The Tzu Chi NY office was honored to host local volunteers from the ongoing disaster relief efforts in Ecuador. The evening began with a wonderful complimentary meal for all of the evening’s guests and concluded with an inspiring conversation with volunteers Jenyffer Ruiz, Boris Garcia, and Maribel Suarez. We were honored to have present with us that evening leading members of the Ecuadorian community, including Judge Carmen Velazquez and General Consul Linda Machuca, whom we first met in 2016, who spoke with warmth and gratitude about the work that Tzu Chi has done to relieve the suffering of those most affected by the 2016 earthquake and the 2017 floods.
The presentation commenced with opening remarks by Sister Judy Wang, Vice CEO of Tzu Chi Foundation Northeast Region, who shared her own experiences of traveling to Ecuador this year for the groundbreaking ceremony for the Church of Canoa. She spoke about the heartwarming surprise she received when the airline, TAMA, upgraded the round-trip flights for all 11 volunteers to First Class in recognition and gratitude for the work that Tzu Chi had done during the 2016 earthquake.
The groundbreaking ceremony for the Church of Canoa echoes the beginnings of Tzu Chi itself over 50 years ago when our founder Dharma Master Cheng Yen met three Catholic nuns in Taiwan. The nuns explained how they were helping those in need in clinics and orphanages, and in return they asked Master “What do you do?” Master Cheng Yen did not know how to answer at the time but she began thinking how she too can help in this world. From that question, Tzu Chi was formed and continues to answer that question today as an extensive international non-profit humanitarian organization, with over 10 million supporters and volunteers that provide charity, disaster relief, medical care, and education around the globe.
Documentary filmmaker, Ida Eva Zielinska, then moderated the conversation with the volunteers who shared their stories and experiences of the often grueling, but rewarding and life changing work of restoring dignity and stability to people who have suffered devastation and loss following a natural disaster. The volunteers took us behind the scenes to 2016 when Tzu Chi launched a Cash-For-Relief program that created 34,030 temporary jobs and provided $510,405 in aid after the earthquake. They then helped distribute folding beds and blankets to those still displaced four months later. They then shared their experiences from 2017, when they assisted during our second Cash-For-Relief program and the distribution of additional financial aid after severe flooding, when we provided $1,162,280 in relief while creating another 17,828 temporary jobs.
During the conversation, each of the volunteers was able to speak about their thoughts on what they experienced in Ecuador and on working alongside Tzu Chi in their relief efforts. Jenyffer shared her own personal feelings about how her volunteerism has contributed to her life and has fulfilled a long held dream to help the people of her native country. “I had just moved to Ecuador after 24 years in NYC. I noticed that life has a way to show you the way without you even noticing. It has been a long time dream of mine to serve the needy people of Ecuador. This was my desire but I really didn’t know where or how to start. I lived in NYC for 24 years before returning to Ecuador with a dream I didn’t really know how to put into action.
Eight months later the biggest earthquake I have lived through hit Ecuador killing hundreds of people and leaving thousands without a home and or business. I started to doubt my decision to go back to Ecuador. Had I stayed in the US maybe I would be in a better position to help the earthquake victims.
When Tzu Chi volunteers asked for my help after the earthquake it was like they fell from the sky. It was a good opportunity to be part of an organization that made things happen. How could I let this “God sent” opportunity pass me by. I helped Tzu Chi volunteers during the evaluation process and through Cash-For-Relief program in five cities, about 60 days. I experienced first hand the satisfaction of being part of a team that made lives a little better and did it with compassion, love and patience.”
Maribel stated that for her, “It was the first time that I helped Ecuadorians in Ecuador. I am so grateful to God, Master Cheng Yen, George, Martín, and specially to Ting and Martha that encouraged me to be part of this wonderful experience to help others and meet wonderful people from different countries, religions, but with one goal, to achieve wherever there is a human in a need. Thank you Tzu Chi.”
Boris also echoed a similar sentiment stating, “I deeply believe that religions can get along and work together for a common objective like helping people in need. So when I learned that Tzu Chi was a Buddhist organization I didn’t have any problem to offer my help to them. We knew all this help was not about religion but about the people and taking away their suffering in this difficult situation. At the beginning I could not understand how these people wanted to come all this way to share their help, but I know now it is about love and compassion for others and I think that is what religion should be – a big sharing of love.”
Once the volunteers spoke, the floor was opened up to questions from the audience. Viviana Peralta, a young woman from Corona, Queens who dedicates herself to helping her local community asked the volunteers how they balanced their volunteer work with their personal and work lives. Boris answered that the key is to make a conscious choice to find the time to help others. He stated “I think we can invest one hour of time every of day to help some people. If you can’t do it during the week, what about the weekend? You know, sometimes we sleep until noon just because you say, ‘you know, I had a really rough week. so I deserve some time for me.’ But, in my own case, it is very rewarding to help other people because that makes me feel that I can do more than I’m supposed to do every day. That’s why I took the decision to become a full time volunteer.”
Ecuador is the 94th country aided by Tzu Chi’s humanitarian aid efforts and has been provided with $1.6 million dollars in aid so far. Relief efforts in that country continue today, however, including Tzu Chi’s long-term relief for Canoa, a town that was severely damaged during the earthquake. The efforts include the rebuilding of the local Catholic church and nun’s house, and the construction of a classroom for the children of the community. Importantly, these efforts will also create jobs during the construction period and the rebuilt church will also serve to provide a peaceful sanctuary and meeting place for the community during the stressful process of rebuilding their homes and lives.
The evening concluded with the wonderful news that Ecuador will now become the 55th country in the world to have a Tzu Chi office that will offer, love, caring and compassion in action.