Reported by Jenyffer Ruiz and Leuris Roca
Edited by Dilber Shatursun
Roads in the low-income communities of Ecuador can get very rugged. On an unpaved road, a small cargo truck treads slowly forward, careful not to cause damage to the precious cargo it was carrying: food. Tzu Chi volunteers, who had prepared them in bags, took them village to village, often getting them to their final destination by foot.
To date, the South American country has seen 91,000+ confirmed cases of COVID-19 and counting. Coronavirus-related deaths, too, have risen upwards of 5,800. Some bodies of the deceased have been directly discarded in front of clinics, covered with plastic sheets, while others are being placed in cardboard coffins and left in vacant lots.
According to a New York Times survey, compared with the death toll from March to mid-April last year, the number of deaths in Ecuador during the same period this year was more than 7,600. However, official data showed that only 503 people died of coronavirus during the same period, with many cases left potentially unreported. At the same time, the country is in the middle of its greatest recessions in history.
In April, Tzu Chi Ecuador volunteers carried out large-scale food distributions in Canoa, Portoviejo, Santa Ana, and Manta. Curfews had been put in place through the pandemic, and each household could only go out to buy groceries twice a week; in addition, the government only provides subsidies that equate to roughly 60 USD every two months to low-income households struggling to make ends meet.
Tzu Chi volunteers mobilized local volunteers to help distribute food packages, each of which contained eight kinds of food, including rice, noodles, corn flour, and cooking oil; all staple items that could help families avoid starvation. Packages were delivered, too, to those who could not come to the distribution. From April to June, a total of 5,680 families received assistance.
Local volunteer Jaime, wearing a Tzu Chi volunteer vest and mask, unloaded one linen bag after another from the truck, and walked to bungalows built with wood chips and dirt. Many of these families were already poor and still have not recovered from the 2016 Ecuador earthquake. Now, they must face the hardships of the pandemic.
Jaime decided to devote his time and energy with passion: “my job is to help the [Tzu Chi] Foundation distribute food, and do my best to help the community.” Before reaching some of the houses, there stood a mother with her children, or the male figure of the house, or an elder sitting in a wheelchair, softly craning their neck at the door in anticipation of the delivery of food.
As Tzu Chi volunteers often do, Jaime bowed at the waist and handed over the bag of food to recipients. Making these home visits, he and his fellow volunteers how so many people in the community did not have enough food or PPE like face coverings either.
Tzu Chi Ecuador volunteers created a poster to inspire hope. It depicts three pigeons holding olive branches as a symbol of peace, with the words “Amor de Tzu Chi (Love of Tzu Chi)” and “Juntos somos mejores (Together we are better)”. Another poster depicts a person eating, his mouth open, and it says “¡Salva vidas! ¡Come menos carne (Save lives, eat less meat!)!”
Many of Tzu Chi Ecuador’s volunteers agree with Tzu Chi’s philosophy of going vegetarian as an indirect way to help prevent the next animal-borne pandemic. Since the current one began, step by step, they have practiced Master Cheng Yen’s teaching of “eat vegetarian, protect lives, and love the Earth.” They even personally hand a letter of blessings from Master Cheng Yen to people during their distributions.
At first, local volunteer Gema was surprised each time when she would see Tzu Chi volunteers bring truck loads of food. She then saw her own neighbors receive food from Tzu Chi and that something in their sadness had changed. She thanked Tzu Chi volunteers over and over again on behalf of these low income families.
Under the scorching sun, they went from house to house till the day turned into night. Volunteers’ faces were sweaty but joyful. Their actions and compassion embodied the true meaning of great love: the challenges they endured in exchange for the welfare of their neighbors in need.
During the distribution process, many families heard the story of Tzu Chi’s bamboo bank. Many were inspired to save the coins in their homes and put them into the bamboo banks that the volunteers carried, hoping that their small donations could be gathered together to help others in need. In this moment, care recipients experienced both giving and receiving.
With just a $10 contribution to our Together While Apart campaign, you can help us get individuals and families the assistance they require to move forward through the pandemic – be it financial support, groceries, personal protective equipment (PPE), and more. If we can get 500,000 people to participate, we can reach $5,000,000 in relief!