On the 7th of September 2020, a bushfire in Babb, Washington went wild. The fire ruined nearly half of Pine City and the town of Malden. Eighty percent of the buildings in Malden were burnt to ashes, including the historical post office, City Hall, library as well as the fire station.
Malden is situated in the East of Washington with a population of 200. It is 450 miles away from Tzu Chi Seattle branch, equivalent to the distance between Taipei and Kenting which is about 4 hours by car. Xue Hao-Jie, a Tzu Chi volunteer, got to know the seriousness of the situation after joining the Washington Voluntary Organization Active in Disaster (WA VOAD). The Red Cross Society also expressed their wish to get Tzu Chi involved in helping the disaster victims. The volunteers felt heartbroken to see the suffering hence a disaster relief programme was initiated.
Multi-Agency Resource Center (MARC) provides the registration service for the victims
The relief programme included two site-visits to the disaster area. First visit was on the 26th of September. Tzu Chi volunteers participated in a fair organized by the Malden Multi-Agency Resource Center (MARC) to introduce Tzu Chi, assist the victims to apply for cash aid, and do a thorough assessment of the disaster area. The second visit was on the 17th of October, mainly to distribute the cash cards to the victims.
The participants of the fair organized by MARC were made up of the government emergency relief units from different levels, as well as different charity organizations. Despite the long travelling journey in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, four Tzu Chi volunteers set off early in the morning at around 4am, reached the disaster-hit area at 9am, and immediately got to work by setting up a booth. One after another, the victims approached the volunteers to enquire about the application for the relief fund. When the session ended at 2pm, there were a total of 14 households that made applications for the relief fund.
While filling up the forms, Laura, a victim of the disaster, saw a Tzu Chi bamboo bank and thought it was a tea canister. A volunteer explained, “It is a coin box made from bamboo for collecting funds.” The volunteer seized the opportunity to introduce to her how Tzu Chi has extended its global charity footprint starting from the “bamboo bank era”. During that era, Master Cheng Yen, founder of Tzu Chi organization, encouraged housewives to put 50 cents into the coin bank every day. Laura was touched by the story and immediately took a bamboo bank back home. She wants to grow positive thoughts every day, while helping others at the same time.
For the victims who did not turn up, the volunteers created posters and public announcements so victims could make online applications and more people could be benefited from the disaster relief programme.
Travelling East Twice to Distribute Cash Cards
When the exhibition ended after 2pm, the four volunteers drove to Malden to assess the area after the fire. It was shocking to see many buildings razed to the ground, leaving only some walls standing. One of the victims, Royle, bought his house six years ago with all his savings. The merciless fire left nothing behind. The fire charred the interiors and exteriors of the houses black, leaving soot and ashes everywhere. It was a horrible scene.
The volunteers empathised with the pain of the victims and sped up the disaster relief work. Between 26th September and 15th October, 14 volunteers called up 32 families who have made online registration for the disaster aid. They collected the necessary information from the victims to understand their situation after the fire. Out of the 32, a total of 29 households met the criteria to receive the relief assistance. On 17th October, a total of 9 volunteers and 3 cars gathered at 6.30am in the morning. Armed with love and relief supplies, the volunteers set off towards the East again for the disaster relief distribution.
The temporary City Hall of Malden was a container house located in a garden. There were two tents set up beside the container house. There were foldable tables and chairs in the tents, which served as the distribution venue.
A victim, Dennis Parham, received his cash cards and told Tzu Chi volunteers that he got to meet another pair of victims, Gordon & Joy Anita Jacobs at the disaster shelter. They were 89 and 97 years old, respectively. Mr. Jacobs was taking care of his wife who had a stroke, hence he could not turn up to apply for the assistance.
Dennis then led the volunteers to visit the couple. The husband said helplessly, it was the second time that they were affected by a wildfire. They fled in panic in a small truck. Everything at home was burnt to ashes.
The Jacobs could not afford to rebuild their home, so they were forced to inhabit a second-hand camping trailer which they park on the land of their burnt house. They planned to spend the rest of their lives there. However, Mrs. Jacobs could not go up or down the stairs of the vehicle. They hope Tzu Chi volunteers could help to set up a handicapped ramp. It was disheartening to see the challenges of the couple, therefore the volunteers immediately distributed cash cards to them, with hopes that it would lighten their burden. The volunteers promised to provide continuous care to the Jacobs too.
Love Keeps Volunteers at Peace Despite Tiredness
A Tzu Chi Collegiate Youth Association (Tzu Ching) senior, Zhang Tian-Yu was interviewed during the disaster relief programme. Although keen to understand in depth the situation of the victims, he was worried that he would have said something offensive for not knowing the families well enough. Through participating in the distribution work in Malden, he felt deeply that disaster relief work is meaningful. It was proven that contribution from each individual can become a great driving force when put together. Instead of only being a passer-by who listened to the news in front of television, he now became a person who directly makes a change in another person’s life.
Another volunteer, Lin Shu-Hui said that she was heartbroken when she listened to the victims describe the fire. “I wish I could give them a hug when we were doing relief work. It was devastating to witness all the charred houses and remnants of the cruel fire.”
The volunteers travelled far for the distribution work, which was extremely exhausting. Nevertheless, the temporary physical fatigue was insignificant compared to the long-term challenges the victims had to face with winter approaching. Volunteers could only hope that their contribution would warm the hearts of the victims.