Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation

Mar 20th
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Home Global Activities Europe Tzu Chi Carries Out First Relief Distribution in Europe

Tzu Chi Carries Out First Relief Distribution in Europe

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Volunteers from five countries in Europe carried out the foundation’s first distribution in the continent. On December 15, they gave 100-euro supermarket coupons to over 400 people in two towns in northern Italy struck by earthquakes in May this year. Since it was the first distribution, it presented many challenges but the volunteers overcame them through their joint efforts.

During the last 10 days of May, the quakes hit the region of Emilia Romagna, killing at least 16 people and leaving 24,000 homeless. They left hundreds of building damaged or inaccessible and forced many to live outside.

On December 14, volunteers from France, Netherlands, Austria and Germany gathered in the south German city of Munich. Together they set out on an eight-hour journey across mountains and valleys that ended in an office of the Italian supermarket chain COOP, where they held a ceremony to collect the coupons.

There they were joined by volunteers from Britain and divided into two groups. One went to the distribution venues, to finalize the arrangements. The others went to a hotel, to verify the name-lists of the recipients and place the coupons inside envelopes.

At 7.30 a.m. on December 15, a Saturday, the team left from the hotel and went to their first destination, the city hall of Bondeno. After the distribution was finished at midday, the whole team left together for the second venue, a temporary tent area in the city of Finale Emilia, 16 kilometres away.

The procedure of the two distributions was the same. First, the volunteers invited the recipients to come to the service area and verify their names. When they saw the attitude of the volunteers, thanking and respecting them and holding their hands together in a gesture of blessing, many burst into a happy smile. When the volunteers had finished handing over number cards, they took them into a waiting area to enjoy a short video on the ‘Story of Tzu Chi’.

The distributions opened with a sign language performance of ‘We Are Family’. Since Italian sub-titles were provided on a screen, many of those present were moved and started to make the moves themselves.

For both distributions, officials of the local government attended. In Bondeno, it was the vice-mayor and his colleagues. In Finale Emilia, it was the mayor and elected representatives; at the same time, Claudio Sabatina, an entrepreneur, praised the content of a letter of condolence from Master Cheng Yen which was read out. When they heard it, those listening were deeply moved; they clapped, to express their thanks.

The volunteers also played a video of song ‘Prayer’ in Italian and joined their hands in prayer. Many people wept with tears of thanks and emotion. One elderly man, Viaggi Emilio, saw the photograph of Master Cheng Yen and knelt in front of it to talk to her. He said that she had moved him very much and that he hoped in the future to follow her footsteps and help other people.

Before they came to collect shopping vouchers of love, the recipients were uneasy and cold-hearted. But, during the distribution, they not only saw from the video that Tzu Chi gives its aid to everyone, regardless of religion and race, and without condition; they also felt its great love. When they heard the letter of condolence of Master Cheng Yen and saw the graceful manner of the volunteers and how they had come from distant countries to Italy, their feelings changed, to thanks and respect. They saw the volunteers bowing when they gave the voucher and embraced the recipients; they were deeply moved. Later they went to shake the hands of the volunteers and embrace them, in order to express their thanks.

After the end of the distribution, the Mayor of Finale Emilia told the volunteers: “After we have completed the building of our office, I will reserve a room as the Italian branch of Tzu Chi.”

This was Tzu Chi’s first distribution in Europe. Although no-one had any experience and there were many twists and turns, it was completed thanks to the co-operation of everyone. Some volunteers said: “I would like to take part in the next one.”

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