While the COVID-19 vaccine has been rolling out in many parts of the world and western countries have begun to relax their lockdown policies, heart-wrenching news from India has dominated the headlines. The South Asian country, at first noted for its effort to contain the spread of the virus, was struck hard by the second wave. According to the latest numbers, more than 20 million Indians have been infected, with the death tolls totaling upward of 250,000.
Against the background of such life and death tragedy, countless already impoverished Indians have lost their livelihood and must now struggle to feed their families even as the virus ravages their villages and towns. The Indian government relaxed the lockdown restrictions last August, not because the spread of the virus had slowed, but because it was becoming impossible for people to maintain their bare existence. According to statistics, more than 100 million people lost their jobs due to the pandemic and were in dire need of assistance.
The Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation could not stand by idly and watch this situation unfold in India. While it had no branch in India, Tzu Chi was able to establish contact with a few religious and humanitarian organizations to help distribute the sizable aid it was able to gather to help the people of India. No matter what religion or philosophy these organizations subscribe to, all of them share the spirit of kindness and generosity towards those in need. By the end of October 2020, the aid provided by Tzu Chi had reached 100,000 families all over India.
Among these organizations was The Camillians, a Roman Catholic religious order. A Camillian priest, Father Giuseppe Didone, first asked for Tzu Chi’s help in providing medical supplies to the people of his native country, Italy. Later on, when Tzu Chi looked for a way to send help to India, Father Didone put them in contact with the Camillians in India, who worked tirelessly to send Tzu Chi’s food aid to 13 states in the country.
Another organization, ABM Samaj Prabodhan Sanstha, arranged for ABM members to distribute food provided by Tzu Chi to 2,000 needy families in Mumbai and Pune, the two biggest cities in the state of Maharashtra, in western India. Tzu Chi’s help reached the slums, especially the Dalits, often known as the “Untouchables”, who were already at the fringe of Indian society and extremely disadvantaged. Sitaram Gaikwad, founder, and head of ABM commended Tzu Chi for allowing them to help thousands of underprivileged families during the difficult time of the pandemic.
It is not a privilege of the wealthy to give. Often, people who are themselves impoverished are the most generous and giving. In this spirit, Tzu Chi Mozambique started a fundraiser for India, when they heard of the sufferings there. Even though these volunteers often had very little income, some even zero income, they still came together to pray for India and to donate what they could – some a single coin, some several coins, some the only cash notes they possess. Together, the volunteers of Tzu Chi Mozambique were able to donate a total of 3,361 Mozambique meticals, an average of 3.3 meticals per person, which amounted to more than 5% of their daily income.
“It makes me very sad, watching them burn the bodies of the dead,” one volunteer said. Another added: “It’s them today, it could be us tomorrow.”
In May 2021, as the situation worsened further in India, the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation put together 250 ventilators and began transporting them to organizations in India, including the Missionaries of Charity and Two Tibetan Buddhist temples, who have requested for their help within a week. This act of generosity is made more difficult because many states in the country are now in the process of being shut down. Sometimes, medical supplies would already be en route when the volunteers receive word that their destination is closed off. Even so, Tzu Chi has already managed to send aid to 15 out of 25 states in India.
In a challenging time like this, when the entire world is rampant with disease and suffering, love and mutual help still illuminate the darkness and give us the hope to pull through this – together, it is the only possible way. Please consider supporting the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation’s relief effort by donating to our charity drives to alleviate the suffering in India.