On the morning of May 28, 2021, a group of volunteers in Bangladesh were stacking a bunch of sacks, all packed neatly and ready to go, bearing the logo of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation. These sacks filled with food and other necessities were prepared for a food drive that would benefit 150 families on that day.
Participating in the event was Rajib, a Bangladeshi volunteer who first came to know Tzu Chi in 2020. Since then, he has already helped organize six Tzu Chi food drives in the country. For the event on May 28, however, Rajib had decided to take a step back, and let local volunteers Ms. Sahida and Mr. Elias take the lead. Aside from the three of them, there were 11 other volunteers.
For all the Tzu Chi food drives he had participated in since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, Rajib had made it a personal rule to make sure that the volunteers’ families approved of their leaving the house and helping with the events – since doing so could expose the whole family to the risk of infection. Happily, this was never a problem and many volunteers put in the generous time and effort to help those in need. But when Rajib asked the volunteers again this time, he ran into an unexpected hiccup.
In Bangladesh, it’s uncommon to find women working outside their homes. Sahida, the young woman who would be leading this food drive, comes from a devout Muslim family. Even without the threat of the pandemic, Sahida’s mother would not have liked her daughter to go out much, let alone allowing her to stay out for long periods of time in preparation for the event. On the night of May 27th, in particular, the volunteers had to stay well into the evening to make sure everything would be ready to go for the next day.
Understanding a mother’s concern for her daughter’s wellbeing, Rajib thoughtfully took the initiative to visit Sahida’s mother and explain to her that the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation was running this event because many people in Bangladesh had lost their livelihood due to the pandemic, and Tzu Chi wanted to help as many of them as possible. It was a selfless act of kindness for Sahida to volunteer her time and effort, and Rajib hoped that the young woman’s mother would understand.
Thankfully, Sahida’s mother was not only convinced by Rajib’s compassionate words and finally allowed Sahida to continue working as part of the food drive, but she also surprised Rajib by offering to help herself. On the day of the event, it was very touching to see Sahida working side by side with her mother, her younger sister, and even four kids from their extended family that her mother had brought along. All the volunteers worked together to pass out the food packages, some even carrying them for the women and older people who could not lift those heavy sacks filled with enough food to keep their families fed and safe for at least a while at this difficult time.
Some of Tzu Chi’s previous relief efforts in India and other countries in South and Southeast Asia have already begun to bear fruit. On May 29, a shipment of 30 oxygen concentrators reached Cambodia’s capital city of Phnom Penh. There were also 103 cartons of face masks en route from Taiwan, 42 of which had already arrived, while the other 61 were scheduled to arrive on the next flight. These cartons containing a total of 44,980 KN95 face masks were provided for the Samdech Techo Youth Volunteer Doctor Association (TYDA) in Cambodia, an organization that has been on the frontline of the fight against COVID-19 in the country.
Also on May 29, the second plane dedicated to transporting relief supplies for Nepal arrived in the country’s capital city of Kathmandu. May 29 was a national holiday in Nepal, and the customs office was not supposed to open. However, in a concerted effort to get these medical supplies to the doctors and nurses battling the pandemic as soon as possible, the customs officers decided to work overtime after all and cleared the shipment containing a total of 39,120 personal protective suits and 43 cases of medical protective caps and shoe coverings. These supplies were later handed over to the Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital (TUTH) in Nepal at a donation ceremony.
On the following day, May 30, EssEmm Corporation, a Coimbatore-based company specializing in food processing automation, facilitated the donation of 600 oxygen concentrators on behalf of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation. Of these, 400 were allocated to the state of Tamil Nadu and 200 to the state of Kerala. Upon arrival, they would be distributed to various government hospitals and health centers in those states.
“I thank Tzu Chi Foundation for their large-hearted support and contribution to our country during these distress times,” Mr. Sathish Nair, MD, from EssEmm Corporation, said. “We will continue to contribute and be part of our public and social needs.”
Last but not least, on June 1, a shipment containing 1,600 medical coveralls, 3,040 personal protective suits, 6,400 medical shoe covers, 6,000 medical protective caps, 600 face shields, and 50 digital thermometers, reached Vientiane, the capital of Laos. These 92 cases of medical supplies were shipped from mainland China. From Vientiane, they were transported by land to Pakse, a city in southern Laos.