From France to Negros

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Saturday, January 18, 2014


WHEN I saw the aftermath of Yolanda on television, I cried. And when I saw and heard reports that international aid was pouring into the country for the disaster areas, I cried some more. If there was anything good that came from that horrible typhoon, it was the overwhelming support of the international community for the Philippines.

Eight firemen from France were on their vacation so they flew to the Philippines. It wasn’t the long-popular image of idyllic days on a beach in any of our islands that made them come over to Negros but the image of devastation and hunger and an urgent need to rehabilitate. Tasked by the French government to lend their expertise in rescue situations, Patrick Villardry (the team leader), Roland de Barnier, Nicolas Meleisses, Vincent Falzon, Sebastien Bouche, Michel Merengone, Ismael Decarre, and Pascal Vella took time off to come to Negros Occidental and stay from January 8 to 12 so that the tiny island of Molocaboc off the coast of Sagay City may experience relief from this latest tragedy that hit that part of our country. At Molocaboc, the gentlemen surveyed the possibility of a solar lighting system for the islanders.

Businessman Jorge Lim was kind enough to bring the Frenchmen’s visit to the attention of the local French club L’Association d’Amities Franco-Philippine of which I’m president. (Jorge had previously served as conduit between the club and the European Chamber of Commerce president M. Hubert d’Aboville.) The Frenchmen and Bacolod’s Amity Volunteer Fire Brigade had a study exchange at the Amity Training Center. After a busy day training, an after-dinner get-together at the Sea Breeze Hotel was quickly organized for the ULIS (Unite Legere d’Intervention et de Secours) volunteers because our French guests had limited time then and would have to depart the day after. The club hosted dessert and coffee where conversation flowed and warm laughter reverberated through the hall. In fact, it was difficult to pry apart the small groups that had converged. It seemed that the tete-a-tetes wouldn’t end.

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As was a previous group’s reaction, our new friends couldn’t believe their ears when they heard that there were French-speaking people in this part of the world. In fact, they were excited to meet us and Jorge was adamant that we meet that night of January 10. Mind you, my French isn’t good, yet, it’s the challenge of learning a foreign language and trying to improve my language skill that makes the process exciting. Some members are blessed with facility for the language and the club is so blessed to have them. So, when French-speaking guests are received, these members make communicating with the visitors so much easier.

As president of the club, I was “forced” to say a few sentences in French and I dare say that I deserved a medal for bravery. (And the Frenchmen deserved medals for patience.) Still, hospitality in the Philippines can be translated in any language, and warm and generous hearts from any country are always welcome here. Many thanks to Jorge for bringing us together, to our baby member Elsie Gonzaga for taking the photos and bringing packs of piaya, to Amity Volunteer Fire Brigade for housing the volunteers, and to the French government and the volunteers themselves who shared their time and expertise in order to bring hope to our province. Merci beaucoup encore, monsieurs!

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on January 18, 2014.

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