Written by Po-Wen Yen, CEO of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Charity Foundation
Translated by H.B. Qin
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto
The ongoing humanitarian crisis in Ukraine has led to a mass exodus of families fleeing their homeland, the number of Ukrainians who have left since February 24 surpassing 7.3 million, with more than half seeking safety in Poland. As of June 16, 2022, over 8 million people in Ukraine have been internally displaced.
Buddhist Tzu Chi Charity Foundation CEO Po-Wen Yen has published an open letter in an effort to boost international awareness of Tzu Chi’s efforts to help the people of Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion, hoping that love will lead to greater acts of love, and inspire more people to assist in alleviating the physical and spiritual pain of Ukrainians.
Sending Warmth With One’s Own Hands
Upon witnessing the rapid escalation of conflict and the ensuing humanitarian situation, Tzu Chi’s founder, Dharma Master Cheng Yen, addressed volunteers worldwide on February 28.
To this end, even though the Buddhist Tzu Chi Charity Foundation does not have a service center in the region or neighboring countries, it nevertheless sought diverse channels to distribute critical supplies to Ukrainians.
Just days after the invasion began, the Tzu Chi global community responded to the needs of Ukrainians, announcing Tzu Chi’s “Love & Compassion for Ukraine” fundraising campaign. Because of the intense cold at that time, Tzu Chi also sent several shipments of eco-friendly blankets to Poland, with more Tzu Chi volunteers preparing eco-scarves. Volunteers additionally began contacting agencies and partners along the Polish-Ukrainian border to further facilitate relief.
On March 5, 2022, the Buddhist Tzu Chi Charity Foundation conducted its first critical supply distribution with the help of Shu Er Chang and her husband, Lukas, in Poznań, a four-hour drive from Warsaw. Moreover, Tzu Chi volunteers on the ground partnered with Poland’s Biedronka chain of supermarkets to obtain gift shopping cards for distributions in various cities. This collaboration with local supermarkets allowed volunteers to deliver warmth directly into the hands of Ukrainians. Tzu Chi furthermore organized a charity concert, “Songs of Solidarity for Ukraine,” as part of the relief distributions on May 6.
Tzu Chi volunteers from 12 countries and regions, including the U.S., Turkey, and Taiwan, have mobilized in Poland. As of June 12, 2022, 185 distributions have been held, providing 18,681 shopping cards (used at Biedronka supermarket), 20,588 blankets, and a total of $8,453,759 USD in aid ($27,910,000 PLN, or Polish złoty), benefiting 50,000 people. To date, aid operations continue, reaching Lublin, Warsaw, Szczecin, and beyond.
Partnering With Charitable Organizations
As the conflict continues, the number of Ukrainians seeking safety abroad is increasing, many fleeing to Poland and peripherally to countries such as Moldova, Slovakia, and Romania. The majority of people forced to flee Ukraine are women, children, and older adults.
The power of Tzu Chi as a single party is limited. With this, Tzu Chi immediately began working with international and local charitable organizations to provide timely humanitarian assistance.
As of June 14, Tzu Chi has collaborated with the following international and local charitable organizations to provide relief for Ukrainians affected by the ongoing crisis:
Through interfaith collaboration with other charitable organizations, we can leverage each party’s special focus and resources more effectively together, facilitating more timely and comprehensive care. As an international faith-based charity organization, the Tzu Chi spirit of service prioritizes gratitude, respect, and love, in all matters. Working unitedly with diverse faiths upholds the principles of piety, harmony, and mutual compassion. With the collective strength and resources of participating NGOs, relief operations can be expedited, and more thorough.
Planning for Mid- to Long-Term Assistance
At the Tzu Chi distribution site, priests led prayers, Tzu Chi volunteers presented relief supplies with both hands, and the Sign Language piece, “One Family,” was performed to lift the hearts of all in attendance.
Tzu Chi’s first international partner in Poland, UNICEF, has set up 26 Blue Dot service centers in seven countries outside of Ukraine, each of which can serve 3,000–5,000 people daily. With Tzu Chi’s resources, the installation of these service centers can be accelerated to offer thoughtful, effective aid across communities. In addition, churches in the area affiliated with faith-based groups, such as Caritas, Camillian Disaster Service International (CADIS), and the Salesian Sisters of St. John Bosco, can be used as distribution sites. And, through the assistance of parishioners, Tzu Chi can call upon impacted individuals and families to deliver shopping cards, food, blankets, and other everyday essentials.
Through multi-organizational collaboration, Tzu Chi expects to help more than 60,000 Ukrainians impacted by conflict by the end of June. Currently, Tzu Chi is also offering volunteer training courses for Ukrainians via a Cash-for-Relief approach in preparation for mid-to-long-term aid programs, including housing and children’s education.