In early August this year, torrential rains hit Sierra Leone, a country in West Africa, leaving many parts of Freetown, its capital city, inundated. The Tzu Chi Foundation, which has been working with local charity groups to provide aid to the needy there since 2015, collaborated with Catholic NGOs and local authorities to provide relief to the flood survivors.
In previous Tzu Chi relief operations in Sierra Leone, the Foundation’s headquarters in the United States would contact the NGOs in Sierra Leone, with its headquarters in Taiwan providing the aid supplies, which were then distributed by local volunteer groups.
In the relief operation held in November this year, Deputy CEO of the Taiwan Tzu Chi Charity Foundation Xiong Shi Min personally led a team consisting of several experienced volunteers, which combined with a US team led by Executive Vice President of Tzu Chi USA, Debra Boudreaux. The volunteers worked together to personally distribute aid supplies to the needy in Sierra Leone, as well as to provide guidance and training to the local volunteers.
Teamwork that transcends religious and national boundaries
The volunteer team from Tzu Chi Taiwan left in the night of 11th November and arrived in France to meet with the team from the United States, before taking a flight to Sierra Leone together with the latter. They arrived at Freetown close to midnight (local time) on 12th November.
Members from long-time Tzu Chi partners, Caritas Freetown Foundation and Healey International Relief Foundation, were at the airport to receive and welcome the two volunteer teams.
The next day, Father Peter from Caritas specially made time to meet with the Tzu Chi volunteers and expressed his gratitude and appreciation to the latter for their charitable efforts in Sierra Leone over the past four years. He highlighted that Tzu Chi shares the same spirit of “gratitude, respect and love” with Caritas, personally delivering aid to the needy in the spirit of Great Love.
Impoverished residents receive much needed aid items
On 14th November, the relief team held aid distributions in two locations, Home Leone (about 100 households) and the slum area of Culvert (about 500 households).
In Home Leon, Tzu Chi volunteers gave out second-hand clothes collected in a nationwide clothing drive in Tzu Chi Taiwan. The clothes were meticulously sorted out and neatly packed with love by volunteers in Taiwan. Besides used clothing, the aid supplies included all natural multigrain powder and soft, warm blankets.
At the slum area of Culvert, local residents sat under the sun as they attentively listened to doctors from Tzu Chi’s medical association giving a talk on hygiene and sanitation.
Dr Chen Bao Zhu taught the residents a series of simple steps in hand-washing using a catchy phrase. Another medical volunteer, Dr Zheng Shun Xian, explained the importance and purpose of washing hands, highlighting to all that they needed to keep their hands clean while eating, so that they would not get infected by bacteria on dirty hands. Dr Zheng even invited some residents to go on stage to demonstrate their understanding of the steps and those who got all the steps correct won happy cheers and applause from the audience.
A 26-year-old mother of three children was among those who came to collect the aid items. As her husband had gone missing, she needed to raise all the kids on her own. Every day, she would carry her 1.5-year-old daughter on her back as she went to a wholesaler to pick up some goods and then sell them at the market, to earn a meagre income.
After learning about the aid distribution event from her neighbour, she arrived at the site very early to join the queue, in the hope of bringing home some clothes for her children.
The distribution event went on till 7pm in the evening. As the sun set, there were still about 40 needy residents queuing up for the aid supplies. Two vehicles from Caritas had their headlights on to provide lighting for the venue. For safety reasons, security personnel were engaged to help maintain order there. The volunteers continued to work to ensure that every resident had received their aid supplies before wrapping up for the day.
News articles on Tzu Chi’s relief efforts in Sierra Leone: