The Kilauea Volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island is currently one of the most active volcanoes on Earth. It has been spewing lava continually since 1983 and erupted again on 3rd May 2018. The lava spewing activity continued for over a month— numerous fissures opened up, oozing hot lava and toxic volcanic gases that had spread close to residential areas, threatening the lives and property of many residents. Those living in the vicinity were evacuated to safety by the local government.
Fortunately, volcanic activity in the crater slowed down after one month; however, the fissures at the foot of the volcano are still ejecting large amounts of lava. The glow of the red-hot lava is clearly visible at night even from afar, and the flow is approaching neighbourhoods.
Tzu Chi USA’s chapter in Hawaii quickly formed a disaster assessment team as the volcano showed signs of decreased activity. Besides conducting meetings to make necessary arrangements for relief operations, Tzu Chi volunteers also started packing Jing Si Instant Rice into pouches, to be distributed to those affected by the disaster.
Arriving at Hawaii’s Big Island
In the early morning of 2nd June 2018, a team of 6 volunteers set off from Tzu Chi Hawaii’s office to catch a flight to Big Island to survey the disaster site and prepare for relief operations. Meanwhile, the team also aimed to understand the types of services provided by existing emergency rescue organisations and the extent of assistance given by other community groups.
After arriving on the Big Island, the volunteer team headed straight to a relief shelter newly set up by the National Guard Armory in Keaau, to learn about the latest situation at the shelter and to meet up with the Red Cross volunteers who were already stationed there. Some 36 people were residing in the shelter while another 22 were staying in tents that were erected outside.
After the short visit, the volunteers made their way to another shelter for the volcano victims, which is located in Pahoa. This shelter was divided into three zones – a sports stadium, a senior activity centre and an outdoor tent area, and it was the designated venue for Tzu Chi’s hot meals distribution and free clinic.
The Pahoa shelter is a large shelter managed by the Red Cross and Salvation Army. The senior activity centre currently houses 12 residents, and there are also some staying in the tents or inside their cars at a carpark outside. Besides, the local community started an initiative to provide daily necessities for the disaster victims, and there is also the World Central Kitchen, which prepares hot meals daily for them.
Volcano victims tuck into a delicious vegetarian meal
Early in the morning of 3 June 2018, a team of 14 Tzu Chi medical relief volunteers from Honolulu, together with Hawaii VOAD’s committee chair, Emily Kukulies, flew to Big Island with over 20 suitcases filled with aid supplies. Meanwhile, the other team of volunteers on the island were preparing hot meals to be distributed to the disaster victims. The all-vegetarian meal included sushi made of Jing Si Instant Rice, curry rice, spring rolls, fruit cake, etc.
Tzu Chi volunteers Wu Jing Jing and Lin Shu Fen shared the story of the all-natural Jing Si Instant Rice with the residents at the shelter while the rest of the volunteers served hot food to the latter. Emily from Hawaii VOAD also joined the ranks of the volunteers by preparing lemonade for everyone. In addition, the volunteers gave out 120 sets of pre-packed sachets of instant rice.
The Salvation Army’s contact person in charge of this relief mission, Ms Jenny Ragland, as well as the volunteers, were happy to hear positive responses from the locals on the quality of the vegetarian meal provided by Tzu Chi.
Medical aid, warm blankets, and red packets of well-wishes
Meanwhile, a Tzu Chi free clinic was held at one side of the venue, where 6 doctors and a nurse provided basic health care services, including measuring blood pressure and sugar levels, health consultations, provision of prescription medicine, etc. A retired Doctor, Dr. Xiao Xiang Jun, specially made the trip with the team to join in the relief efforts, while volunteer Chen Yin Tian, who grows orchids on the Big Island, supplied some of his flowers to enliven the ambience of the site.
Prior to the commencement of the free clinic, a staff from Tzu Chi’s headquarters, Johan Alwall (pictured above, first from the left), led everyone to sing a prayer song. The contact person for Red Cross, Bob Engler, expressed his thanks to Tzu Chi for its many years of collaboration the NGO as a reliable and committed partner. He highlighted that the free clinic was of great help to the disaster victims.
Panna, a local resident, specially stepped forward to thank all the volunteers who were on duty at the free clinic after receiving her medical treatment. And volunteer Wu Fu Mei distributed “red packets of blessings and wisdom”, which carried the well wishes of Master Cheng Yen (Tzu Chi’s founder), to all the residents who came to the clinic.
In addition to the provision of free medical services, Tzu Chi also prepared two boxes of blankets for those residing at the shelter. Volunteers took the opportunity to explain to the locals the origins of the blankets, which are made of recycled PET yarn. Kuava de Poe, a local resident, was so fascinated by the production method of the blankets and liked the product so much that she tightly held it while being interviewed by a Tzu Chi volunteer.
The relief mission on the Big Island was made possible by the teamwork of Tzu Chi volunteers of different ages. It had also attracted many locals to join the ranks of volunteers.