bringing the cost of the finished product as low as possible without being abusive of the kindness and generosity of suppliers, and when that was all settled increasing the length of the boat from 18 to 22 feet, at no extra cost to the donor. See, a longer length will allow the fishermen to bring the boat further out to sea where there are bigger varieties of fish. There were also delays beyond our control before the project could really take off. To sum it up, like in most other projects, there are good days alongside the not-so-good ones (although the former far outweighs the latter). Thankfully though, somehow, it always works out in the end and is how I know for sure God holds everything in His hands. I need not fear.
For all the challenges, those that have come to pass and the ones still up ahead, it is moments like this one today at Ipil Port that give me and the whole team a second wind. We have awarded around five or six times already, with 50 to 100 boats per round, and you would think that by now I would have gotten used to the emotional experience that it always proves to be. The smile on the faces of the fishermen when they receive their boats and especially when they set it out to sea, makes everything all worth it. Their skin, weathered by time and the elements, may tell the story of a hard life but their eyes glisten with joy. And even in just that one moment alone all the bad days combined make a hasty retreat into the shadows, paling in comparison with all the brightness and happiness that just is.
Bench chairman Ben Chan arrives with Richard and a party that includes Miguel Pastor, Pia Campos, Rey Lanada, Karen Jardenil and Paula Nocom. Upon being introduced as the donor, the person responsible for the great blessing each of them were receiving that day, the fishermen break into applause and as Ben goes around they warmly albeit shyly shake his hand as they express gratefulness and thankfulness. It is a moving sight. As it is with all the other donors, Bench is now part of their story — one that is all about moving forward with fresh hope.
A hundred boats distributed, the lives of one hundred families changed. Today was but the first wave of a fleet of over 200 boats donated by Bench. Here in Ormoc City is a man, legendary in the industry for stellar business ethics and generosity, once again paying it forward. He has brought with him the blessings and wishes of his brother-in-law Virgilio and sister Nenita Lim, who runs the company with him. The joy is palpable, and it is at this very moment that life is as it should be — the brokenness of one soothed by the kindness of the other, two pieces in a puzzle that make for a perfect fit.
Thank you, Bench. For so much.