Written by Ida Eva Zielinksa
Between September 8 and 11, the Tzu Chi Earthquake Response Team had completed three large-scale disaster relief distributions in Les Cayes, Haiti, bringing vital food aid to approximately 3,250 residents impacted by the magnitude 7.2 tremors that struck the nation on August 14, 2021. After this intense burst of activity, September 12 brought the team back to the Overseas Engineering & Construction Co. (OECC) office in the nation’s capital, Port-au-Prince, for a series of meetings.
Team member Curtis Hsing invited three volunteers who had participated in Tzu Chi’s relief activities following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, now more than a decade ago, to gather and catch up on each other’s lives. Attending the meeting were:
- Romulus Pierro, who had been a driver and translator for the disaster relief team in 2010. Today, through a company he established, he provides security tasks for the Director of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
- Jonathan Cancoul, who was just a teenager in 2010, came to volunteer during disaster relief activities nearly every day. Today he is 27 and works in sales and models.
- Francius Leone was Principal of the elementary school in La Roca in 2010, which is where Tzu Chi volunteers met him when they distributed hot food there. Today at 72, although retired, he cooks for the children, makes uniforms, and helps students at school.
At the same time, Tzu Chi Earthquake Response Team member James Chen met with OECC leadership and staff to discuss upcoming collaboration. The OECC agreed to make meeting rooms available for the Tzu Chi team to conduct volunteer training the next day, September 13.
The OECC also agreed to provide trucks to help deliver relief supplies from Tzu Chi Taiwan to Les Cayes. From there, they would assist with sending the materials that will be stored at the Centre Diocésain Des Arts et Métiers Des Cayes, run by the Salésiens de Don Bosco Catholic congregation, to other partner organizations for subsequent aid distributions.
Local Volunteer Training Continues
Having provided their first volunteer training session on September 4, the team offered a second, as arranged in collaboration with OECC, on September 13 at their Port-au-Prince office. This time, the local volunteer team received instruction on how to fill out case forms, home visits protocol, and reporting on cases using PowerPoint. After their training sessions, the local volunteers received a free first aid kit to take home as a gift, which had been prepared by Tzu Chi volunteers in the United States beforehand.
Local volunteer training at the Overseas Engineering & Construction Co. on September 13, 2021. Photos/Tzu Chi Haiti Team
Meanwhile, that same day, the OECC attempted to deliver the relief materials shipped from Tzu Chi Taiwan to Les Cayes. However, gang activities in Port-au-Prince inhibited their ability to accomplish the plan.
More Meetings as the Team’s Departure for the United States Quickly Approaches
On September 14, the Tzu Chi Earthquake Response Team had additional tasks and meetings to attend. They began their day early, and in anticipation of their return to the United States on September 16, they received PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing for COVID-19.
Next, the team met with Dashka Bennett, Vice President of foods supplier Gigi Depot, from which Tzu Chi had purchased supplies for the distributions they just provided days before. At the meeting, they discussed future wholesale orders of food for subsequent disaster relief distributions.
That afternoon, they also met with Gabrielle Paul, a local volunteer from Jérémie, Haiti, whom Tzu Chi worked with during the 2016 Hurricane Matthew relief mission in the city. They shared recent information about Tzu Chi’s current and upcoming collaborations with Caritas Haiti. The Catholic organization has now committed to creating a list of 5,000 disaster survivor families, on top of assisting in preparations for food distribution in Jérémie.
And to end the day, the team joined the Ambassador of Taiwan to Haiti Wen-jiann Ku, a priest from the Congrégation du Saint-Esprit, and others to discuss further collaborative earthquake relief initiatives.
While the Tzu Chi Earthquake Response Team had planned to fly to Les Cayes for another disaster relief distribution in the city the next day, as a final burst of aid before they returned to America, that would not be the case due to travel complications. Nonetheless, the distribution did go forward, thanks to some welcome help.
A Fourth Distribution Brings More Hope to Les Cayes Residents
Thanks to a collaboration with the Taiwan Technical Mission in the Republic of Haiti, part of the Taiwan International Cooperation and Development Fund, 1,000 more households in Les Cayes received two bags of rice on September 15. Although the Tzu Chi Earthquake Relief Team could not make it there, everything proceeded excellently, as everyone hoped.
Another 1,000 households in Les Cayes receive rice thanks to the Taiwan Technical Mission in the Republic of Haiti staff who volunteered to help on September 15. Photos/Tzu Chi Haiti Team
Phase One of the Mission Accomplished
On September 16, after completing the first phase of the disaster relief mission following the August 14 earthquake, the Tzu Chi Earthquake Response Team lifted off from Port-au-Prince on a flight back to the United States. Thankfully, no one had contracted COVID-19 during the intense 16-day stay in Haiti, one filled with long hours and repeated travel between cities under the constant threat of attack by gangs along the way.
Through their efforts in collaboration with partner organizations and a team of dedicated local volunteers, Tzu Chi distributed food and supplies to a total of 4,250 households. Moreover, while the first wave of Tzu Chi USA volunteers departed from Haiti, plans are already in the works for more aid distributions to follow, some entrusted to the Salésiens de Don Bosco and Caritas Haiti. This is only the beginning of Tzu Chi’s care in response to this latest catastrophe to strike the people of Haiti, whom we’ve held close to heart for more than a decade.
We welcome your partnership on this mission, which you can provide through your donation to support our activities in Haiti. Together, we can do even more.