Written by Huijing Cai
Translated by H.B. Qin
Edited by Ida Eva Zielinska
In 2022, National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) held its annual conference in Baltimore, Maryland, from May 2 to 5. More than 700 representatives of non-profit disaster relief organizations from across the United States attended the event to network and share their experiences.
The theme of the 2022 National VOAD Conference was “Empowering Resiliency.” The agenda differed from previous years in that it focused more on sharing actual disaster relief case studies. Another distinction was that 50% of this year’s attendees were first-time participants, many of whom are “new generation” organizations.
The focus of the 2022 discussion was not only on reviewing the past but also on planning for the future, with discussions on data collection, resource sharing, and training mechanisms. It was evident that each organization is paying increased attention to preparing and sharing information on coping with climate change.
Showcasing Tzu Chi's Disaster Relief System
Tzu Chi’s exhibit area at the 2022 National VOAD Conference showcased Tzu Chi’s complete disaster relief system. It also introduced DA.AI Technology eco-friendly products that are part of Tzu Chi’s disaster aid. Tzu Chi’s Jing Si Multipurpose Foldable Bed, Table and Chair series was on display and attracted much attention. Tzu Chi gives this versatile furniture to disaster survivors and offers it to emergency shelters and medical facilities.
At the conference, Tzu Chi volunteers also discussed the issue of disaster survivors’ privacy with various relief organizations, such as the Red Cross and CARITAS, as they outlined Tzu Chi’s comprehensive emergency relief operation. Many charitable organizations endorsed Tzu Chi’s operation method, given this special attention to privacy and data collection.
Debra Boudreaux, CEO of Tzu Chi USA, said that in recent years, the United States has faced many natural disasters alongside an increasing number of people experiencing homelessness and an influx of arriving refugees. Therefore, emergency relief work has much ground to cover as needs are growing.
Connecting With the National Disaster Aid Community
Forging partnerships with other disaster aid organizations is important to Tzu Chi USA since they enhance our aid response capacity and reach across the United States and internationally. This collaborative approach is one that Tzu Chi has evolved and practiced for some time. Among other platforms for interaction, National VOAD Conferences provide a valued opportunity to work towards this objective.
In 2022, Tzu Chi volunteers from New York, New Jersey, Washington, Massachusetts, and California came to the conference to interact with various emergency relief organizations and explore or establish partnership mechanisms. Towards this goal, the response from the representatives of many conference-attending organizations was overwhelmingly positive.
Madhavi Guru, from the non-profit Seeds to Sew International, whose mission is to improve the lives of women and girls in disadvantaged communities through education and job skills training, said: “(Tzu Chi) has great ideas and is doing a great job; we would love the opportunity to work together.”
The attending Tzu Chi volunteers also hoped to identify international partners through this annual conference. According to Ashley Yong, Project Specialist with the Tzu Chi Global Affairs Team, “In addition to local organizations in the U.S., international organizations also participated in National VOAD. We want to get in touch with more international partners and work together in the United States. At the same time, organizations in the United States such as us also want to know how to help internationally.”
Kate Scowsmith, Disaster Case Management Systems Facilitator with the Camp Fire Collaborative and a survivor of the 2018 California wildfire herself, came to the Tzu Chi booth at the conference to express her gratitude. After the fire, Scowsmith and her family received a cash card from Tzu Chi, which was a great help to them as it was to other Camp Fire survivors.
“[The cash card] rendered options for survivors. When you’re in the face of a disaster, you don’t have many options, but with a cash card, it’s not bundled with any specific business or location; survivors can purchase supplies according to their needs,” Scowsmith said. She then added, “I’m so grateful to Tzu Chi, [since we could] choose the best use of funds after the fire.”
Praying for a Disaster-Free World
Tzu Chi USA hopes to forge partnerships with “new generation” relief organizations through such gatherings, to face the trials of climate change together, relieve the suffering caused by disasters, and expand the long-lasting power of compassion in action. As Vesak was approaching, the annual Buddhist celebration commemorating the birth, enlightenment, and death of Gautama Buddha, Tzu Chi volunteers also performed a Buddha Bathing Ceremony at the 2022 National VOAD Conference.
They invited conference participants to join in, everyone praying together for purified human hearts, a peaceful society, and a world free of catastrophes.
Disasters strike across the United States each year. Tzu Chi USA is always ready and mobilizes swiftly to provide disaster relief without delay, bringing versatile direct aid through cash cards that help survivors get what they most need as they recover. We are grateful for our aid partners, who include you, kindhearted people that care about the well-being of others and want to help in times of need. Your love fuels our efforts.