When our Seoul-based all-women group, The 601 Habit, decided to help the survivors of Typhoon Haiyan, we had no concrete project in mind. It could probably just have been the usual sending of money to the Philippines through trusted organizations like the Red Cross.
It was by chance that I got to read a news report by Nestor Burgos about a group of fishermen from an island-barangay from Brgy. Malangabang, Concepcion, Iloilo. The fishermen, led by Kagawad Sonny Ciriaco, were asking for fishing boats instead of the usual relief aid. Our group was struck by one of the fishermen, Raul Hipolito’s, words “How can we live if we cannot fish?”
After our group decided to breathe life to “The Life Boat Project”, I tasked myself to get in touch with these fishermen. They were, after all, the inspiration behind this undertaking.
While simultaneously implementing the project in other affected areas, I got in touch with Mr. Burgos. He would be the best source so I could get in touch with anyone he mentioned in the news report. Luckily for us, Mr. Burgos found his notes and gave me the number of Kagawad Sonny Ciriaco. While still in Seoul, I started calling Kagawad Sonny.
The fishermen who inspired us to do “The Life Boat Project”. Kagawad Sonny Ciriaco in black shirt and Mr. Raul Hipolito in white shirt (right) (photo by Pong Serdena III)
We agreed to meet on my group’s first visit to Concepcion after we distributed school supplies kit and a television and DVD set to Brgy. Macalbang Elementary School. We met. We talked. He presented a list of 54 beneficiaries complete with dependents. He did as he was requested. He did his job. And he was ready when he faced us.
He was steadfast in their needs, as they had been when they were first interviewed a few days after the typhoon took away almost everything they had.
They needed boats to start living the life they had always lived. They needed boats so they can feed their families again as they had always done. I was so glad we have the capacity to give them – albeit just half of it – what they needed the most at this time.
We have the capacity to give because we are surrounded by generous hearts. It wasn’t hard to ask for help for “The Life Boat Project”. As our group is based in Seoul, we have so many Koreans who were ready to help out. We didn’t have to beg. They understood and they believed.
As a group, it was easy to move and go forward with the plans. Everyone put their hearts into the task. Everyone was passionate about the idea to be able to help… long-term. And we have the support of Korea’s first foreign-born Assembly member, Representative Jasmine Lee. Without her, this project wouldn’t have reached this magnitude.
In just 10 days after our first meeting, Kagawad Sonny was able to gather people and resources to put together 26 boats. They were able to deliver. And we delivered. We provided the financial requirement – they provided the manpower and the skills. They knew what kind of boats they needed.
Just as they braved the waters days after Typhoon Haiyan hit them, we – The 601 Habit together with reliable friends – returned the gesture. We braved the strong waves for one hour until we reached the shores of Brgy. Malangabang. The visit became more special as Representative Jasmine Lee took the time to be with us and inspire the fishermen.
With Representative Jasmine Lee, center; Ms. Laarni Oh and Ms. Pamela Ng-Yoo (left) (photo by Pong Serdena III)
I specifically requested Kagawad Sonny to also introduce Raul Hipolito to us. He was one of the fishermen interviewed in that news article. I was just so happy to see him for he is no longer just a name for me. I am personally humbled to meet them who, only a few weeks ago, I was just reading in the news. The sleepless nights were all so worth it when I finally met and personally hear their thanks for giving them their needs.
For some reason, the day we went to the island was alternating between sunny and rainy. Some beneficiaries (some lived in other islands) in another location where we also turned-over some fishing boats didn’t make it due to the strong waves on December 28.
We arrived past 5 in the afternoon, dusk already. But along the shoreline, we saw families waiting. There was no time to fix our windblown hairs and sticky faces. We immediately addressed the eagerly waiting crowd, again humbled by the warm welcome.
We could have stayed longer. In fact, we stayed longer than what was safe for us. We couldn’t resist the fresh crabs served for our group. At 7:30 p.m., Kagawad Sonny had to shyly ask us to start sailing back to the mainland. It was dark, and even darker in the waters where we can see nothing around us but just feel the strong waves.
We could only hope that we left the island with happy families, ready to face the New Year with renewed strength to battle storms that regularly come their way.
Malangabang Island turn-over (photo by Pong Serdena III)
As for us, we were filled with joy. We fulfilled a self-imposed mission to deliver. There’s more to be turned-over in different locations. But for the fishermen of the island of Malangabang, know that you are special.