For Compassionate Relief

For Compassionate Relief

Tzu Chi’s Haiti Earthquake Response Team Gears Up for Aid Distributions

Tzu Chi Center  |  September 8, 2021
Tzu Chi Haiti volunteer Alberthe Merveille (right) helps James Ocean (left) in his quest to offer cleaning products to his fellow Haitians, struggling to recover after the earthquake. Photo/Tzu Chi Haiti Team

Written by Ida Eva Zielinska and Dilber Shatursun

On September 1, 2021, Tzu Chi USA issued a press release to announce the arrival in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, of the Tzu Chi Haiti Earthquake Response Team, composed of volunteers from California and New York. They are there to coordinate and set immediate disaster relief distributions in motion, just two weeks after the magnitude 7.2 earthquake hit Haiti on August 14, 2021, causing extensive destruction. At the same time, they would begin work on the mid and long-term recovery plan.

Severe damage in Haiti following the August 14, 2021 earthquake. Photo/Tzu Chi Haiti Team

It is not the first time a major earthquake shook this island nation. In 2010, a catastrophic magnitude 7.0 earthquake caused tremendous suffering and destruction, with a death toll estimated at 250,000 lives. Tzu Chi has been helping communities in Haiti for more than a decade since then.

Tzu Chi’s local volunteers began assessing damages as soon as this 2021 earthquake struck, their rapid response paving the way for the work of the Tzu Chi USA teams. Four team members, all experienced in Haiti relief work – James Chen, Curtis Hsing, Ting Fan, and Jaime Puerta – make up the first unit from the United States to arrive in Haiti.

The team departs from New York to Haiti on September 1, 2021. Photo/Tzu Chi Haiti Team

Among them, James Chen, who is over 70 years of age, frequently travels between the U.S. and Haiti at his own expense, and this trip marks his 79th time serving on the island.

I personally feel that coming here to help those who are suffering is the most meaningful thing in my life

Concurrent to the Tzu Chi USA team’s arrival, DHL International Shipping had also delivered relief materials from Taiwan to the Tzu Chi Haiti Campus warehouse located in Port-au-Prince. Items from Tzu Chi and the Taiwan Red Cross are now securely stored there until distribution begins. They include 250 boxes of rice, 100 Jing Si Multipurpose Foldable Beds, face masks, water buckets, antibacterial soaps, and feminine hygiene products.

DHL International Shipping delivers relief supplies to the Tzu Chi Haiti Campus warehouse in Port-au-Prince. Photo/Tzu Chi Haiti Team
The supplies will remain in the Tzu Chi Haiti Campus warehouse until distributions begin. Photo/Tzu Chi Haiti Team

The earthquake’s epicenter was Petit Trou de Nippes, located around 80 miles west of Port-au-Prince. However, the damages sustained in Nippes, with scattered residential housing districts, hardly compare to the death toll and devastating situation in two neighboring cities: Les Cayes of Sud Department and Jérémie of Grand’Anse Department. Tzu Chi’s disaster relief distributions would begin in those disaster zones.

Jing Si Multipurpose Foldable Beds are among the supplies. They can function as beds or chairs and are of great relief for disaster survivors whose homes are damaged or destroyed. Photo/Tzu Chi Haiti Team

These supplies are life necessities that the impacted families really need. The affected area is huge and […] especially in rural areas, it’s very difficult for people to get help.

The Tzu Chi USA team carefully selected each aid supply item for Haiti and then did more, with an added aspiration in mind. They printed and brought stickers with the Tzu Chi logo, which carries a symbolic message of deep meaning within its design. Each bag of aid supplies given to care recipients will have one of these stickers affixed on it, creating a heartfelt bond between the giver and receiver.

These stickers were sent from California to New York, where the team packed them in their luggage to bring to Haiti. The 10,000 stickers are for the care recipients, so when they bring the aid items home, they’ll know they’re from Tzu Chi and develop a good connection with Tzu Chi.

The stickers with the Tzu Chi logo have arrived at the Tzu Chi Haiti Campus warehouse as well. Photo/Tzu Chi Haiti Team

After checking on the status and storage of the disaster aid supplies, the Tzu Chi Earthquake Response Team’s next two days in Haiti consisted of meetings concerning logistics and other matters. Among them, they met with Dashka Bennett, Vice President of Gigi Depot, a food products distributor in Port-au-Prince that Tzu Chi has partnered with for the upcoming disaster relief events. They aimed to confirm the goods ordered by Tzu Chi and their quantity.

Tzu Chi Earthquake Response Team members meet with Dashka Bennett, Vice President of Gigi Depot, a food products distributor in Port-au-Prince. Photo/Tzu Chi Haiti Team
Dashka Bennett holds one of the Tzu Chi logo stickers that Gigi Depot will affix to aid supplies. Photo/Tzu Chi Haiti Team

Gigi Depot hopes to send the food goods to a designated warehouse or location in the disaster area in advance of distribution, but Bennett shared certain safety concerns. Given that public security is at risk in those areas, the company’s personnel will have to leave the scene immediately after unloading the goods within an hour or two. Details of delivery remain for the team to finalize.

On the same day, Tzu Chi volunteer James Chen visited Richard Ku, the Republic of China (Taiwan) Ambassador in Haiti. The purpose of the meeting was to show the Ambassador the list of supplies sent to Haiti by Tzu Chi Taiwan and request the Embassy’s assistance with duty-free entry procedures for Tzu Chi’s aid supply imports.

Tzu Chi volunteer James Chen meets with Richard Ku, the Republic of China (Taiwan) Ambassador in Haiti, to discuss duty-free imports of Tzu Chi’s aid supplies. Photo/Tzu Chi Haiti Team

Other meetings on September 2, especially with Tzu Chi’s long-term partners in Haiti, the Salésiens de Don Bosco, helped confirm four venues for the upcoming distributions. And yet, between such critical assignments, there were also opportunities for the Tzu Chi USA team to discover the touching contributions of Tzu Chi’s Haitian volunteers.

The Tzu Chi USA team learned about what James Ocean, a Tzu Chi Haiti volunteer and industrial chemist, was doing. Recognizing that once the dust settles after a major disaster, cleaning up begins, Ocean saw that earthquake survivors were struggling to do laundry and other types of clean-up in their homes in Les Cayes, many damaged.

Inspired, he developed a multipurpose liquid detergent for clothing, dishes, and household surfaces using easy-to-find ingredients that he paid for himself.

Some Taiwanese people came here to help Haitians impacted by the earthquake in the South. So, why shouldn't I, as a Haitian do the same? Why shouldn't I help my fellow Haitians to the best of my ability with the means at my disposal? I’m just giving what I have to help. If I had rice and peas, I would give them. But what I have is liquid detergent, so that's what I'll give.

James Ocean began mixing and bottling his product to donate to families impacted by the earthquake and has already produced 160 bottles, spending USD 56 so far. When Tzu Chi USA volunteer James Chen heard about Ocean’s project, he encouraged him to make more, and the Tzu Chi USA team funded the purchase of $500 worth of ingredients.

James Ocean’s fellow Tzu Chi Haiti volunteers, including Alberthe Merveille, were eager to help, speeding up the production process. The bottles of liquid detergent will soon be distributed at the upcoming disaster relief distribution to earthquake-impacted families.

Sharing is a spiritual thing that comes from God. So, it is important to learn to share When you give, you can expect to receive. It's like an appointment with the sun. It sets at 6:00 PM and tomorrow we’re sure it will rise again.

On September 3, in collaboration with Tzu Chi’s community partner Gigi Depot, the Tzu Chi Earthquake Response Team prepared for the first disaster relief distribution just five days later, scheduled for September 8, with more to follow soon after.

Dashka Bennett, Vice President of Gigi Depot, gives the Tzu Chi Earthquake Response Team a tour of the facility. Photo/Tzu Chi Haiti Team

Dashka Bennett personally helps to pack the supplies. Photo/Tzu Chi Haiti Team

The items distributed to care recipients will consist mainly of food, packed in two hefty but thoughtfully prepared bags, each weighing nearly 83 lbs. The care packages will include rice, beans, shredded corn, flat pasta, macaroni, cooking oil, and, perhaps most importantly, Aquatabs® water purification tablets.

Aquatabs® water purification tablets are part of each two-bag care package. Photo/Tzu Chi Haiti Team

Bags of rice and other supplies with the Tzu Chi logo attached. Photo/Tzu Chi Haiti Team

The team estimates that all combined, the items can support a household of 6-8 people for a whole month. The supplies will be loaded for transport from Port-au-Prince via trucks to earthquake-impacted areas in the South in the days ahead.

The large volume of care packages is finally ready to go, and logistics planning for transport to disaster zones begins. Photo/Tzu Chi Haiti Team

The Tzu Chi Earthquake Response Team also met with the Executive Director of Caritas Haiti, Father Jean-Hervé François. They aimed to introduce the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation and explore how the two organizations could collaborate in short and long-term earthquake recovery efforts.

The Tzu Chi Earthquake Response Team meets with the Executive Director of Caritas Haiti, Father Jean-Hervé François, and his colleague on September 3. Photo/Tzu Chi Haiti Team

Tzu Chi partners with Caritas in other countries, for instance, with Caritas Freetown in Sierra Leone. And, now, Tzu Chi Haiti will collaborate with Caritas Haiti to distribute earthquake disaster aid supplies in Les Cayes.

We can’t do anything alone. We’re so helpless, at the same time resilient. We must really consider outside help. We had so much disaster. Now, after this earthquake, the concern is to have a safe shelter, but at the same time, we have other necessary needs. I believe that this collaboration is very important, and people will be happy to receive the help.

The first three days on the ground in Haiti for Tzu Chi’s Earthquake Response Team were chock-full of critical tasks and activity, as will the days ahead surely be with the countdown to the first distribution ticking.



We invite you to extend your love and care to the suffering people struggling to recover after this latest disaster by supporting our Pathway to Hope: 2021 Haiti Earthquake Relief mission.

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