A Look Behind the Lens: Meet Tzu Chi Documentarian Jaime Puerta

National Headquarters  |  July 5, 2023
Photo/Borja Campillo

Written by Adriana DiBenedetto

Storytelling in the Digital Arena

Believing in the importance of community outreach for long-term change, a steadfast documentarian named Jaime Puerta joined the global Tzu Chi team nearly seven years ago. Since then, Jaime has captured stories of strength, expressions of altruism in action, and lifted up diverse voices from horizon to horizon. 

I started working as a documentary cinematographer. Little by little, I started working as well as an editor, then also as a director. And now as a producer, I oversee all the production in the US. As a documentarian, you need to know how to do everything. Tzu Chi is a perfect place for that.

Traveling out in the field alongside new and seasoned Tzu Chi volunteers, team members work with communities and local partners to highlight and empower health, education, disaster response, cultural awareness, sustainable development, and far beyond.

The most valuable experience I take from working at Tzu Chi is that I can have a direct impact in someone’s life. I can help them to make their life a little bit better. The Tzu Chi Media Production Center is a key tool in documenting and outreach for the mission and programs that Tzu Chi implements. On a personal level, it’s really heartwarming to help with my filmmaking skills.

Photos/Borja Campillo
Photos/Borja Campillo

An Awakening to Engage: How Film Bridges the Distance

As a director and producer with more than 20 years of experience, and the founder of the New York-based production company, A FILMS, these skills help Tzu Chi chronicle up-to-date topics from global indicators of our changing climate to the importance of unity and community, while understanding and respecting the emotional weight of the subject matter. 

And indeed, upon entering the world of Tzu Chi, Jaime embarked on a whirlwind journey, in a year fraught with natural disasters. 

A powerful 7.8-magnitude earthquake rattled Ecuador in 2016, leading to a tragic loss of life and widespread destruction, including the heart of one community: Canoa’s cherished spiritual home. Tzu Chi volunteers provided their love in person at a time of greatest need, bringing disaster relief quickly, as well as the comfort of someone to share in their sorrow. The road ahead demanded great effort. Yet, community members were strengthened by the knowledge that the global Tzu Chi community was truly there for them. When Tzu Chi initiated relief in Ecuador, they also launched a Cash For Relief program, creating jobs that enabled people to contribute to the resurrection of their city.  

After floods impacted Ecuador in April 2017, Jaime also documented Tzu Chi’s Santa Ana relief, the rebuilding of Canoa’s church, and quite a number of medical outreach services. Arriving on the scene again shortly after an earthquake struck Mexico in 2018, Jaime returned each time Tzu Chi held medical outreach, up to the momentous Morelos Institute Groundbreaking ceremony. 

One of the most beautiful missions I have documented is El Menahel in Istanbul. It was a heartwarming shelter where children could find protection and an education. But most importantly, they could be children after being displaced because of war.

This path of relief also led Jaime and the Tzu Chi team to Haiti following a major earthquake in the south of the country on August 14, 2021. This tragedy occurred just a short time after Jovenel Moïse, the president of Haiti, was assassinated on July 7, 2021, and steadily brewing social unrest, particularly from gang leaders, soon threatened to delay relief efforts. Despite these unique obstacles, Tzu Chi readied to provide several vital aid distributions.  

The long hours of filming and listening to the stories of disaster survivors and local volunteers created a lasting bond. Among the experiences he holds close are those of Julia Flores, a Tzu Chi care recipient, and Nancy Tituaña, a Tzu Chi community volunteer and care recipient.

Julia Flores moved to California with her now deceased husband about 22 years ago with the idea to work in the fields and go back to Mexico. After a year, they had a baby, then another, and another, up to seven! The most wonderful part of the story is that the dad noticed that music was easy for their children. They provided them with some classes and instruments to educate them and as a result, they formed the Mexican folk band “Los Sandy’s” and started playing in local parties bringing joy and a taste of their homeland to their community. On the other hand, that was a way for their children to provide financial resources to the family. A very creative way to make it in a new country! Another inspiring case is Nancy’s story which I filmed last year. A film about resilience and overcoming adversity. During the lockdown, Nancy was hit by a car when she was bringing food to those who could not go out. She lost one leg and almost lost the other one. She found herself far from her family, undocumented, unprotected and with a long recovery ahead of her. Luckily, she has a very strong drive to recover and keep helping others. She is recovering in record time! A very inspiring story.

Photos/Borja Campillo
Photos/Borja Campillo

Why Does Storytelling Matter?

The reason is simple: your story matters. 

The Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation operates internationally, with missions in the spheres of charity, medical outreach, education, and humanistic culture. Bringing its organizational, programmatic, and spiritual missions into the digital arena gives voice to volunteers and community members alike, unveiling their spirit, innovation, and experience while cultivating the seeds of love near and far.

In this way, building Tzu Chi USA’s digital presence through videos and photographs allows individuals to join the conversation, inspiring more people to learn about current events and ongoing service missions. And in turn, this care can awaken a cascade of responsiveness in daily life.

The root of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation’s mission is compassion, extended to one and all. 

When many voices and experiences are lifted up and awareness grows, the world becomes vast, and so too does the scope of care. 

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