Written by Mei Chen Chien, Shu Li Lo, Yung Chung Tseng
Translated by H.B. Qin
Edited by Ida Eva Zielinska
In September 2021, at Tzu Chi USA’s invitation, nearly 600 community volunteers came to the Tzu Chi USA Headquarters campus to help with a medical mission. On September 10-11 and 24-25, they helped pack 17,659 medical kits for earthquake survivors in Haiti, and families fleeing Afghanistan temporarily housed in camps on U.S. military bases.
The Medical Kit Mission Started in Response to the 2021 Earthquake in Haiti
A magnitude 7.2 earthquake struck Haiti on August 14, 2021. For several weekends in a row, Tzu Chi USA Headquarters rallied its volunteers and called on Southern California residents to help pack “family medical kits” for the survivors.
The Director of Tzu Chi USA’s Medical Development Office, Dr. Hsun Man Chen, was responsible for preparing the medical kits. “The first batch of 6,586 medical kits were sent to Haiti on August 28 as relief supplies. With the community’s support, Tzu Chi USA will continue to make another 10,000 medical kits in September,” he shared.
But then the mission expanded.
“Since mid-August, volunteers in the Tzu Chi USA Headquarters region have been preparing and packing medical kits, originally planned for distribution in Haiti, but in mid-September, we learned that Tzu Chi planned to engage in a project to care for Afghan refugees and needed to prepare 1,000 ‘daily medical kits’ for the Afghan people who were temporarily living in refugee camps after being evacuated from Afghanistan. We decided to put 1,073 medical kits left over from the first batch sent to Haiti to the kits for the Afghan refugees,” Dr. Chen explained.
Responding to Afghan Refugee Needs
Afghan refugees who fled Taliban rule in early September arrived in the United States and were being temporarily housed in camps set up at eight military bases in five states, including Wisconsin, Virginia, and Texas, through arrangements made by the U.S. government. In the future, approximately 200 private organizations across the U.S. will help refugee families settle here, assisting with access to food, housing, education, and employment resources.
The Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation is officially an NGO in Special Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (UN ECOSOC). Tzu Chi USA has been in close contact with the United Nations and the U.S. federal government for many years. After receiving information about the resettlement program for Afghan refugees, Tzu Chi USA Headquarters joined a government project to care for them. The first phase was to provide 1,000 medical kits for those sheltered in a refugee camp in Wisconsin.
Min Hsing, Deputy Director of the Office of Philanthropy Development, pointed out that Tzu Chi USA Headquarters’ Deputy CEO, Tzu Wai Tseng, led the Tzu Chi team in joining the project of care for Afghan refugees. Given that Tzu Chi and community volunteers were already packing medical kits for Haiti earthquake survivors, he organized another production line alongside to pack medical kits for Afghan refugees.
The “daily medical kit” for Afghan refugees, packed in Tzu Chi distribution backpacks, included:
- A “family medical kit,” like the ones Haiti earthquake survivors were getting
- An eco-friendly blanket and scarf
- Dharma Master Cheng Yen’s letter of condolences and blessings
- A card with a Jing Si Aphorism from Master Cheng Yen
- A Tzu Chi USA Journal periodical and other literature
- Best wishes cards made by Tzu Chi Academy students in the United States
In assembling the kits, the team hoped that the gift bags filled with practical supplies and uplifting messages would help the people of Afghanistan who fled their homeland in fear and convey the warmth of the American people and Tzu Chi volunteers.
The Power of Good Will Leads to Great Accomplishments
Whenever Tzu Chi called for help with packing medical kits, Jackson Chen, then Tzu Chi USA Chief Executive Officer (CEO), would put aside his busy schedule and join in the effort. “In this small medical kit, volunteers put more than ten kinds of materials, some obtained through different channels or donated by the community,” Chen shared.
“Volunteers had to unpack different materials, separate them, and then select more than a dozen items into a medical kit. Such a procedure required a large number of volunteers’ assistance. Every time we have about 150 volunteers and people assisting. I’m really glad to see many new faces joining every time,” he added.
Each time the medical kit packing day took place, volunteers and people from different cities in Southern California would report to the National Headquarters campus early in the morning. Each person was responsible for one aspect of the process. Although they were working hard, everyone was full of joy.
Every Kit Contained the Volunteers’ Love
Chien Chen, a volunteer who had just returned from Tzu Chi USA’s Haiti earthquake disaster relief mission, also went to the campus to participate in packing. He felt touched seeing volunteers preparing the medical kits so intensively.
That day, the first batch of medical kits had just completed customs clearance procedures and would be picked up from Haitian Customs and quickly sent to the disaster area for distribution. He believed that this good news was of tremendous encouragement to everyone assisting because their love was already safely on its way directly to the survivors.
Some volunteers In the assembly line rolled plastic bags, gloves, and other items into small cylinders like sushi rolls to stuff them into the medical kits while saving space. At the other end of the table, everyone was busy attaching “do-not-eat” warning stickers on bottles of hand sanitizer. This added level of care was for the sake of Haitians who lack supplies and, having never used hand sanitizer before, may accidentally ingest it.
Love is a powerful force if we can pool its energy together, as this medical kit mission did. Hopefully, the Haitian earthquake survivors and Afghan refugees who received the kits will have felt strengthened in their journey towards recovery or acclimatizing to a new life in a foreign land.