Rebuilding Lives Together
On 8th December 2017, Tzu Chi held its second disaster relief distribution and free clinic in Xochimilco, Mexico, one of the areas affected by a devastating earthquake.
At the aid distribution ceremony, the mayor of Xochimilco said that although the government had provided water and other basic resources to the affected residents, due to the great extent of damage sustained by the town, even the local government did not have the scale to help its people completely. He expressed his heartfelt thanks to Tzu Chi for extending a helping hand to Mexico and presented a certificate of gratitude to the organisation.
The mayor made special mention of Mr Stephen Huang, the executive director of global Tzu Chi volunteers, who gave him a book of Jing Si Aphorisms (wise sayings by Dharma Master Cheng Yen) in four languages. He then took out the book, randomly flipped to a page, and shared the saying: “A fruitless life is spent without doing anything; a fruitful life is spent in continually giving and serving others.”
Although there was bright sunlight this day, the cold air was still chilling to the bones. As the residents collected their warm blankets, caring volunteers were on hand to cover the frail bodies of the older folks to protect them from the cold biting air, a considerate act of kindness that brought sunny smiles to the faces of the elderly.
Xiong Shi Min, a high-level expert with many years of disaster relief experience in Tzu Chi, commented that the ground situation in each disaster area was unique, and in this particular disaster relief operation, the local volunteers were effective in providing significant help to the relief team. They helped to bridge language barriers by serving as translators and joined in the home visits to affected households.
Earthquake Survivor Gives Back
On this day, there were about 40 local volunteers helping out in various areas and capacities. Among them was Brenda Narciso, who also happened to be a victim of the earthquake. She donned a Tzu Chi volunteer vest to serve her fellow town folks first, before collecting her own aid supplies.
Brenda’s house had collapsed during the earthquake. When volunteers from Tzu Chi came to her assistance, she told them: “The kitchen in my house is still usable, please go and help others in need!”
In actual fact, a narrow space within her kitchen was all that remained standing in the aftermath of the earthquake, as well as a tiny bit of space in the garden. Brenda then stepped forward to become a volunteer and joined the Tzu Chi team in their home visits. Her indomitable spirit inspired many others to step forward and help out in Tzu Chi’s disaster relief efforts.
Towards the end of the relief distribution, Brenda herself received a supplies card, warm blankets, a Tzu Chi Bamboo Coin Bank, medicines, etc. She said to the Tzu Chi volunteers, “You all are really wonderful to have travelled from so far away to help us. We are very grateful for your help!”
Aspiring Young Staff Shoulders Heavy Responsibilities
A young staff member from the Tzu Chi headquarters in the United States, Bao Yi Han, was evident in helping to resolve various issues at the distribution site. She had started collaborating with Xiong Shi Min since Tzu Chi’s Hurricane Harvey relief operations.
Bao joined the Tzu Chi Collegiate Youth Association when she was studying in The Ohio State University. It was after hearing Master Cheng Yen’s early morning Dharma talks about “gratitude, respect and love”, that she was deeply touched in her heart to live out the teachings in her own life.
Being involved in more than two months of exploring and reviewing at the disaster areas, and occasionally due to difficulty in acclimatizing and irregular meals, her body suffered from various ailments. As the team was already stretched very thinly, she told herself that she had to recover quickly in order to serve the disaster survivors.
“Finally, after more than two months, we can finally come and personally distribute the aid supplies to the people. I am very grateful that the residents have not given up on us,” said Bao.
During the period of disaster reviews, some of the residents would express their gratitude to Tzu Chi volunteers in visible ways, such as hugging them and even giving fruits and other homemade dishes to them. Bao felt quite embarrassed by being showered with such warm hospitality.
“They gave us so much, but we gave them almost nothing. By holding the aid distribution event today, we can finally give them something in return,” she shared.
A total of 1,290 households benefitted from the aid distribution event, while 291 residents received free medical care.
Aid Distribution at a Local Catholic Church
During the second wave of Tzu Chi’s Mexico earthquake relief efforts, the volunteers held the eighth relief distribution and free clinic at San Gregorio Church on 15th December 2017.
In the quiet hours of the early morning, before the start of the relief distribution, local residents affected by the earthquake had already gathered on the right side of the church’s open front plaza. On its left stood the still quiet stalls of the village market, and pigeons were wandering in the garden in front of the church building. The priest was conducting the weekday Mass at the side of the church, with numerous womenfolk praying piously. As the engines of the huge trucks clearing debris from the earthquake roared to life and broke the morning quiet, it also signaled the start of the distribution event.
Religious Differences are No Barriers to Love and Gratitude
“On 26th September, the first day I came to San Gregorio Church, I felt a deep affinity with this place. I told Master Cheng Yen that this church has over 700 years of history, and the priest treated us very well. Hence, the church has been like a base where we start our aid work,” Stephen Huang shared at the relief distribution ceremony.
Huang further explained that from the San Gregorio Church, the volunteers had extended their care and aid into the wider community. He recalled that Master Cheng Yen had once said that if Tzu Chi could hold relief distributions in this church, both parties would build a very good affinity with each other, because the church would serve as the common ground between the Catholic and Buddhist faith, and this common space would be a conduit for Tzu Chi’s Great Love to flow through.
A local volunteer, Trini, was appointed to read out the letter of well-wishes from Master Cheng Yen to the earthquake victims. She then shared her testimony of how she had waited for help for three months, and how she was touched by the care and concern from Tzu Chi volunteers and that this had inspired her to join the ranks of volunteers.
Father Efran has been a priest for 28 years and a parish priest for San Gregorio Church for five years. And he has always opened the doors of the church to many charitable organisations in the past. Although they may be of different religious backgrounds, the priest expressed that it was only a cultural difference.
During Mass, Father Efran expressed that the church also wanted help in the aftermath of the earthquake, but had limited resources. However, many people have stepped forward to help now, and he hoped that everyone would learn from this experience and foster greater sense of unity and mutual assistance. The priest added that human beings are made to love, and that everyone is equal in the eyes of God, so people should help one another in times of need.
A grateful Mexican volunteer, Mariana, said to the Tzu Chi volunteers: “You are our role models. You have taught us how to love one another and to love everyone as our family, regardless race, language or religion. I will always remember you, and I will also pass on your love to others.”
Yu Guo Xiong, a staff member of one of the Jing Si bookstores in Taiwan, had learned Spanish for a year when he was in the military ten years ago. He specially took leave from work to join the volunteer team in Mexico, serving at the frontline and interacting with the locals in the best Spanish he could muster. Besides introducing the use of the aid supplies card, he also shared about the spirit of the Bamboo Bank Era (the origins of Tzu Chi Taiwan). He was indelibly moved after witnessing the villagers’ generous contributions into the Bamboo Coin Bank to help others in need, and the generous offers of snacks from some of the womenfolk he encountered.
The aid distribution held at the San Gregorio Church benefited about 481 households, while the free clinic treated about 468 residents. After the morning event ended, the volunteers gathered for a thanksgiving celebration held in the afternoon.
As the volunteers watched a video review of the event, they witnessed how they had journeyed with their counterparts in preparing for the relief distribution all the way to its completion. Both the local Mexican volunteers and those from overseas overcame many challenges along the way and underwent arduous labour, to help the earthquake survivors rediscover joy in the midst of suffering and regain strength for the journey of life ahead.
Over a period of eight days from the 7th to 15th December, a total of 10,254 households that were affected by the earthquake received Tzu Chi’s aid, while 4,400-plus people benefitted from free clinics held by the organisation.