Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation

Oct 01st
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Home Our Missions Mission of Charity Tzu Chi Takes Its First Step in Mozambique

Tzu Chi Takes Its First Step in Mozambique

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The group of volunteers stood, nervous and expectant, outside a shabby house in a poor district of Maputo, capital of the southern African state of Mozambique. They had come to start the work of the Tzu Chi Foundation in one of the poorest countries in the continent.

A woman stepped out of the house; her name was Graca. She stood in front of the door with a sullen expression; her body language said ‘go away’. The group was discouraged but decided they must try. One of them, Cai Dai-lin, stepped forward and said: "Tzu Chi is an international charity organization, with many volunteers already in South Africa. We are only starting in Mozambique and hope to extend our care, starting in this community."

For 20 years the foundation has been well established in neighboring South Africa, where it has built up a large corps of local volunteers. In August 25, 2012, a group of them from Durban arrived in Maputo to see what they could do. They were met by Cai Dai-lin, a Taiwan woman who moved to the country when she married. She and her husband want to promote the foundation in the city but have no experience. So they invited the group to come and give them advice; they visited families that require special care.

For much of the last 50 years, Mozambique has had a tragic history. It was a Portuguese colony for more than four centuries; an African liberation movement began a guerilla war in 1964. After 10 years of fighting, Portugal abruptly granted independence in 1974. There followed a bitter civil war between two guerilla movements, which lasted from 1977 to 1992. Only since then has the country gradually been able to rebuild its economy and provide a normal life to its citizens. For the last 10 years, it has registered one of the highest GDP growth rates in the world but remains one of the poorest countries on earth. A majority of the population lives below the poverty line and foreign aid accounts for half of the government’s budget.

Inside the sealed reed house, hardships revealed

The Durban group returned to Maputo on September 20 for a second visit, of four days. This time Dai-lin decided that they should go to Maxaquene, one of the poorest districts of the capital, and interact with anyone they met and visit homes of the poor. The cardinal rule is: “when in doubt, just act.”

So it was that they were standing outside Graca’s shabby house, made of reed. With Graca unmoved, Dai-lin continued: "we have nothing but the best intentions to help people, but this community is so big that we may easily be lost. None of us knows anyone here either, so we wanted to see if anyone is willing to join us and care for those in need of help."

Her expression became more humble, as Graca gradually understood that the volunteers meant no ill will: "perhaps you might let us take a look at your house and see if you need any help as well?" Her sincerity convinced Graca, who agreed to let the volunteers into the house. But she remained sullen, giving them the impression that she was unhappy about the decision.

The small, messy house had only one small bed, on which lay Graca's 18-year-old son; he suffers from mental and physical disabilities and his arms were covered in self-inflicted scars. The volunteers learnt that the father of the boy had abandoned the family years ago and that the mother had re-married. So this isolated universe is the home to a family of three.

Seeing their immediate need, the volunteers left behind a bag of white rice. They also shared with Graca the meaning of the gift: "this bag of rice comes from Taiwan and represents not only material, but also the ‘Da Ai’, the Great Love, from everyone to Mozambique." They urged the couple, who are generous at heart despite their cold expression, not to lose hope but to help the community by joining the volunteering team.

Graca admitted that she did not know many local people. But she enthusiastically agreed to guide the volunteers through the community to look for families in need of help. Yet her cold expression, with her arms folded across her chest, remained.

The first person to whom she led the volunteers was a lonely girl named Sabina, who lived by herself in a rundown house. Sabina told them that she did not know the whereabouts of her family. Graca and other neighbors would sometimes bring food over to her as her living conditions were difficult. She was poor, sick and had suffered greatly. But Dai-lin, who constantly exudes enthusiasm, told the woman that, in living by herself: "you are the happiest and most blessed!" When Sabina replied with a quizzical expression, she continued: "Living by yourself is the best since you don't need to worry about your husband or children."

"If you want, you can help us accomplish so much in this community," she said. Encouraged by these words, Sabina began to beam with excitement. She followed the volunteers out and joined them to visit the community.

A tea party with Grandma Elisa

Led by Sabina, the volunteers next visited the home of Grandma Elisa, who had to raise nine grandchildren on her own. Although she has led a hard life, Elisa always wears a broad smile on her face.

As the conversation between Elisa and the volunteers became more joyful, Dai-lin had an idea. She asked the old lady: "Grandma, your home is so clean and neat! We so wish to get to know more people from this community and let them know more about Tzu Chi. Do you think we might be able to hold a Tzu Chi tea party here this afternoon? You could help us by inviting all your neighbors and friends to come to drink tea and chat …"

Unexpectedly, Grandma Elisa started to laugh; she agreed to share her home as the venue of the first "love-spreading" event in Mozambique.

Having secured a venue, the volunteers were full of confidence and continued to talk about Tzu Chi to anyone they met in the community; they invited them to attend the tea party that afternoon. As they passed a vegetable and fruit stand, they stopped to greet and chat with the women manning the stand. That is when they spotted a woman shelling peanuts inside the stand -- and her peculiar shape.

Her name was Lurdes; she suffers from muscular dystrophy, with feet like thin branches, and cannot walk. Although she has to use her hands as crutches and crawl forward on her knees, she moves with the same speed and agility as anyone else. She makes her living by picking, carrying, packaging and selling peanuts. Despite her handicap, she is able to take care of herself, raise three small children and even help take care of neighboring children with her healthy arms, strong heart and hard work. Her agile movements and optimism make her just like anyone else; they have earned her the acceptance and respect of other residents.

As the volunteers humbly squatted next to the fruit and vegetable stand to talk to Lurdes, she became interested in Tzu Chi and expressed her wish to help others in the community with the volunteers.

The volunteers spread their care as they visited one street after another. In the afternoon, they returned to Elisa's place to set up a projector and other equipment. Those neighbors who had heard about the meeting arrived one by one; in total, 29 adults and 12 children filled the simple space with love. The volunteers informed the residents: "we are building Tzu Chi in Mozambique starting from this community, to turn people's love into action and to care for those who need our help. Let us become the happiest and most loving community here and spread this love to more communities in the future."

Far from the glitz of downtown Maputo, poor residents are volunteering to help those more impoverished than themselves. This community lives and works every day in poverty. But after the tea party, they look forward with hope and confidence, as they understand for the first time the greatness of love. Among them are the sullen Graca and the lonely Sabina; they were first seen as people in need of special care and support but now they have joined the team of volunteers and will visit the other residents. Moreover, the cold Graca has finally opened up, thrown away her anger and showed a bright smile to the world. As she becomes involved in helping others, she is experiencing true hope and happiness.

Translated by Yang Gao


The Beauty of the Jing Si Abode


Are you prepared to put your kindness into actions and join Tzu Chi in promoting the goodness and beauty of mankind?
You are always welcome to join our Tzu Chi’s Great Love missions by becoming a member or volunteer. Please contact the Tzu Chi location near you.

" It is meaningless to demand others’ respect. Only the respect inspired by the goodness of our character is real and true. "
Jing-Si Aphorism

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