Written by Pheel Wang
Translated by Diana Chang
Edited by Ida Eva Zielinska
Many Haitians were already struggling in extreme poverty when the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020. What is their situation since then? Unfortunately, according to the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, conditions in Haiti are currently alarming, and quite dangerous.
The State Department’s website places Haiti at the most critical level in their Travel Advisory ranking, “Red: Do Not Travel,” and describes the risks: “Violent crime, such as armed robbery and carjacking, is common. Kidnapping is widespread. […] Demonstrations, tire burning, and roadblocks are frequent, unpredictable, and can turn violent.”
With Haiti’s economy severely impacted by the pandemic, that situation further exacerbated by poverty, it appears that people are desperate, and resorting to violence may be their last resort in terms of sheer survival. While providing aid now is more vital than ever, doing so is not without peril, yet Tzu Chi and its local partners have not wavered in their mission.
Tzu Chi has worked together with Father Zucchi Ange Olibrice, Executive Director of Oeuvre des Petites Écoles de Père Bohnen (OPEPB), to provide food aid in Haiti for some time, overcoming whatever obstacles may have arisen on their path. Nonetheless, both he and Tzu Chi volunteers have been concerned about public security during their efforts since the start of the pandemic.
In August, Tzu Chi’s global headquarters sent a shipment of Multi-Grain Powder from Taiwan to Haiti for distribution. “Originally, half a container of these multi-grain powders were prepared to be distributed to single-parent families in two major slums in the capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince. However, due to the impact of the pandemic, public safety in the slums worsened. The challenge of distributing these grain powders in Cité Soleil and La Saline is very difficult,” Father Zucchi explained.
Still, Father Zucchi didn’t back out but found a way around the difficulties of distribution under current safety conditions. He recruited a team of local volunteers to securely deliver Tzu Chi’s nourishing Multi-Grain Powder to the people in need in those communities, and in an ingeniously tasty form: Cookies.
The making of cookies from the multi-grain mix began in 2018; when the first container of Multi-Grain Powder arrived in Haiti, and Tzu Chi USA volunteers went to an OPEPB school to teach staff and cooking class students to make cookies from it. Father Zucchi also requested that the kindergarten teachers prepare and bake them after class. The cookies were then ready for distribution to the students on the following school day.
Father Zucchi can attest to the benefits of these cookies, explaining that, “According to past experience, when the school provides multi-grain cookies, the children’s height, weight, and health status have all improved, and their health conditions have also greatly improved. The students were less likely to get sick.”
The children in OPEPB schools now rely on Tzu Chi’s Multi-Grain Powder cookies to supplement their nutritional needs year after year. However, Tzu Chi’s Multi-Grain Powder may be of even greater importance at the moment, and Father Zucchi considers the instant mix a life-saving staple during the pandemic.
According to The World Bank’s recent analysis, the pandemic will push 115 million people into extreme poverty worldwide, and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) also pointed out that children whose families fall into poverty are prone to malnutrition. In the worst situations, children in impoverished countries and regions are the first to bear the brunt, and the result can be fatal.
At this time, the cookies made from Tzu Chi’s Multi-Grain Powder can provide much-needed nutrition while also strengthening people’s immunity, reducing their number of visits to hospitals, thus diminishing their chances of contracting COVID-19.
On September 25, 2020, the smell of cookies baking filled the halls at an OPEPB school, bringing a cozy sense of comfort and warmth. Inside the kitchen, wearing gloves and masks, faculty and staff entrusted with the task took cookie dough from a large mixing machine, spread it on the table, flattened it with a roller stick, molded it into cookies, then placed them into a large oven.
“Because Haitians prefer stronger flavors and have a sweet tooth, so we must add sugar when making them. And these cookies are suitable for their taste buds,” Father Zucchi said as the cookies’ aroma began wafting out from the oven. He then commented further on how it was the blessings within the core ingredient – which had arrived from far across the ocean – that smelled so warm and sweet.
Not long after, in a school kitchen echoing with the sounds of mirth and laughter, the cookies that looked like they were from a bakery were ready to emerge from the oven. And then, they could finally make their way towards the students who would soon enjoy them…
The students in their yellow uniforms watch as Father Zucchi brings freshly baked batches of cookies into the classrooms. The children try to take a peek, curious, and excited. Finally, holding one in their hands, still feeling the warmth of the oven, they’re cautious about taking that first bite, but the aroma of the sweet cookies is too much of a temptation. Biting in and experiencing their taste, the students’ gleeful smiles say it all, no need for words.
And, during the pandemic, these nourishing cookies are not only reaching children in schools but also beyond. Father Zucchi and Yungchung Chang, a local Tzu Chi volunteer, distributed the cookies to vulnerable populations in Port-au-Prince’s most impoverished communities. Together, they brought vital nutrition to more than 18,000 children, elders living alone, and people with disabilities.