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August 24, 2021

Typhoon Haiyan survivor finds meaning and purpose in baking bread

A fortuitous encounter after a super storm leads Leyteño Adrian Neil Ang to practice his passion for baking in Manila.

 

By Joy Rojas

 

 

A life without mission is a life without direction. That’s Adrian Neil Ang’s favorite Jing Si aphorism, wise words that have motivated the 30-year-old native of Palo, Leyte, to find meaning and purpose in his work as a baker at the Buddhist Tzu Chi Campus (BTCC) in Sta. Mesa, Manila. 

 

Fact is, Ang has always had a passion for baking bread. Along with cooking, baking was his major when he took up his Bachelor of Science in Entrepreneurship at Leyte Normal University. A love of bread also pushes him to constantly elevate his baking skills through online courses. 

 

“Bread is different, I can’t explain why,” he says. “Sometimes there are certain foods that you like to eat but you don’t know why you like them.”

 

Like his fellow Leyteños, Ang came to know of the Tzu Chi Foundation in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) in November 2013. The Category 5 storm left more than 6,000 people dead, 1,800 missing, and millions homeless and without livelihood. Of the many NGOs that extended assistance to the province, it was Tzu Chi and its volunteers’ genuine sense of compassion that drew him to the group. “We would see them walking in the streets, and I would see them, in their blue and white uniforms,” he said in the Tzu Chi book A Mission of Love. “We thought they were our angels, and I really wanted to work with them.”

 

One of four siblings, Ang recalls Typhoon Yolanda as a dark period in his family’s life. In addition to torrential rains, Yolanda’s record-high wind speeds triggered a giant storm surge, a 20-foot wall of water that literally washed away billions of dollars’ worth of homes, agriculture, and businesses—including his parents’ automotive parts store. “Everything was destroyed. We had to junk it all,” he says. Fortunately, the family still had cars to rent out, and when Tzu Chi volunteers arrived at the scene to begin a years-long rehabilitation of affected areas, Ang found himself driving one of the cars for volunteer Sally Yuñez.

 

“She asked me about my background and I told her I like to bake,” he says. Thus began a sustainable baking initiative at the Tzu Chi Great Love Livelihood Center in Palo. Baked by Ang and other Yolanda survivors, the vegetarian breads and pastries were sold to government and private offices, and later to the local supermarket.

 

Last July, Ang took up Yuñez’s offer to come to Manila and help develop vegetarian gourmet breads and other baked goods in BTCC’s bakery. The breads are for fundraising purposes; they are also served to guests like the officers of the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Inc. (FFCCCII), and the doctors of MedGrocer and the Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) when they organized a vaccination rollout program from July to August at BTCC.

 

For Ang, baking at BTCC is more than a job—it’s his destiny. “I’ve always been Auntie Sally’s assistant, especially in baking. We have an affinity in terms of food,” he says. Through Dharma Master Cheng Yen’s teachings, the baker with a self-confessed attitude problem has become more grounded and introspective, taking life’s ups and downs with a calm demeanor.  

 

“Life must go on even if bad things happen to us,” he says in reference to the unspeakable destruction and death endured by Leyteños after Typhoon Yolanda. “Although you could say that God was not with us at that time, Tzu Chi taught us that we should learn to move on and accept that this is our karma. Yet somehow we are still blessed because we are still alive.”

 

With this in mind, Ang intends to live his life, as his favorite aphorism reminds him, with mission and direction. His personal goal: “To expand the livelihood program of Tzu Chi in Manila.” Asked what he can contribute to making this happen, the baker answers with much certainty, “My time, my heart, and my learnings. Master knows that.” 

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