When Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas in late August 2017, the storm caused about $125 billion in damage, ranking Harvey as the second-most costly hurricane to hit the U.S. since 1900. Despite repair and cleanup initiatives that ensued, overall recovery around the state has been a slow process.
Almost two years after the storm has subsided, Tzu Chi USA’s Hurricane Harvey mission continues through the Core Program — a newly launched, long-term 3-sub-program post-disaster recovery plan for Texan communities struggling to gain back a sense of normalcy. The sub-programs aim to foster community volunteerism and leadership within a community, educate disaster risk reduction, provide disaster case assistance, and promote cohesion among community members.
In collaboration with Tzu Chi USA’s National Headquarters in San Dimas, California, Tzu Chi Southern Region volunteers initiated a five day training program for the project on February 21st. After only four days on the tour, the team visited a total of 11 impacted communities throughout Texas, including Port Arthur, Wharton, and Rockport, with a mobilized team of 42 volunteers.
The first Core Program Training workshop for volunteers and advocates of the reconstruction plan will be held at the The Vietnam Temple Branch in Port Arthur, a training center for the Core Program, on March 10th, 2019. Within the following two weeks, additional training workshops will be provided. Hurricane Harvey survivors from nearby communities and any affected residents are welcome to attend.
Before heading out to Wharton, Taishan Huang, CEO of Tzu Chi USA’s Southern Region, seeked blessings from Master Cheng Yen, “please Master bless us. Let us all meet with the right people because it is true — where there are wishes there is motivation.”
The Journey through Wharton
Once they reached Wharton, Tzu Chi volunteers collaborated with James Perez, CEO of Just Do It Now – a faith based non-profit specializing in counseling and life recovery, Jeff, Board Member of Just Do It Now, and Barbie, their case manager, to expand the horizons of The Core Program and reach additional members of the impacted community. Two events were discussed and planned for March 22nd and 23rd.
In collaboration with Just Do It Now, a food distribution event for children from low-income families will be held on March 22nd. A Tzu Chi training workshop will be held on March 23rd. This delegation of teamwork and partnership will be indispensable to the Core Program’s success.
Blessings and New Partnerships in Rockport
The Tzu Chi team then headed on a 180 mile journey from Wharton to Rockport. Their first stop was the Lao-Wo Temple, where they were greeted by the Temple’s Buddhist Master who invited them to join the temple’s monthly meetings.
Following the Temple’s visit, the Tzu Chi team visited a nearby police station in Rockport. Many of the officers shared their stories of their post-disaster reconstruction.
Before leaving the station, the Tzu Chi team gifted a copy of the Tzu Chi USA monthly magazine and a Bamboo Bank as a token of gratitude and blessings for their continued partnership with the organization.
Along their route through the city of Rockport, the team also stopped at The First Baptist Church, whose humanitarian mission is helping children. The team met with the congregation heads to discuss a potential joint partnership in community service, and offer classes for disaster prevention training.
The First Baptist Church and the Tzu Chi Southern Region will co-host a function on Children’s Day, a Care Program,and also provide assessments to other families who have been impacted by Hurricane Harvey. The first Children’s Gathering Event of this joint venture is expected to be held on April 12.
Tzu Chi’s Southern Region will continue to join the congregation at future children community service events and provide disaster prevention activities.
Rebuilding the Ruins with Strength and Resilience
More than 19 months after Hurricane Harvey made landfall in the Texas region, there are still hundreds of houses in ruins waiting to be rebuilt. Tzu Chi volunteers visited construction sites in the Rockport area to speak to individuals working diligently to rebuild these lost homes and memories.
Peggy, homeowner and Rockport resident, shared stories of community strength and resilience during and after Hurricane Harvey. She couldn’t hold back the tears that gathered in her eyes. Taishan Huang and Debra Boudreaux, Tzu Chi USA volunteers, tried to console her, but Peggy burst out in tears. “Tzu Chi, you are angels. I won’t forget the blue sky and white clouds you brought here,” she said.
Final Day of Travels and Blessings
The team visited the Vietnamese Buddhist Xiang-Tan Temple at Corpus Christi to greet Nun Bi Qiu. The temple congregation agreed to join-hands with the The Core Program initiative in hopes of a swift recovery from the disastrous impacts of Hurricane Harvey.
Tzu Chi USA will stay in communication with the congregation for future planning of applied Buddhism to community service.
Restoring Hope with The Core Program - Familiar Faces
Throughout the trip, many individuals came up to the Tzu Chi USA’s volunteers to say, “Tzu Chi, we remember you.” One individual shared her story of keeping Master Cheng Yen image as inspiration after she was helped by Tzu Chi USA during a previous relief mission.
The Tzu Chi USA team will continue to provide compassion and relief regardless of any difficulties or challenges that may lie ahead. The Tzu Chi USA team is dedicated to unfold Tzu Chi’s future and all that may come across their path. Tzu Chi USA will venture into the mainstream and continue to nourish and cultivate communities of universal love and hope.
As communities across Texas look past Hurricane Harvey, the Tzu Chi family will be there every step of the way in their recovery. Open your heart and share some much needed love to ensure that these communities can regain normalcy.