Dear Tzu Chi Foundation,
Please accept my message of deep gratitude. During some of the darkest hours after typhoon Yolanda, your group was one of the very first to heed Ormoc City’s cry for help. You have looked upon us ever so kindly, how will we be able to thank you enough for all the good you have done?
After the first series of phone calls, I sent an e-mail to Mr. Benson Lao. By Nov. 12, I made my way one quiet evening to a very peaceful, quiet and orderly place in Quezon City where, during the conference chaired by Mr. Alfred Lee, I made an appeal for help. There I gave you all an overview of the situation on the ground. You asked, and I told you what the people needed — food, shelter, hope.
That same evening, you made plans to go and assess for yourselves the extent of the tragedy, and a few days later you arrived in one big group, sans fanfare, and requiring no special treatment whatsoever. You all wore navy blue shirts and white pants that, even at the end of the busiest day, never seemed to get dirty. You were all gentle and kind and mild-mannered, no one spoke harshly. You went around to meet the people of Ormoc City. You surveyed the different barangays, and held a series of medical missions.
Your first beneficiaries were the people of District 29. You blessed 950 individuals with relief packs that included the special Tzu Chi blanket made out of recycled PET bottles (that is a prized possession now, I remember you all with gratefulness each time I use it), and five kilos of rice. The next stop was Brgy. Bantigue, where you again made all households very happy. Your sincerity, the compassion you showed, the constant kindness brought tears to people’s eyes, a smile on their lips. You kept hope alive in everyone’s hearts, even and especially at a time when even that seemed improbable.
And just when we thought we could not get any happier, you outdid yourselves by choosing 10 barangays, namely Can-Adieng, Camp Downes, Ipil, Punta, Curva, San Pablo, Simanagan, Biliboy, Linao and Liloan. In all of these barangays, you gave each household 20 kilos of rice, the special Tzu Chi blanket, and cash that ranged in amount from P8,000 to P15,000, depending on the size of the beneficiary’s family. There were a total of 9,000 recipients in Ormoc. Wow.
But it wasn’t just the material goods you gave that made each visit special. Each time we all came together, we would sing songs as one family. You imparted core values that time has almost forgotten. You made us all remember what we were taught in kindergarten. Yes, it is true that we were brought together by tragedy, but we will rise again because of love. The love and compassion that flowed from each of you to us Ormocanons inspire us to be grateful — and to pay it forward. Because one day, it will be our turn to help. And when that time comes, may we remember you, our dear friends of Tzu Chi, for all that you have taught and shown us. About help. About hope. About love.
You have asked for nothing in return, other than that love and kindness thrive everyday. And that the generous amount of cash you gave to each household be used by the recipients, not for gambling, or smoking, and other such vices, but to buy materials to rebuild homes.
To the ladies and gentlemen of Tzu Chi Foundation, thank you. I am very grateful to Cog. Mel Sarmiento, who is a dear friend and mentor, for linking me up with Boyet Ilagan, who in turn endorsed me to a very nice and very dedicated man named Benson Lao. It was Benson who facilitated my meeting with the group. To Alfred Lee and Benson, know that your dedication and commitment to all the Tzu Chi stands for is inspiring. It was an honor and a pleasure working with all of you. I have learned so much from all the time we spent together. Thank you Master Cheng Yen, for treating the people of Ormoc like family. One day, I hope to meet you. Until then, know that you are dear to all of us, and that we will not forget.
P.S.: Days after you left, I saw rooftops and signs painted with messages of love and thanks. Many years down the road, may these images warm your heart.
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