Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation

Jan 31st
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Home Feature Stories Help Haiti with Love In Haiti, Tzu Chi Moves Free Clinic to National Soccer Stadium

In Haiti, Tzu Chi Moves Free Clinic to National Soccer Stadium

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Two months after the earthquake devastated Haiti, Tzu Chi’s relief work is moving ahead on several fronts – free medical care, distribution of food, blankets and tarpaulin sheets, preparations for a classroom and a visit to the president to tell him what they are doing.

The relief team decided to move its free clinic and aid distribution in the capital Port-au-Prince from its base at the OECC company to the national soccer stadium. On March 9, five volunteer doctors from the Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) set up a clinic on the halfway line: unsure what to expect, they were prepared for anything. An elderly woman stepped forward and Zhao Wenchang, a doctor of Chinese medicine, gave her acupuncture. "Relax, please relax,” he said. “We often do this in Argentina, outside free clinics. The conditions are about the same – no electricity and no water.” A woman arrived who had given birth to a baby boy on the street eight days before. “What is the problem?” said Dr Dong Mingzhe, from the United States. “It is diarrhea, the baby has diarrhea. Tell her that is all right. I will give her some vitamins, which she should suck.” A man arrived with his wife, thin and weak. He explained that his wife, 26, had contracted AIDS a year earlier and brought her in the faint hope of a cure. The volunteers measured her blood pressure and found it was low, at 120/50. “Her heart is racing, she is malnourished and dehydrated,” one said. “She needs to go to hospital.” They realize that little can be done. AIDS is rampant in Haiti; so the volunteers came well prepared to treat patients. A woman came with her daughter; the doctors discovered that she had bronchitis. Without the visit, she would not have known. In total, the five doctors and one nurses, aided by 10 volunteer translators, treated 362 people during the day of the free clinic.

New TIMA members – Haitian Americans
Among the TIMA members were two new recruits, Betina Turner and Demitri Francois, both Haitian-Americans. They emigrated from the Caribbean island and returned to their native land to serve their fellow Haitians. Both are colleagues of TIMA doctor Yao Fansheng. “Dr Yao told me that he wanted to go to Haiti and asked if I wanted to join him,” said Francois. “I said definitely, yes. He paged me on Saturday, I bought my ticket on Monday and here I am.” A surgeon in Haiti, he switched to psychiatry after moving to the U.S. He offered both of these skills to the earthquake survivors, but it was a daunting task. “At times I felt overwhelmed. Can I really help these people? What can I do for them really? I have a feeling of being overwhelmed and of doing something good. It is a weird feeling. That is all I can say.” Wearing her TIMA uniform, Turnier said that she was comfortable with the heat, despite the fact that the only shelter was a tent. "I was born in a tropical country, so I am fine. We have a good setting here. The weather has not been too hot or too humid.” Like other volunteers, the two paid their own expenses to go to Haiti. Yao said that, in order to carry out mid- and long-term plans, they needed to recruit local doctors, as well as treat patients.

Having succeeded in the United States, Turnier and Francois have achieved more than most of their fellow Haitians. But they have not forgotten their roots and are happy to serve their homeland in its hour of need.

Thousands live in soccer stadium
The soccer stadium is itself home to a squatter city, with 350 tents inside and 1,500 in the surrounding area; a total of 8,000 people live there. Each time, there is a distribution of international aid, these residents are put under a curfew, to ensure that the aid goes only to those for whom it is intended.

Ben Constant, the manager of the tent city, said that most charity organizations that used the stadium focused on marginalized victims or residents of hillside areas, while those in the city centre were somehow overlooked. The volunteers saw how desperate their situation is. The only positive point was the fact that the stadium has artificial turf, which does not turn into mud after the fall of rain. “Their tents are full of holes,” said Stephen Huang, global co-ordinator of Tzu Chi volunteers. “When it rains, the water comes in. They put everything they can on top to cover the holes. They desperately need tarpaulin sheets.” The volunteers plan aid distributions here so that the residents of this tent city will no longer be marginalized. During his visit, Huang visited President Rene Preval, to brief him on Tzu Chi’s aid program and mid- and long-term plans to help rebuild the country.

A Paris-based NGO recently organized aid distribution in the stadium. It allowed only women to collect the supplies, because it considers men more hot-headed and likely to cause a disturbance. Its members handed out kidney beans, corn flour and bags of sugar and cooking oil. The women said that the supplies were heavy but their happy expressions showed how pleased they were.

As well as health and food, education is a necessity for the people of Haiti. Volunteers looked outside the stadium and hope to set up a temporary classroom there. They held a meeting with Ben Constant and representatives of OECC and discussed construction of such a classroom on land nearby. The volunteers also plan a mass prayer service in the sports stadium.

Capital at night has no electricity
Also on March 9, the volunteers distributed food to 1,240 households at the Croix des Missions church in the capital. As they stay longer, they understand more about Haiti. One night, they visited a night market in Port-au-Prince and discovered that the stall owners had no electricity nor homes to return to. When night falls, the city is plunged into darkness. Can this be a national capital in the 21st century? The earthquake damaged an already fragile power grid, so that it can no longer supply the city with electricity. The vendors use oil lamps to keep their stalls lit under 2200. Previously, they would pack their stalls and go home; now the stall is their homes. They sleep on a sheet, a piece of cardboard or the ground. The streets are crowded with homeless people. “They sleep here,” said Stephen Huang. “They have nowhere else to sleep. They sleep anywhere they can by the side of the road.” Those with a Tzu Chi tarpaulin sheet have the nearest thing to a home. The women wear shower caps on their head to keep their hair dry when it rains and children strip off during a downpour.

Barbed wire to protect aid distribution
On March 5, the foundation distributed aid in Leogane City, 30 kilometers west of Port-au-Prince and close to the epicenter of the earthquake. The site was a soccer field that was open on all four sides. This posed a problem for the 29 Canadian U.N. peacekeepers who were there to keep order. To ensure orderly distribution, they put barbed wire around the field. “We told people that they can only come in with a distribution voucher,” said volunteer Huang Taishan. "Without a voucher, they cannot get aid today. They will have to wait until next time.” Those with the precious voucher, stamped by the city government, clutched them in their hand. One had hers snatched away; mindful volunteers were quick to take action. “Hers was taken,” said volunteer Zheng Junyi. “Now we are negotiating the situation.” After confirming her story, the volunteers confirmed that she could receive aid. The look of relief on her face told it all. The distribution was carried out by 23 Tzu Chi and 60 local volunteers; they gave out food, blankets and waterproof sheets to nearly 2,000 households. The food included 15 pounds of corn power and five pounds of flour. Volunteer Xu Zhiyuan said that workers at a factory owned by a Taiwan entrepreneur helped them pack the goods. “It took them two days to pack up our truck with all the supplies.”

What the volunteers most wanted to tell the survivors was that they were not alone. This sense of compassion calmed the atmosphere; there were no incidents of violence, making it a peaceful day for the Canadian soldiers. Among the volunteers was Jean Denis, the man in charge of the food-for-work program, who was wearing the blue and white uniform for the first time. In addition, there were four volunteers from the Dominican Republic, who have been running the foundation’s co-ordination centre in their country. Volunteer Zhang Shuling said that she was impressed by the organization. “I think our efficiency is very good and today was the easiest distribution I have experienced. I just had to bow and say thank you. It is easy. I feel a bit ashamed.”

The future of NGOs in Haiti
Back in Port-au-Prince, the Tzu Chi Foundation took part in a meeting for NGOs at the U.N. headquarters on March 8, hosted by the World Food Program. It was an opportunity for the volunteers to make a ten-minute presentation on their relief programs and get to know other NGOs. It showed the distribution of food and non-food items, the free medical clinic and the food-for-work program. “We are a group of outsiders here to help Haiti,” said volunteer Zou Yuru. “We should be standing together. Taking part in this meeting will not only help other groups get to know what we are doing but also help us understand what other groups are doing.” Among the audience was an American scholar, Professor Louise Comfort from the University of Pittsburgh. She recognized the blue and white uniforms after visiting Taiwan last year, in the aftermath of Typhoon Morakot. “I was impressed then,” she said. “Your organization is the most effective in reaching groups of people in their communities.” The number of NGOs still working in Haiti is dwindling, but Tzu Chi, which arrived on January 21, has drawn up mid-term plans for recovery.

At the foundation’s U.S. headquarters in San Dimas, volunteers were busy preparing the new shipment of relief goods. In the early morning, 22 volunteers were loading tarpaulins, sleeping mats, blankets, soap, pots and pans, rice, flour and cooking oil into boxes. They worked in harmony, passing the boxes one to the other. The shipment left Los Angeles by sea on March 8 and will arrive in Haiti in three weeks.


" Birds have nests; people have homes. If family members live far apart, how can they have a happy family life? "
Jing-Si Aphorism

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