As Ebola Retreats, Rice from Taiwan Alleviates Hunger

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Tzu Chi worked to distribute rice to villagers in Sierra Leone before famine struck, so that they would have the strength to battle the virus that was ravaging the population. (Photo credit: Tzu Chi Taiwan)Tzu Chi worked to distribute rice to villagers in Sierra Leone before famine struck, so that they would have the strength to battle the virus that was ravaging the population. (Photo credit: Tzu Chi Taiwan)

The Ebola virus epidemic ravaged West Africa in 2014, with Sierra Leone and Liberia being the worst affected. Tzu Chi offices in Taiwan and the United States, together with two Catholic aid organizations, the Healey Foundation and Caritas Internationalis, organized three aid distributions in Sierra Leone. Although the epidemic has tapered off, Tzu Chi continued to provide food aid to the country. Rice from Taiwan was delivered to the town of Koindu, the area that had seen the worst during the epidemic.



In 2014, the Ebola virus epidemic broke out in West Africa, with Sierra Leone and Liberia being the worst affected, and just the former alone saw nearly 4,000 people lose their lives to the disease. Local NGOs pleaded for help from the international community. Tzu Chi, together with the Healey Foundation and Caritas Internationalis, organized three aid distributions in Sierra Leone, and gave out blankets, rice, shoes, reusable utensils, clothes, and multipurpose folding beds to affected local communities.

Though the epidemic has tapered off, Tzu Chi has not stopped its work. Rice from Taiwan was delivered to the town of Koindu in Sierra Leone, the area that had seen the worst during the epidemic, in hopes that the villagers would have enough food and the strength to battle the virus. Recipients each received rice rations enough to feed their families over a few months.

Orphans in Sierra Leone were grateful for the aid they received. (Photo credit: Tzu Chi Taiwan)Orphans in Sierra Leone were grateful for the aid they received. (Photo credit: Tzu Chi Taiwan)

A Helping Hand for Compatriots

In 2014, when the Ebola virus was rife in West Africa, Newton, Sierra Leone started to slowly recover and the people were faced with the prospect of looming famine delaying their best efforts to regain normalcy.

Therefore, Tzu Chi’s rice distribution was a timely measure and Jessica, a Newton resident said, “I think it’s great, we have been looking forward to such help because we are really suffering. So I keep saying many thank you’s, I am so happy for the help you gave.”

Koindu, a town that was nearly destroyed by the virus, was where the first confirmed case of Ebola was treated and is an area inhibited by local tribes. This is Tzu Chi’s repeated visit to the area for the purpose of a rice distribution.

An Ebola survivor said: “In Guinea, because of the Ebola virus, everyone treated me like an animal and chased me away. I’m happy to be able to receive the aid supplies today. A few days ago, I needed to borrow money to buy food for my children but now we can all have rice.”

Apart from rice, Tzu Chi also delivered 10 containers worth of other living necessities and was the first NGO to extend aid to Sierra Leone.

Steven Fomba, Tzu Chi’s volunteer in charge of humanitarian efforts in Sierra Leone said movingly, “When Tzu Chi members all over the world are helping Sierra Leone, how could I as a local not contribute too? In March 2015, we were the first to deliver 10 containers of food to Ebola orphans in the community, as well as those who were affected by the virus.”

Love Remains Even as the Threat of Ebola Recedes

As the threat of Ebola receded, Tzu Chi volunteers from the United States made a few more trips to distribute aid. There, they were met by children who had become orphans after the epidemic; wearing shoes which they had received from Tzu Chi, they welcomed the volunteers with their bright chirpy voices and a dance.

US volunteer Debra Tseng said to the kids: “Through your eyes, we see hope. Though you have lost so much, the hope to continue learning and help one another shines forth from your eyes.”

A child who lived in the orphanage remarked that when he slept on the folding bed given by Tzu Chi, he was filled with happiness as the bed was very comfortable. Etched in his memory forever was the first night that he fell into slumber while lying on Tzu Chi’s multipurpose foldable bed, instead of on the hard floor.

When he was asked what he wanted to do when he grew up, he replied, “When I grow up? I want to help people, those in sickness and suffering. I want to help them.”

Race and religion are differences that love surmounts. Executive Director of Caritas Freetown (Sierra Leone) Father Peter Konteh said that such cooperation in humanitarian efforts showed the world that people are all humans with a common goal despite the wars that arose from differences in religion, and in the end it is all that matters.

Mutual cooperation thus gave Sierra Leone, once mired in darkness, the bright light of hope for the future.

 

 

 

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