Written by Jial Liui
Translated by Hong (Ariel) Chan
Edited by Ida Eva Zielinska
Since the assassination of Haiti’s president in July 2021, the country’s overall security has deteriorated, and violent gang takeovers have displaced many. The residents of Cité Soleil and La Saline, two impoverished areas in the capital, Port-au-Prince, were in urgent need of food.
Tzu Chi volunteers overcame many obstacles and extended a helping hand to the residents in the spirit of unwavering, unconditional love. From July 11 to 28, 2022, 20,000 bags of rice, totaling 200 tons, were distributed to meet the urgent needs of people in those neighborhoods.
In the Shadow of Gang Violence
The current situation in Haiti is extremely turbulent. The capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince, has become a battlefield between armed gangs. Unchecked gang forces control nearly every poverty-stricken area in the capital. From January to the end of June 2022, there were 934 murders, 684 violent injuries, and 680 kidnappings in the Port-au-Prince region.
The rampant violence has forced thousands of residents to flee their homes, and many who left crime-ridden areas behind remain undomiciled, enduring the harsh conditions of homelessness. Concurrently, with the transport and delivery of resources becoming increasingly complicated and dangerous, Haitians already extremely short of supplies find it impossible to obtain food and other necessities, leaving more and more people facing starvation.
Despite all the hazards associated with the present context, Tzu Chi’s aid continues. Father Zucchi Ange Olibrice, in charge of The Little Schools of Father Bohnen (OPEPB – Œuvre des Petites Écoles de Père Bohnen) in Port-au-Prince, is also a Tzu Chi volunteer. He has steadfastly managed to continue distributing rice from Taiwan to students and parents of OPEPB schools and the destitute residents of the Cité Soleil and La Saline slums.
Conducting the distributions held between July 11 and 28 amid social turmoil in Port-au-Prince was daunting. In the absence of Haitian police and special forces to provide security at the scene, maintaining order to ensure the safety of volunteers and care recipients was the biggest challenge. However, nothing would stop the mission from going forward in answer to the earnest requests of starving residents.
Spreading the Tzu Chi Spirit
In holding these complicated distributions with the assistance of community volunteers, Father Zucchi Ange Olibrice brought vital food relief while also sharing the spirit of Tzu Chi. Speaking in Creole, he introduced Master Cheng Yen and the story of Tzu Chi so that care recipients could learn about its philosophy of giving and joining together as one family to benefit those in need.
While turmoil and chaos are an ever-present threat in Port-au-Prince, the residents of slums who came to collect rice under the scorching sun abided by the protocol set by the Tzu Chi team, lining up in an orderly fashion and waited for their turn without complaint.
Such patience and grace, even while experiencing desperate need, have been fostered through Tzu Chi’s steadfast rice distributions in Haitian slums since 2013. From the initial need to guide residents to queue up to everyone now automatically waiting in line, we can see the beauty of kindness and mutual trust at play.
Bags of rice awaited, neatly arranged in a mountainous pile, as the care recipients approached, their expressions lighting up with hope the closer they came. The elderly, infirm, heads of households, women with children, one and all would receive two large bags of rice. Many placed one bag atop their heads and tightly hugged the other, appreciative of how necessary these resources are for their family to survive. And as they walked away, smiles of relief finally eased the furrows of anxiety on their faces.
Life in Haiti is perpetually fraught with hardships due to disasters, poverty, and social turmoil. Yet Tzu Chi is persistently there to offer timely aid and sow the seeds of love and kindness in this suffering land. While Haitians are thankful for the ongoing support, Tzu Chi volunteers are equally grateful they can provide assistance.
From Haiti to Ecuador and Mexico and across the United States, where poverty and food insecurity are likewise a fact, Tzu Chi USA strives to assist the vulnerable and underprivileged. Our missions are made possible by donations from people around the world. It’s the loving intent more than the amount of support that counts.