Tzu Chi USA After Hurricane Harvey and the C.O.R E program

Southern  |  May 15, 2019
Tzu Chi Hurricane Harvey
Tzu Chi Volunteer (right) listens attentively to each victim’s story. Photo Credit: Jean Hsu

It has almost been two full years since Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas. If you haven’t seen or talked to those who have experienced the hurricane, it is difficult to imagine how hard it has been for impacted residents to rebuild their lives. The hard facts of reality didn’t leave much chance for them to catch breath.

For a month, Tzu Chi volunteers have been commuting from Houston to Port Arthur, Rockport and Wharton, facilitating the Community Outreach Recovery Education Program (CORE) — a long-term recovery plan aimed at ensuring sustainability for impacted residents.

Throughout January and February, the team conducted preliminary investigations to assess the needs of the disaster area, in addition to expanding the volunteer team and cooperation network through local outreach. In March and April, they executed the plans of the CORE program.

“We’ll always be here.”

In April, it’s already as hot as summer in Texas. Despite the unpleasant weather, volunteers headed to Wharton to collaborate with a local nonprofit organization Just do it Now and the Wharton County Recovery Team. Tzu Chi volunteers worked in affiliation with collaborating local partners to distribute food to impacted residents, and conduct informatory meetings regarding how to use the government financial aid. Hundreds of families benefited from these services..

At the distribution center when Tzu Chi volunteers were preparing for aid dispersion, one resident stopped by and asked, “Weren’t you here to distribute blankets before? I remember.” Another resident walked close to greet the volunteers, “Thank you for the blankets. That was the best gift I’ve received.”

Volunteers prepare food boxes for aid dispersion.
Tzu Chi Hurricane Harvey
Volunteers conduct home visits and continue aid dispersion. Photo: Zhao Jiaying

While in Wharton, the volunteers conducted a dozen family home visits to impacted residents unable to visit the distributions.

I can’t believe you are visiting me. You make me feel important.

Building up trust with these families takes time. However, Tzu Chi volunteers followed the spirit of “vows beget strength” and visited every survivor on the list.

When Barbie Fortenberry from Just do it Now went to conduct home visits in collaboration with the Tzu Chi team, some of the recipient families asked: “Is Tzu Chi really coming to visit my house?” For those who have almost been forgotten, it’s hard to believe that someone still keeps them in mind.

Many aid recipients have set up their own bamboo banks, which serves as a global connection and reminds the whole family, young and old, to “constantly think good thoughts.” This seemingly small act of kindness from Tzu Chi sparks great impact. From the volunteers’ smiling faces, you can tell that visiting these families was an enjoyable experience for all.

Following a home visit, one family donated three bamboo banks to Tzu Chi.
All of them were overflowing with change, the lids barely able to close.

Look, new buds!

The American federal government provides “Grants for Home Repairs,” but the 23-page long application is too tedious for many applicants. Even though there are multiple institutional financial aid and tax reduction programs, filling out forms becomes so impersonal that people begin to feel that they are no more than a number on a page.

According to Barbie, these survivors are tired of filling out bureaucratic applications.

And even until now, many applicants still haven’t managed to receive federal aid, particularly the Vietnamese immigrant population residing in Port Arthur. Due to limitations posed by cultural and language barriers, many are just simply unable to complete the application.

With the help of a local Vietnamese-speaking volunteer, Tzu Chi held two meetings to provide informational services for the application in April. During the meeting, one-on-one assistance was provided to help survivors finish the application.

Through one-on-one conversations, volunteers tried to discern if these families have other personal or psychological needs, such as PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder) assistance, school supplies or medical needs. From individuals to families, Tzu Chi’s goal is to help them get on their feet. This consists of caring about people in every aspect of their being, including their body, mind and spirit.

In Port Arthur, there’s no other organization [that] cares for the Asian immigrant on [a] long term basis; Tzu Chi has done so much for us. I want to thank you for my fellow community members.

Thanks to one-on-one assistance from Vietnamese-speaking volunteers, survivors are able to successfully complete their application forms.
An informational meeting for government aid applications was held in Port Arthur. Photo: Zhao Jiaying

After seeing such compassion, many local Vietnamese were inspired to join the Tzu Chi volunteer family. Two new Vietnamese descendants became long-term Tzu Chi volunteers in Port Arthur. Look, we have new buds!

“I should thank Tzu Chi for bringing in new values”

It is a two to three hour drive from Houston to the impacted disaster area. For every single Red Cross affiliated meeting, volunteers ensured to engage proactively.

The Repair and Rebuild Alliance at Rockport members consist of local government officials, school district officials and nonprofit organization leaders. Dianne Nielsen, President of Children’s Coalition of Aransas County, introduced Tzu Chi and the CORE program into the meeting.

At the meeting, Tzu Chi volunteers are informed about specific needs of survivors. Photos: Liu Benqi
Dianne Nielsen, President of Children's Coalition of Aransas County, reached consensus with Tzu Chi volunteers regarding a new partnership.

Following the meeting, Tzu Chi volunteers discussed the details of cooperation with Dianne and the board members of Children’s Coalition of Aransas County. Among them was a former Tzu Chi aid recipient. Secretary Stefany and her family was helped during the Tzu Chi’s Emergency Relief Aid after the storm.

After sharing conducted interviews and on-site exploration of special case families, the Tzu Chi team proposed incorporation of Tzu Chi’s Individual-To-Entire Family Caring Approach (全人全家關懷模式), which was widely accepted by members of Children’s Coalition of Aransas County.

Of course, we totally agree with this approach, I actually want to thank Tzu Chi for bringing in this new value.”

With Dianne’s inspiring words and seeing all the blossoming new partnerships with organizations that share the same vision, Tzu Chi volunteers knew all their hard work was paying off. Those who kept going without giving up, no matter what unpleasant weather the day may bring, despite the long distance and physical exhaustion, demonstrate the true spirit of the Texan Cowboy in Tzu Chi.

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