WRITTEN BY: Anna Sipek
Months after Hurricane Otis, which struck Mexico’s southwestern coast in October 2023, Tzu Chi volunteers traveled from around the world to Acapulco, Mexico in January 2024 to aid after the harsh winds and rains devastated the region as a Category 5 hurricane. Whether from Taiwan, the United States, Argentina, Spain, or Ecuador, people of all backgrounds came together to support financial aid distributions from January 5-7, 2024 for brothers and sisters in need.
“We’d like to let families know that aside from [helping with the] tangible, they’re not really alone. There are lots of people supporting them,” said Celia Wang, Tzu Chi Argentina Volunteer.
The Profound Impacts of Hurricane Otis
Causing over $16 billion in damages, Hurricane Otis is the costliest tropical cyclone in Mexican history. Acapulco was hit particularly hard with over 51,000 homes being destroyed and over 80,000 suffering severe damage.
“Hurricane Otis took us by surprise. We knew the hurricane was coming, but not to this scale. It was a moment of great terror, a moment of great fear,” said Sister Maria Socorro of the Consecrated Sisters of the Most Holy Savior.
Many people in Acapulco lost everything they had: homes, personal items, access to food and water, even job security. These losses, without proper infrastructure or outside aid, can cause long term harms for those just minorly affected. Increases in disease, economic instability and population decline, have been known to plague communities who are slower to recover from natural disasters.
“It was ugly, very ugly. My house collapsed. I waited for all the trees to fall because if I’d gone out, I would’ve died with my daughter, seriously,” shared care recipient Yadira Castillo.
For many getting back on their feet was a matter of getting the resources to secure the bare necessities in life: “The main thing right now is to fix their home to secure it well,” explained Teresa Diaz Gomez, a local volunteer; “little by little what they have to do again now is buy things, rebuild. The main thing is that we are alive.”
Getting Acapulco the Help It Needs
Working in tandem with volunteers living in the region, Tzu Chi set about distributing aid in a way that was both helpful and maximally effective. The first distribution, which took place on January 5, 2024, served 1,183 families. With each of these families receiving a card of 10,000 pesos, this money changed the lives of many.
“One card has money on it. With that, we’re going to buy things we need to move forward and fix the house again so it looks the same,” shared aid recipient Socorro Perez Flores.
Connecting on a Personal Level
An elderly woman living alone with no close relatives in her proximity, Cataline Sebastien de Jesus was lucky to have survived the hurricane. Living in a house made of wood at the time, her thoughtful neighbors brought her to their home to keep her safe during the hurricane.
“The panels were flying everywhere, and my son came to rescue her because I told him ‘The house is going to fall down, and something is going to happen to her,” shared Catalina’s neighbor and caretaker Victoria Patricia Aparicio.
Collecting bottles to have enough money for food, for weeks after the disaster Catalina subsisted on a diet of homemade tortillas. Eager to give her a better quality of life, Aparicio ensured she received aid she otherwise might have not heard about.
“Right now, to start we want to buy her a bed, a mattress, and a fan.” explained Aparicio. “I live closer to her, and I’ll be checking more on her in case she needs clothes or something else.”
Keeping Interfaith Exchange Alive
It’s undeniable that Catholicism has played a profound role in Mexican culture and spiritual wellbeing over the past hundreds of years. In Acapulco, The Consecrated Sisters of the Most Holy Savior act as a religious and cultural beacon to the neighborhood.
Hurricane Otis hit them hard. While none of the sisters were hurt during the dangerous storm, the roofs and frames of every building on their property were completely torn off, and their food stores were destroyed after they suffered intense flooding. All in all, they were left almost completely destitute.
Despite these dire straits, the Consecrated Sisters of the Most Holy Savior have dedicated themselves to helping the people of their community in any way they could.
“Our parish priest, Father Benjamin, came and told us that this organization needed help to conduct a census. With great joy we said yes,” shared Sister Maria Socorro.
“They’re not registered, however, they came out to help and that has moved us deeply, and we want to help them in some way,” said Rodrigo Perez Lozada, a Tzu Chi Mexico Volunteer.
Together with the headquarters in Taiwan, volunteers in Mexico gathered resources amounting to $4000 dollars of aid. This helped the parish not only cover some of their biggest daily expenses like groceries, food, and care supplies, but also provided them with much needed funds for construction material to repair their ailing buildings.
Love is a Universal Language
Despite language barriers, it was exceedingly clear what a huge impact this aid had on the lives of those that received it.
“There’s no room in my heart for that much joy. All these people do this for us- to help us. Thank you for everything,” wept Maria de Jesus Flores Cruz.
As always, the effects of Master Cheng Yen’s kindness ripple out into the world, inspiring others to take actions of their own and help neighbors in need.
“To Master [Cheng Yen] – we’ll keep her here in our hearts,” smiled Socorro Perez Flores; “someday we’ll get to know her.”