The massive 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck near Nepal's capital of Kathmandu on 25 April has caused widespread damage in the city and nearby towns and villages. It is the strongest to hit the country in more than 80 years. According to the Nepalese government, as of 5 May, death toll from the disaster stood at more than 7,500 and over 14,500 people were injured. The UN said around 8 million people in Nepal were affected, with at least 2 million needing tents, water, food and medicines over the next three months.
In less than 24 hours after the earthquake struck, the Tzu Chi Foundation headquarters in Hualien, Taiwan, set up a disaster coordination centre to organise relief efforts to help the quake survivors. On 27 April, a Tzu Chi disaster survey and medical relief team was mobilized and arrived in Kathmandu on the afternoon of 28 April.
The first Tzu Chi medical team brought with them a tonne of medical supplies and provided over 1000 consultations and treatments (including 12 surgeries) to disaster victims before returning to Taiwan on 5 May. The second Tzu Chi medical team, which arrived in Kathmandu late at night on 1 May, began medical aid work in the disaster area early next morning.
On 6 May, the third team comprising 41 members set off for Nepal. Among the team members was plastic surgeon Dr. Fong Poh Him, who was also the head of TIMA Singapore. He had stopped taking medical appointments a few days before, so that he could leave for Nepal on Wednesday to join Tzu Chi’s relief efforts there. Coincidentally, 6 May happens to be his birthday, and he commented that having the opportunity to help those in need had made his birthday even more meaningful.
In her daily speeches following the earthquake, Tzu Chi’s founder Dharma Master Cheng Yen has been appealing to all Tzu Chi volunteers and members to give with love to help those affected by the earthquake. In response, Tzu Chi Singapore held a meeting on 2 May with its staff and volunteer leaders from various communities around Singapore, to discuss the launch of an island-wide donation drive.
Though busy preparing for their upcoming Buddha Day cum Tzu Chi’s 49th Anniversary prayer event, the volunteer leaders would work out a schedule for conducting street fundraisers in their respective communities. During the meeting, CEO of Tzu Chi Singapore Mr Low Swee Seh said that donation boxes would be placed in Hall 3 of the Singapore Expo, the venue of the prayer event, so that attendees could also send their blessings to the quake victims by making a contribution. In addition, the Singapore chapter also plans to hold island-wide street fundraisers on the 17th, 24th and 31st of May.
After the earthquake struck, many people have contacted Tzu Chi Singapore to inquire how they could donate to the Foundation to help the quake affectees. On 3 May, when some 504 Tzu Chi volunteers were participating in a nationwide clean-up activity, many were approached by members of the public who were eager to contribute to Tzu Chi’s Nepal relief efforts. The following day, Tzu Chi Singapore received its fund-raising permit from the NCSS.
According to Buddhist scriptures, Shakyamuni Buddha was born in Kapilavastu, which was located in present-day Nepal. In her early morning Dharma talk on 1 May, Master Cheng Yen said, “Look at the Buddha’s homeland now. There are so many people who are distraught and heartbroken; many have also lost their homes. Living bodhisattvas (Tzu Chi volunteers and staff) have gone there and dedicated themselves (to helping the survivors). They walked amid the ruins and saw many suffering people who had no one to rely on. They heard the painful cries of the injured victims. Such is the world we live in. So we must seize the time we have and learn the Dharma with a heart of sincere piety……”
In January this year, Tzu Chi Singapore had just held a donation drive for flood victims in Malaysia. Four months later, it is launching another donation drive ─ for the victims of a devastating earthquake. Natural disasters are occurring at an alarming frequency and with increased severity in many parts of the world. They all serve as warnings from Mother Nature to mankind. Therefore, it is ever more important for each and every one of us to work to protect the earth and all life that lives upon it. We can do so by simply adopting a vegetarian diet.