Written by Ida Eva Zielinska
On September 8, after just a week of intense preparations by the Tzu Chi USA Earthquake Response Team since they set foot in Haiti on September 1, 2021, their disaster relief distributions for survivors of the magnitude 7.2 earthquake that struck this island nation on August 14 began.
The first earthquake disaster relief distribution in Les Cayes, Haiti, takes place on September 8, 2021. Photos/Tzu Chi Haiti Team
Les Cayes, a city hard-hit by the catastrophe, was selected for the team’s first series of humanitarian aid provision events. The first distribution on Wednesday, September 8, took place at École Notre Dame, a school run by the Sœurs Salésiennes, as the Salésiens de Don Bosco are Tzu Chi’s partners in many aspects of this mission.
Sister Rose Monique Jolicoeur, one of the Salésien nuns in attendance, expressed her thanks to Tzu Chi on behalf of this Catholic congregation:
Approximately 1,000 families received two large bags of rice, each weighing over 27 pounds.
The rice distributed to the 1,000 or so families in Les Cayes on September 8, 2021, will help relieve their food insecurity after the earthquake. Photos/Tzu Chi Haiti Team
The Tzu Chi Haiti volunteers serving at the event were thrilled to be there, helping their fellow Haitians, even at a safety risk due to recently escalated gang activity in their homeland. Alberte Merveille, who joined this mission, happily shared her views:
Tzu Chi Haiti volunteer Alberte Merveille is grateful for the opportunity to help her people. Photos/Tzu Chi Haiti Team
Some were even second-generation volunteers, as was the case for Jennyva Ocean, the daughter of James Ocean, the charity force behind a production line of cleaning products for earthquake survivors.
Jennyva Ocean is following in her father’s footsteps in joining the Tzu Chi team in Haiti, starting out as a local volunteer. Photos/Tzu Chi Haiti Team
As for care recipients at this inaugural 2021 earthquake disaster relief event, each had a sorrowful story to share and pleas for additional aid. Rose Myrlie Jabrun shared, “My house was completely destroyed. I’m
sleeping in the street. I want to thank them, and I encourage them to help the Haitian people and take them out of the street.” Alphonse Thermitus echoed the level of struggle people are facing just getting a meal each day, “People need the food because there is a lot of hunger. I hope God gives them the strength so they can come back and help us.”
Tzu Chi local volunteers, many of whom received additional training just days before, help make sure everything runs smoothly and in an orderly fashion. Photos/Tzu Chi Haiti Team
To add further joy to the occasion, Sister Rose also shared a further positive nod to Tzu Chi’s presence and approach to providing humanitarian aid:
Sister Rose Monique Jolicoeur addresses care recipients at the distribution on September 8, 2021. Photos/Tzu Chi Haiti Team
To ensure everyone’s safety and peace of mind at the distribution event, 45 Haiti National Police officers were on hand, fulfilling Prime Minister of Haiti Dr. Ariel Henry’s promise of providing security during Tzu Chi’s aid mission.
The presence of Haiti National Police officers helps assure security during the distribution in Les Cayes on September 8, 2021. Photos/Tzu Chi Haiti Team
After a successful first distribution on September 8, the team took the next day to launch an additional heartfelt mission in Les Cayes: Teaching the locals how to cook Jing Si Rice to prepare hot meals during upcoming distributions.
The class took place at the Centre Diocésain Des Arts et Métiers Des Cayes, a vocational school in the city run by the Salésiens de Don Bosco Catholic congregation. Moreover, a distribution was planned here two days later, on September 11.
The team of veteran Tzu Chi volunteers teaches students how to cook large amounts of Jing Si Rice to feed many people at a time. Photos/Tzu Chi Haiti Team
The students were quite pleased with the learning experience and the novel meal, as one shared with the team:
Additionally, what they cooked during the class was then served to around 50 residents of a tent area that had popped up nearby, where earthquake survivors whose homes had collapsed were finding shelter in makeshift dwellings since the disaster. The tasty hot meal certainly brought a moment of happiness to the families living in such dire conditions.
But it’s not only in this area that families have been struggling like this since the earthquake. After the cooking class and hot meal distribution in Les Cayes, the Tzu Chi Disaster Response Team traveled to Camp Perrin, 13.5 miles northwest. Here, they discovered that nearly all the houses had collapsed, leaving residents more or less homeless. It just added resolve to the team’s determination to expand the reach of this mission.
In Camp Perrin, Haiti, living conditions are now dismal for numerous families whose homes collapsed or are unsafe since the earthquake. Photos/Tzu Chi Haiti Team
Behind the scenes on the same day, Gigi Depot, the food products distributor, based in Port-au-Prince that Tzu Chi partnered with for this mission, delivered the remaining 3,250 bags of rice and 3,750 bags of other food supplies to Les Cayes. Many would reach the hands of disaster survivors the very next day, this time at a distribution offered in collaboration with Caritas Haiti.
On Friday, September 10, it was a bright and sunny day in Haiti, as it often is, despite its people’s history of ongoing sufferings, which the beautiful weather can’t erase. This day, the earthquake disaster relief distribution would bring aid to another 1,250 families residing in Les Cayes, providing enough food for six to eight people for a month.
The distribution site was in the vicinity of a Caritas Haiti Catholic church, Église Saint Gérard de La Gaudray, in an area that incurred severe damage during the earthquake. The hall without walls was adjacent to destroyed buildings yet still offered a place sheltered from the sun’s heat.
As people arrived, they passed beside heaps of rubble, a constant reminder of the amount of destruction in Les Cayes and the loss and trauma they had experienced. And, that was on the mind of many care recipients as they waited for the event to begin.
The earthquake’s severe damage in Les Cayes is evident right beside the distribution site. Photos/Tzu Chi Haiti Team
Once the distribution event began, bringing its typically joyful atmosphere, the mood lifted, and smiles began to appear on people’s faces in the assembled crowd.
Tzu Chi volunteers and a representative of Caritas Haiti enthusiastically address the crowd as the distribution begins, helping lift the weight of care recipients’ sorrows. Photos/Tzu Chi Haiti Team
Finally, once the truck with the food supplies arrived on site, the distribution could begin. Each person received rice and two bags of other food items. Tzu Chi and local volunteers were on hand to assist people as they approached the back of the truck, then hoisted the care packages received on the top of their heads or in their arms. As always, they paid extra attention to the infirm in the group.
A steady stream of care recipients approaches the back of the truck with the food supplies. Once they receive their share, they leave happy despite the heavy loads they carry. Photos/Tzu Chi Haiti Team
The voices of care recipients rang with cheer as they left the site, knowing they no longer had to stress about finding their next meal.
Tzu Chi’s local volunteers were also joyful about being able to help their people.
The following day, September 11, would bring relief to yet another 1,000 families in Les Cayes. This third distribution was held at the Salésiens de Don Bosco’s Centre Diocésain Des Arts et Métiers Des Cayes, where the cooking class and hot meal distribution took place two days earlier.
Father Zucchi Ange Olibrice, a long-time Tzu Chi Haiti volunteer and partner on the front of its ongoing food distribution efforts, came to help out. In fact, he and his team had worked through the night in preparation for the event.
Father Zucchi Ange Olibrice and his team’s efforts are essential in getting the food ready for distribution, and he’s as happy as ever to address and uplift the crowd of care recipients after a night of hard work. Photos/Tzu Chi Haiti Team
Dashka Bennett, Vice President of Gigi Depot, also came to volunteer at the event. The company had overcome several challenges in getting all the supplies to Les Cayes safely and on time, and she wanted to personally show her solidarity:
As the distribution proceeded, everything went smoothly, with people patiently waiting their turn while it was a large crowd; yet another example of the resilience of Haitians, weathering troubles in succession over the years.
Thanks to the patience of each care recipient and the attentive care of volunteers, the distribution is smooth and successful. Photos/Tzu Chi Haiti Team
The smiling eyes of care recipients told the whole story … relief, in the face of great adversity.
Each care recipient’s smiling face tells a story. Photos/Tzu Chi Haiti Team
These recent collaborations between Tzu Chi, a Buddhist organization, and Catholic congregations and Haitian businesses prove that we can do so much more by joining together for a cause. One picture from the mission, showing a portrait photo of Buddhist Dharma Master Cheng Yen displayed on the same wall as a painted depiction of the Virgin Mary revered by Christians, speaks volumes beyond words, of unconditional love beyond divisions.
The phrase in bold letters painted on the wall between the two highly venerated figures states in French: “c’est elle qui a tout fait,” meaning, “she was the one who did everything.” What a splendid, unifying, and appropriate message, indeed.
We invite you to join our mission in Haiti as well, through your love and support. Let’s be one family in this world!