Written by James Chen, Grace Wong, Keziah Jean
Translated by H. B. Qin
Edited by Diana Chang, Ida Eva Zielinska
In 2020, Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti, witnessed strikes and riots almost every day. Haiti, which has been receiving economic aid from other countries for years, was experiencing a nationwide food shortage due to the COVID-19 pandemic and an ensuing national security situation that led to a cutback of international aid.
The capital’s Cité Soleil and La Saline districts, which were already poverty-stricken, fared even worse, with an exceptionally high crime rate during the pandemic. The operation of schools in these communities was significantly challenged as well.
Father Zucchi Ange Olibrice, a Tzu Chi volunteer and the Executive Director of the OPEPB (Oeuvre des Petites Écoles de Père Bohnen; The Little Schools of Father Bohnen) School in La Saline, was alarmed. And, he had been reiterating the direness of the situation when conferring with the Tzu Chi team involved in providing aid in Haiti.
Father Zucchi’s fellow Tzu Chi volunteers couldn’t bear to see him toil and agonize all day long merely to keep the school running so that the children could continue their education. So they told him, “Let the children concentrate on their studies, and Tzu Chi will help with the rice they need for their free lunch. The hope for the future only exists when children are educated.”
Father Zucchi allocated part of the second batch of rice sent from Tzu Chi’s Global Headquarters in Taiwan to Haiti in 2020 as free food for children living in poverty. While some of the rice was given to elderly and disabled residents in the districts of Cité Soleil and La Saline as free lunch, the rest was designated for impoverished families with children.
For one, this rice would help ensure students would have food to eat when they returned home from school. With the supply received, parents could also be more at ease with some peace of mind, knowing they won’t have to neglect or sacrifice their children’s education because of the need to make a living.
On December 8, which marks an important Catholic holiday – The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception – Father Zucchi led students to thank the Lord for the gift of nature and express gratitude to all who have been offering them a helping hand. The ceremony was followed by the distribution of rice provided by Tzu Chi. Each student’s household was eligible to receive one large sack of rice, while those with more than two children in school were eligible for two bags.
Father Zucchi also told the students, “We must be grateful to Master Cheng Yen and to Tzu Chi. Tzu Chi is really important. It’s dangerous here, and they’re the only ones who came and offered us help. We must always bear this in mind, and be grateful to Master Cheng Yen and Tzu Chi for their unconditional love.”
The school’s faculty and staff also used the ceremony as an opportunity to express their heartfelt gratitude to Tzu Chi and its volunteers for their care and support over the years.
More than 8,000 students participated in the solemn Catholic ceremony held at the La Saline OPEPB School on this most special day. Students sang songs with gratitude and prayed for a disaster-free world, prayed for favorable weather and golden harvests, and prayed for food for all and peace for the nation of Haiti.
Naika St Val, one of the students celebrating the Catholic holiday at the school on December 8, expressed her thanks to each Tzu Chi volunteer who has always been there for them, saying, “Today is made possible because of you. I am honored to have the opportunity to come to this event, and I hope there will be more events like this in the future.”