Written by Jennifer Chien
Edited by Ida Eva Zielinska
On February 24, 2022, the Russian army invaded Ukraine. This largest war since the 21st century began directly displaced more than eight million Ukrainian families and affected countries and regions worldwide in terms of economy, food and agriculture, energy, and regional security.
Representatives of two international organizations that signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Tzu Chi last year for a joint humanitarian aid effort for Ukrainians, IsraAid, and ADRA International (The Adventist Development and Relief Agency International), met Debra Boudreaux, CEO of Tzu Chi USA, for the first time on February 24, 2023. The date marked the first anniversary of the Russia-Ukraine war. They exchanged their mutual international emergency aid experience and discussed current disaster relief following the recent earthquake in Turkey.
Tzu Chi launched an international humanitarian aid mission immediately after the outbreak of the war between Russia and Ukraine. Within a hundred days of the outbreak of conflict, Tzu Chi established collaborations with 11 international organizations, including UNICEF, IsraAID, ADRA (Adventist Development and Relief Agency), Airlink, and CADIS (Camillian Disaster International Service), through the official signage of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU).
The MoUs combined the power of charitable organizations with rich experience and resources working together in a cross-religion and cross-border aid effort. Their collaborative goal is to take care of displaced Ukrainians in a more timely and comprehensive manner through a harmonious and mutual assistance model.
Rebuilding Homes with Environmental Protection in Mind
As she welcomed the representatives from ADRA and IsraAID, Tzu Chi USA CEO Debra Boudreaux, alongside colleagues from the Global Partnership Affairs Department and the Charity Development Department, briefly introduced Master Cheng Yen’s intentions in founding Tzu Chi, the concept and production process behind DA.AI technology’s eco-friendly products, and Tzu Chi’s assistance projects in Africa and other countries. The itinerary for the distinguished guests also left time for visiting the Tzu Chi USA National Headquarters campus in San Dimas.
In response to Master Cheng Yen’s call for “environmental protection with our clapping hands,” Tzu Chi volunteers globally have implemented recycling programs. Thanks to the activities of volunteers collecting PET plastic bottles for recycling and integrating upstream, midstream, and downstream manufacturers of textiles, Tzu Chi jointly developed a professional process. The goal is to make eco- friendly products with DA.AI technology and truly achieve the zero-waste mission of “turning garbage into gold, gold into love, love into clean water, and spread it around the world,” as stated in Tzu Chi’s global environmental vision and plans.
During the briefing for honored partner representatives, Boudreaux introduced Tzu Chi’s eco-friendly blankets, tents, multipurpose furniture, environmentally friendly bricks, and other products. She also emphatically explained that Tzu Chi uses DA.AI environmental protection microfiber and other products, combined with sewing courses, to guide women in East African villages to produce and sell environmentally friendly sanitary napkins in an attempt to solve African women’s economic problems and empower them to become breadwinners in their households
Debra Boudreaux briefly outlined the reasons for the partners’ visit: “This time, among the visiting guests were the important community liaison in Kyiv, Ukraine, the warehouse manager stationed in Romania, and the representative from the frontline. They shared about their current work, such as helping people facing air strikes in Ukraine, providing medium- and long-term physical and mental care, coordinating aid materials for distribution to different refugee areas, or handling logistics for aid materials to reach Ukraine. They are all important partners of Tzu Chi. Thanks to their efforts, Tzu Chi’s supplies and care will reach those most in need.”
Tzu Chi’s Eco-Friendly Products Leave a Strong Impression
Yotam Polizer, CEO of IsraAID, who recently went to Taiwan to meet and pay his respects to Master Cheng Yen, was visiting Tzu Chi USA’s national headquarters alongside Alena Druzhynina, Head of Operations for IsraAID’s mission in Ukraine and Valerio Carafa, Emergency Operations Officer at IsraAid Headquarters. Carafa is also IsraAID’s team lead in Romania, where they established a humanitarian logistics hub at the border with Ukraine.
Druzhynina mentioned that many Ukrainian families left the country for safety at the beginning of the war. She left with her daughter, too, to bring her to a safe place. Yet Druzhynina and her child eventually returned to their homeland after three months and saw the impact of the war, which no one had expected to happen in the first place. “The war impacts greatly, I think, everyone Ukrainian, including me and my family. Life in Kyiv is not easy. We have electricity interruptions all the time. We have rocket attacks. We have drone attacks. We have to spend a lot of the time in the bomb shelters,” she explained.
As Head of Operations for IsraAID’s Ukraine mission, Druzhynina outlined what they’re doing, which includes mental health and psycho-social support, training workshops, procuring stations to produce safe drinkable water with access to the population, support for mobile clinics and healthcare facilities, and winterization assistance through providing generators, heaters, warm clothes and blankets and so on.
Valerio Carafa, IsraAID’s team lead in Romania, also spoke of the collaboration with Tzu Chi, saying, “Tzu Chi has been a wonderful partner for IsraAIAD over the response for Ukraine. They came to visit us in Romania, where we have the logistics hub. And they have been providing many food supplies.” At the same time, Tzu Chi is also providing more:
Carafa also spoke about his response to the Tzu Chi USA National Headquarters campus. “This place has been wonderful,” he said, “It’s a sense of peacefulness that is really unbelievable, and difficult to describe.” He appreciated learning more about Tzu Chi’s fundamental beliefs of compassion, and highlighted being impressed by its production of all the eco-friendly items that are good for people in need.
The Partners Are Joining Hands for the Latest International Relief Emergency
Alex Balint, ADRA’s International’s Director of Global Social and Corporate Partnerships, was among the first batch of international aid workers stationed in Romania at the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine war to plan humanitarian relief services for refugees. He knows firsthand how challenging and arduous it was to help millions of Ukrainian refugees as they arrived in neighboring countries in a short period of time, as well as civilians back in Ukraine.
And he remembers when Tzu Chi got involved with great appreciation, recounting, “As I came back from Ukraine after my deployment, in partnership with Airlink, we got connected with [Buddhist] Tzu Chi Foundation. And I want to thank you for the partnership. We’ve been providing medical equipment to the country of Ukraine together with other partners, and it was an amazing alliance-based collaboration. I want to thank you for that.”
Following recent earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, once again, the aid challenges are vast. Balint described, “I was there the day after the earthquake, already in Turkey mobilizing the assistance, and sometimes, you know, commodities like tents, blankets, and other supplies are in most dire need. Money couldn’t buy them; we had to fly them in from other countries.” Needs in the hardest-hit areas in Turkey and Syria demand a concerted effort, and he expressed looking forward to collaborating with Tzu Chi on this mission and beyond.
So while the partners cherished their past and ongoing efforts on behalf of Ukrainians suffering due to the war in their homeland, they could also strategize about the needs following the most recent humanitarian crisis, that of those rising from the ruins of earthquake-demolished homes and neighborhoods in Turkey and Syria. Theirs is another heart-breaking journey. However, thanks to your love and support, Tzu Chi can help and continually do more.