Written by Pheel Wang
Translated by Mark
Edited by Diana Chang, Andrea Barkely
On March 24, 2021, the slum area at Susan’s Bay community, located north of Freetown, the capital of the Republic of Sierra Leone, caught fire. The flames quickly swept across and into the night sky and lit up in a fearsome red glare. The fire burned through a large swathe of the slum area, devouring thousands of huts and shacks. This community, made of haphazardly corrugated cardboard and other recycled materials, quickly caught fire. Unfortunately, because of the neighborhood’s poor construction, the firefighter trucks couldn’t get through to the burning scene, thus failing to extinguish the fire in time.
What used to be homes to over ten thousand was instantly reduced to a pile of carbon ashes. Before anyone could wrestle from the fire, whatever they deemed valuable to them, many people had to jump into the fishing boat to avoid being burned by the blaze. As a result, the fire rendered over 7,000 people homeless. These residents were already born into one of the poorest of developing countries in the world. They were left penniless, if not utterly shirtless, in the slum of the most impoverished nation.
The number of fire survivors was so large that the local government had to ally with 49 non-profit organizations. The NGO Caritas Sierra Leone immediately contacted Tzu Chi USA. As a result, Tzu Chi USA coordinated with Caritas on all the warehouse supplies and local workforce for disaster relie
The Republic of Sierra Leone has been overwhelmed by all kinds of hardship — civil war, mudslides, Ebola, flood, and now the coronavirus pandemic. The compassionate Master Cheng Yen directed volunteers to deliver supplies that could only be made possible through interfaith cooperation.
With all measures kicked into gear, the shelters nearest to the place of fire damage could now conduct hot meal distribution. And the outdoor stopgap stoves, constructed of stones in a hurry, have wood fuels burning underneath. With Tzu Chi rice cooking, several giant cauldrons steaming on top could churn out three meals for over three thousand people daily.
Volunteers made special trips with all the pots, pans, and even kitchen utensils destroyed in the fire. In addition, they procured many plastic bowls as food containers. Six volunteers were local college students under the sponsorship of Tzu Chi. Upon the arrival of supply trucks full of Tzu Chi rice, they joined the rest of the team to unload, cook, and distribute meals.
Rendered utterly homeless by the conflagration, over 1,100 families had to hunker down on street corners to sleep overnight. So volunteers immediately delivered blankets to them. Meanwhile, other Tzu Chi volunteers sorted through clothing donations. They hoped to race against time to provide survivors with a literal sense of warmth. And to help carry Sierra Leone’s most deprived people over the troubled water in the aftermath of a demolishing fire.