Written by Ida Eva Zielinska
The Tzu Chi Earthquake Response team’s first three days in Haiti, from their arrival on September 1 in Port-au-Prince until September 3, had been a whirlwind of activity. They met with partners, took stock of shipped and locally purchased food supplies, and coordinated their division into allotments per household. And on September 4, as their preparations for the first disaster relief distribution following the August 14, 2021 magnitude 7.2 earthquake continued, the team took care of an additional important matter.
Tzu Chi’s worldwide missions rely on networks of local volunteers, which is no different in Haiti. Such community support is vital to Tzu Chi’s ability to provide immediate aid and essential for long-term recovery efforts. The kind-hearted individuals who join the local teams receive training from Tzu Chi volunteers, which helps deepen their understanding of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation’s vision and approach to charity aid as established by Dharma Master Cheng Yen.
Thus, local volunteer training took place on Saturday, September 4, in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince. The volunteers watched videos of Master Cheng Yen offering Buddhist teachings and guidance on the necessity of putting compassion into action wholeheartedly to help others. They also learned proper protocol when offering aid supplies, respecting care recipients’ dignity even in times of need, and other core aspects of volunteering with Tzu Chi.
The class of local volunteers listens and learns attentively during the training sessions on September 4, 2021. Photo/Tzu Chi Haiti Team
At the end of the teaching sessions, Tzu Chi volunteer Curtis Hsing complimented the trainees, saying, “You can see their gestures, their uniform, their poise, everything. They are very good.” For their part, the community volunteers were pleased as well, one commenting:
After the training sessions concluded, a small group of volunteers learned to cook Jing Si Rice, a unique product developed by Tzu Chi nuns in Hualien, Taiwan, and formulated to be cooked even when hot water is unavailable.
A team of key local volunteers learns how to cook Jing Si Rice. Photo/Tzu Chi Haiti Team
The volunteers with this know-how can then pass it on to others and cook hot meals in disaster zones, as James Chen, the Tzu Chi volunteer teaching them how to cook the rice, elaborated:
Finally, when the hot meal was ready, the key volunteers took it back to the whole class so that everyone could enjoy the special rice as lunch for the day.
The key volunteers are thrilled to share the hot Jing Si Rice meal they learned to make with the rest of their training class. Photo/Tzu Chi Haiti Team
The next day, Sunday, September 5, the team loaded five trucks and began transporting relief supplies from Port-au-Prince to Les Cayes in Haiti’s South, where the first distributions would commence on Wednesday. It was a stressful venture, as due to a heightened level of gang activity recently, the threat of violent attack and the seizure of goods was real and not to be taken lightly.
The team’s nerves were on edge when a flat tire brought one of the five trucks in the transport convoy to a dead halt partway in the journey, and repairs progressed while exposed on the open road.
Tzu Chi Haiti volunteers James Ocean and Daphna Laguerre are to accompany the supplies during transport. Photo/Tzu Chi Haiti Team
Thankfully, by midday, the four other trucks had successfully made it past Martissant, an area heavily populated with gang members. And, finally, by 6:30 PM, the final and fifth truck reached Caritas Haiti’s warehouse in Les Cayes, and unloading could begin.
However, the next day, Monday, September 6, would bring a new level of tension, with a much-feared explosion of violence in Port-au-Prince.
The Friday before, the G9 alliance of Haitian gangs had announced plans to blockade Port-au-Prince and take over the city on Monday.
In response, the local government strongly advised everyone to stay home and out of harm’s way on Monday. Tzu Chi’s Haiti Earthquake Response Team decided to spend the day in the safety of the Overseas Engineering & Construction Company’s site, home to Tzu Chi Haiti’s Campus warehouse, both a short distance from the American Embassy. Moreover, they had a special event to prepare for the next day, when a Donation Ceremony was to proceed there.
Celebrating Taiwan’s Humanitarian Aid in Haiti
On September 7, 2021, Prime Minister of Haiti Dr. Ariel Henry and Ambassador of Taiwan to Haiti Wen-jiann Ku attended a Donation Ceremony for earthquake relief materials. The event, held at the Tzu Chi Haiti Campus warehouse, was hosted by the Overseas Engineering & Construction Company, the Taiwan Embassy, and the government of Haiti. It brought together dignitaries, the press, and special guests to honor the government of Taiwan, the Taiwan Red Cross, and the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation for donating a collective 25 tons of relief materials for those impacted by the August 14 earthquake.
Ambassador Ku addressed the guests, and then Prime Minister Henry accepted the donation of relief materials on behalf of the nation, stating:
When interviewed following his speech, Prime Minister Henry shared that “Haiti and Taiwan have a great tradition of cooperation, since more than 65 years. We recognize a real friend when we are in pain. Taiwan started helping us since the earthquake of August 14. And today, they came with a donation that can be used for the population in the South. I want to say thank you for the help, thank you for the solidarity.”
Ambassador Ku also took a moment to acknowledge Tzu Chi and its close collaboration with the government of Taiwan in providing humanitarian aid in Haiti.
Prime Minister Dr. Ariel Henry tours the Tzu Chi Haiti Campus after the Donation Ceremony. Photo/Tzu Chi Haiti Team
As for the Tzu Chi Haiti Earthquake Response Team members, as Tzu Chi volunteer James Chen expressed, they already had their eyes on the start of disaster relief distributions the next day. All preparations were now complete, and everyone was eager for the humanitarian aid supplies to pass into the hands of earthquake survivors.
Through your support, you can also add your love and care to our Pathway to Hope: 2021 Haiti Earthquake Relief mission. Let’s work together and be a light for the people of Haiti impacted by this latest earthquake as they recover from their currently most challenging situation.