How One North Complex Fire Survivor Gave Back

Northwest  |  January 27, 2021
Baba Kauna Mujamal (left) joins Tzu Chi volunteers to distribute financial aid to North Complex Fire survivors at the Oroville Local Assistance Center. Photo by Huan Xun Chan.

Written by Huan Xun Chan
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto

One day in December of 2020, Baba Kauna Mujamal received a phone call at the Tzu Chi office in Chico. The woman on the other end said she had a bamboo bank filled with coins to donate. Upon hearing Mujamal’s voice over the phone, she inquired with a note of recognition, “Are you that man?” 

“African American?” asked Mujamal.

“Yes! Oh, my God!” the woman had responded excitedly. Mary Ford remembered meeting Mujamal at the Oroville Local Assistance Center (LAC). “Talking to you and looking at your eyes, it’s just so healing. You’ve changed my life,” she said. 

Mujamal is a disaster case manager at Tzu Chi’s Chico office. After the North Complex Fire occurred in September, Tzu Chi provided emergency financial aid to survivors. For two months, Mujamal and other Tzu Chi volunteers met and spoke to many survivors at the distribution sites. Mary Ford was one of the survivors who had met with Mujamal. 

Mujamal arranged to visit Mary at the motel in Oroville where she’d been living temporarily, and once he saw Mary, he also remembered her as well. Mary was glad to meet with Mujamal again, expressing her appreciation for Tzu Chi’s help and how receiving the emergency funds had brought her such profound relief. “I saw you walking down the ramp after I left you,” she said with sincerity. “I looked up, I looked at you, and I just said, ‘I really wish that everybody could be like that.’”

North Complex Fire survivor Mary Ford is a recipient of Tzu Chi’s emergency relief program. Having received a cash card and bamboo bank from Tzu Chi volunteers at the Oroville Local Assistance Center, she was determined to repay the kindness she felt. Photo by Baba Kauna Mujamal.

After leaving the distribution site, Ford put her gratitude into action. She placed the bamboo bank she received from Tzu Chi volunteers in front of her hotel room door, hoping to encourage donations from other hotel residents.

Unfortunately, the bank was stolen.

When meeting with Mujamal, Mary instead handed him two plastic cups filled with coins. On the side, there was a handwritten note stating the purpose of the donation. “She was determined even though the first bank was stolen,” said Mujamal.

Mary said most people who stayed in the hotel now knew who Tzu Chi was. They have either received assistance from Tzu Chi themselves, or assisted in disaster-related activities. They put coins in the cups whenever they passed by. During her three-month stay, Mary had visitors at the hotel as well. During these visits, she would always introduce Tzu Chi’s missions to her guests and ask if they’d like to donate. 

Mujamal was impressed by Mary’s efforts, as well as her belief in the purpose of compassionate giving. “She understands that in order to receive, you have to learn how to give.” 

Although Mary’s first bamboo bank was stolen, she still wanted to give back, and used a plastic cup to collect donations instead. An attached note reads, “Due to theft of the Buddhist’s Tzu Chi cup donation, now there is a camera: Please donate here for disaster. Help world wide. Thank you!” Photo by Baba Kauna Mujamal.

When Mujamal visited Mary, she was down to her last few days at the hotel. Her temporary housing assistance would be terminated soon. Mary plans to obtain a trailer and accepted an offer from a friend to park it on their property. Ultimately, she hopes to return home to Berry Creek. 

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