Flood Relief in France

National Headquarters  |  July 19, 2016
It all began with several days of continuous heavy rain at the end of May and start of June 2016, which caused rivers to overflow and flood parts of France, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Romania, Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. On June 3rd, President Francois Hollande declared a natural disaster in France.

In Paris, the water level kept rising in the River Seine, bursting its banks in several places, and leading to the worst deluge to hit the capital in 35 years. Across central and northern France, thousands of residents were evacuated, many fleeing flood zones by boat or canoe.

Although Tzu Chi volunteers in France had never conducted a disaster aid mission before, observing the national emergency unfolding around them, they rose to the occasion and began to mobilize a relief effort, starting with an assessment of needs in the most affected areas.

Tzu Chi’s first disaster aid distribution in France took place on June 20th in Salbris, one of the most severely flood-stricken towns along the Sauldre River in Sologne, in the Centre-Val de Loire region.

The Mayor of Salbris, Olivier Pavy, offered his support and assistance by providing a list of families in need of emergency aid, and helping volunteers organize the distribution ceremony.

In this town of 5,700 residents, more than 600 houses were inundated. About 200 families were impacted by this misfortune, and 33 of them can’t even return home since their houses must be demolished or rebuild. It is these residents in dire need – now living with family, friends, or in hotels – that Tzu Chi volunteers had come to help.

Mayor Pavy was also well aware that, since these families were suffering not just as a result of material troubles but due to psychological distress as well, the support and comfort offered by Tzu Chi volunteers was an added blessing.

Several news outlets came to cover the distribution, including one of France’s main TV channels, TV France 3; a radio station; and three newspapers.

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Alexis Couturier, a journalist for the newspaper La Nouvelle République who came to report on the event, was so taken aback by what he witnessed that he grew emotional and had a hard time holding back his tears:

I’ve never seen anything like this, it’s so powerful and wonderful… it’s almost surreal to see these volunteers coming here to Salbris to help… I will talk to my boss to make this article a front-page story because this is unbelievable.

Alexis Couturier, journalist for La Nouvelle République

Mayor Pavy was equally touched and impressed:

It’s an amazing thing that this Foundation came here to help us. This sign of sympathy, of solidarity, of support will always be remembered here, by the people in Salbris.

Olivier Pavy, Mayor of Salbris

A second disaster relief distribution took place in Salbris on July 9th, bringing aid and comfort to even more people affected by the flood. The distribution ceremony itself was something no one here had ever experienced before.

I’m deeply moved. I don’t know how to thank you. I’m surrounded by people and I don’t feel alone anymore. Thank you again.

Mauricette Beaulande, 87

The flood destroyed all my stuff, I lost everything. It’s so nice of you to come here to help. As a Muslim, I feel like we are one family, I’m truly touched.

Khaduma Bouterfes, 59

Many were burdened with troubles as a result of what had happened, like Marie and her husband who have three children, and are expecting a fourth.

My husband is unemployed, and we lost our car during the flood. It’s impossible for him to look for job without a car. We haven’t finished paying the house mortgage, and are struggling because the insurance didn’t pay enough. I thank Tzu Chi! I’m surprised to receive such attention, humanity and warmth from people we didn’t even know.

Marie Rousselet, 35

Tzu Chi’s generosity came as quite a surprise to many who came and were full of admiration.

I’m really touched! Nowadays you don’t see that many generous people. I'm so glad and surprised you guys came so far for us!

Romain, 30 with Lilou, 3 and Louane, 1

Some even responded by paying Tzu Chi’s generosity forward, and donating to the Bamboo Bank to help others.

Here in France, we aren’t used to such solidarity among ourselves, and it feels awesome. My daughter cried when we watched the video and learned that Tzu Chi travels around the world to help. It’s so touching. We want to give back and hope it helps other people, too.

Nicole Sellier, 58

The following day, on July 10th, Tzu Chi volunteers hosted a distribution in Romorantin-Lanthenay, the capital of Sologne, where 171 families attended and received financial aid.

The feeling of genuine solidarity as one family, transcending any cultural, language or religious boundaries, was palpable during the ceremony.

We are so amazed by all this love. I can’t believe it… People here are not used to generosity and all this solidarity. We welcome this gift. It's a really good example for us.

Fabienne, 43

The fact that Tzu Chi volunteers were originally from Taiwan, where Typhoon Nepartak had just struck the island a day before, and yet they still came to France to help was cherished.

It really warms our hearts, because people in Taiwan are being affected by a typhoon right now as well. It’s really touching that (Tzu Chi volunteers) think about others like this. Thank you so much, from the bottom of our hearts.

Carole Akotcholo

As they did in Salbris, people shared their woes and troubles with volunteers.

We’ve lost everything, but we’re still living in our house because we haven't had the chance to be relocated. We live like campers, we had to borrow tents and all the materials for camping.

Alain and Annick Paul

As they did in Salbris, people shared their woes and troubles with volunteers.

We’re living in a very precarious situation. I had to move back with my ex-husband because he’s the father of my children, but he’s unemployed.

Aid recipient

And yet, by the time the ceremony had ended, people felt better and were more tranquil despite their trying situation.

I feel more peaceful now. I'll remember all these volunteers my entire life. Their sincere smiles made me so emotional, I got goosebumps!

Aid recipient

We’ve never seen anything like this, what support! We can’t put into words how we feel. I already knew Buddhism was amazing from what I’d read, but today they proved it.

Alain and Annick Paul

The contemplation we experienced was incredible. I was really moved. You’ve brought me so much. You’ve erased my bad memories from the flood. Thanks so much, Tzu Chi!

Madame Argy, 90

I was emotional myself, because we’re not used to seeing this kind of distribution, with a ceremony. In France it’s usually quite clerical, it’s really cold, it’s governmental, not human.

Alexis Couturier, journalist for La Nouvelle République

In his reportage, Alexis praised Tzu Chi Foundation for coming to France to provide disaster aid in the first place, and not being swayed by the country’s reputation as a wealthy nation whose citizens might not need assistance.

That (an aid) Foundation came to France to help a country known as a rich country was unexpected, and yet the help was really useful since people were truly in urgent need.

Alexis Couturier, journalist for La Nouvelle République

He further highlighted how this level of flooding was no ordinary natural catastrophe:

It’s an astonishing flood because it topped the flood of 1910 by more than 70 cm. So it was really exceptional, even the President of France, Francois Hollande came here to assess the disaster and tried to bring assistance to the people. The damage done was quite unbelievable.

Alexis Couturier, journalist for La Nouvelle République

But now it’s time for those affected by the floods to move on …

We need to resume our lives, and act like we did before. Especially when it comes to shopping, because we have to get the economy going again, but it will take some time.

Alexis Couturier, journalist for La Nouvelle République
Tzu Chi will be hosting additional disaster relief distributions in France, and the newly created bond between volunteers and the French people will continue to deepen.

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