Ecuador experienced massive floods from torrential rains in the beginning of April this year, and the flood waters caused extensive damage to close to 3,400 households located in Portoviejo and Santa Ana within Manabi Province. Tzu Chi volunteers from seven nations, including the US and South American nations, were activated to form a multinational flood relief team in Ecuador.
On 24th April, the team entered Ecuador and launched a 9-day cash-for-work relief programme for residents affected by the flood. With a spirit of gratitude, respect and love, before commencing their clean-up work each day, volunteers took the lead in encouraging and empowering the residents to keep their spirits high, to serve with joy, and to look forward to building a better future together.
Taking the Lead to Clear the Mud
Besides cleaning the mud from the streets, the cash-for-work volunteers also arranged for home visits along the way. Led by Hong Ci Cheng , a Tzu Chi volunteer from Argentina, Tzu Chi Ecuador’s volunteers entered communities and visited from home to home to help and care for flood victims. During the home visits, the team not only assisted in clearing up the mud from inside and outside of homes, but also gave a listening ear to the plights of the victims, while offering them comfort for their sorrows.
When the team arrived at the home of elderly Mr Lauro, what greeted their eyes was a house marked by water stains from the flood, and a strong smell of moisture greeted their noses. Mr Lauro and his wife were staying at a relative’s home (a temporary respite), while returning to their flood damaged home in the day to do the clean-up. The elderly couple really hoped to move back into their own home soon.
When he remembered the sad day of the flood, Mr Lauro could not fight back his tears. In the midst of their sorrows, the couple held onto the volunteer’s hand, and remarked with a tinge of sadness: “Can you please help us? My home was flooded, there is nothing left! We are old, and have no money to start all over again…”
The home visit volunteers from Canoa were able to empathise with the plight of these flood victims as they recalled the pain of the previous year’s earthquake, which devastated their hometown, and this only solidified their intentions to be united with the villagers’ sufferings. Together, they worked to clean up Mr Lauro’s home, clearing about 30cm thick of mud from inside of the house and the backyard.
Witnessing the enthusiasm of the team, Mr Lauro remarked, “We are infinitely grateful to you for helping us. Thank you for making this world a beautiful place!”
The volunteers held the couple’s hands tightly, encouraged them and told them that so long as everyone was united in their hearts and joined hands to help one another, the light of dawn would soon appear!
Bearing the Hope for Education
14-year-old Ami followed closely behind the footsteps of her mother, and came into the midst of the cash-for-work team. Due to her young age, Ami always felt crowded in the ranks of volunteers. As she was feeling afraid at the time, she could only hide behind the safety of her mother.
Later, Tzu Chi volunteers discovered that she needed schooling. At first the volunteers wanted to leave some information for her, hoping that it could help her in the meantime, but the young girl had aspirations. She told the volunteers that she only wanted to accompany her mother to do clean-up and earn her own keep.
A few days later, on 2nd May, the day that the cash-for-work relief programme completed, Ami closely followed her mother, clutching a bag of sweets and biscuits, and happily stood before the Tzu Chi volunteers. The petite and cute Ami told Hong Ci Cheng: “I want to thank you all! The money made from the few days of cash-for-work relief programme has enabled me to buy stationery and shoes, so I can go to school now!”
It was really heart-warming to see the innocent joy in Ami’s eyes as she spoke. Hong said to Ami lovingly: “Remember to study hard! When you grow up in future, you can help people in need, too.”
Distant Relatives are No Match for Neighbours
In Pisloy, a community located within Portoviejo, there are dark corners of abject poverty; the floods only tipped these highly disadvantaged families into deeper hardship. The Tzu Chi cash-for-work team visited an elderly granny, Wisenda, who lived near the riverbanks. She depended on the support of her neighbour, Valerie, a single mother with a 5-year-old child. The two neighbours helped each other to tide over the hardships of life, but this storm had caused extensive damages to their homes.
Before the floods struck their homes, Wisenda, Valerie and the 5-year-old child were able to make a timely escape. Wisenda said, “I was sick on the day of the flood. I had a fever and took some medicine. My migraine was really bad and I was feeling faint, so I couldn’t think.”
Not only could she not see clearly with her eyes, she also could not control her own bowel movements and had urinary incontinence. She even lost consciousness at one point; thankfully, Valerie was with her through the ordeal. Valerie shared that Wisenda’s own daughter had asked her to take care of her aged mother. This was because when Valerie and her child had no place to stay in the past, it was Wisenda who provided them a place to stay, without expecting that it would be Valerie’s turn to take care of the old lady today.
But Valerie felt that it was their way of looking out for one another. No matter how hard the days might be, they would find a way to tide through tough times together, because Wisenda was like her own mother, who loved her and her son dearly.
Valerie told the volunteers: “Distant relatives are no match for neighbours. A good neighbour can render help when needed.” Even the other neighbours would care for them and give them assistance when needed; and after the floods, Tzu Chi volunteers came with the cash-for-work participants, and made good use of materials on-site, such as using bamboo pieces, to build sturdier walls and a room for them.
Wisenda shared, “I could only use the bedsheets as walls in the past…... But now I have this neighbour lady and the cash-for-work team, to help rebuild my home.”
During the nine days of the cash-for-work relief programme, Tzu Chi volunteers shared the moving story of how Master Cheng Yen started Tzu Chi with 30 housewives each saving NT$0.50 in their bamboo coin banks to help the poor. Thus all the local volunteers and participants of the programme learned about the inspiring spirit of the “Bamboo Bank Era”. Some even went onstage to share with everyone how they followed the practice by adopting a bamboo coin bank, hoping to gather every bit of kindness, in order to help people in suffering.
Marshila was a mother of three children, who, after listening to the inspiring story of the Bamboo Bank Era, went home to take out all her spare coins (worth about US$2.60), and deposited them into a bamboo coin bank. Although, Marshila’s own family was also very poor, but from the examples of the volunteers, she also learned a lesson on gratitude and giving back.