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Reflection

Agony Up Close

Love is the most powerful antidote to the suffering in the world. As I witnessed Tzu Chi volunteers treating distribution recipients respectfully, I knew that the boundaries between religions and ethnicities can be dissolved and that the peoples of the world can be like one big family.


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(Photo by Zhan Jin-de)

I traveled with a Tzu Chi delegation to Turkey in October 2015 to distribute aid to Syrian refugees in that country. I felt intensely their agony and helplessness as I saw up close and personal how they struggled to survive in a foreign land.

I had just returned to Taiwan before the trip from a relief mission to Nepal. A strong earthquake there in April 2015 had devastated the nation. Although there were similarities between Syrian refugees in Turkey and quake victims in Nepal, there were also significant differences.

I traveled with a Tzu Chi delegation to Turkey in October 2015 to distribute aid to Syrian refugees in that country. I felt intensely their agony and helplessness as I saw up close and personal how they struggled to survive in a foreign land.

I had just returned to Taiwan before the trip from a relief mission to Nepal. A strong earthquake there in April 2015 had devastated the nation. Although there were similarities between Syrian refugees in Turkey and quake victims in Nepal, there were also significant differences.

I traveled with a Tzu Chi delegation to Turkey in October 2015 to distribute aid to Syrian refugees in that country. I felt intensely their agony and helplessness as I saw up close and personal how they struggled to survive in a foreign land.

I had just returned to Taiwan before the trip from a relief mission to Nepal. A strong earthquake there in April 2015 had devastated the nation. Although there were similarities between Syrian refugees in Turkey and quake victims in Nepal, there were also significant differences.

Nepalese victims had their government looking after them, they spoke the language of the land, and they could turn to relatives and friends for assistance. What’s more, the international community was providing all sorts of aid to the region.

In contrast, Syrian refugees enjoy none of that. After they risked their lives escaping their country, they ended up in a foreign land illegally. They have to toil every step of the way for everything that their families need every day, be it shelter, food, work, or school. They are in the country physically, but deep down they do not feel settled and grounded. They do not even speak the language.

I vividly remember one episode during our trip. A senior Turkish legislator was speaking at our distribution at a market in Sultangazi, Istanbul, when a Syrian woman openly challenged him. “Tzu Chi volunteers come all the way from Taiwan to help us here,” shouted the woman. “What is the Turkish government doing?” She continued to vent, and everyone in the venue froze. Zhou Ru-yi, a Tzu Chi volunteer living in Istanbul, quickly walked to the woman and hugged her to calm her down.

Later, volunteer Faisal Hu, Zhou’s husband, went on stage to talk to the audience. He pointed out that the Turkish government had in fact been helping Syrian refugees and that it had supported everything that Tzu Chi had done for Syrian refugees in Turkey, including helping to obtain the use of distribution venues.

Syrian refugee Professor Cuma Suri also talked to the group. He had worked closely with Hu and Zhou on their initiatives to help his fellow compatriots in Turkey. He shared with the audience the origins of Tzu Chi, and then he invited the protesting woman to sit in the first row with the VIPs to observe the distribution ceremony.

When the woman saw how we bowed low to refugees—a respectful gesture of gratitude to them for giving us this chance to help them—as we handed them cash cards and aid goods, her discontent began to dissipate. Finally, she cracked a smile.

The moment that moved me the most was when I saw Zhou burst into tears as she looked at the woman. Zhou later explained that she cried because she felt the woman’s pain but did not know how to relieve that pain for her.

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(Photo by Li Mei-ru)


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