On April 6, 2019, Tzu Chi Academy (TCA) in the Greater Washington DC Area held a fundraiser and awareness event for Cyclone Idai. It struck three countries in Southeast Africa on March 4, 2019 and has since brought on numerous crises including flooding, hunger, and disease.
The day started out with a fundraiser to help those who had been affected by the Cyclone. We sold a variety of foods– fried rice, noodles, egg tarts, black tea, veggie burgers, and much more–in an effort to raise money for the affected. The idea was to raise funds while also promoting vegetarianism, another Tzu Chi value, meaning that every food item prepared and sold on the day was vegetarian. Many volunteers had dedicated copious amounts of hard work and set aside time to make all the food themselves.
TCA, our Chinese school, is held at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda. The day we carried out our fundraiser, there happened to be Whitman students who were at school preparing for a drama production. We invited them to come out to support the cause and grab a delicious lunch at the same time.
Even though the destruction caused by Cyclone Idai was extensive, none of them had heard about it before our fundraiser. They were thoroughly surprised to learn of the disaster from us and not from the news. Regardless, they enjoyed the food and also donated extra money to help out! We were able to successfully sell all the prepared food items and managed to raise a substantial amount of money.
Later that day, TCA held a school-wide event that focused on the destruction in East Africa. As our school consists of many elementary-school aged children, their young age meant that many may not be able to fully grasp the degree and impact of this disaster. To them, the fundraiser was just a provision of delicious food that they enjoyed eating.
In order to promote a global awareness outside of oneself as well as to communicate the plight of the affected, the administration put together a concise video-and-powerpoint presentation to show everyone the negative impacts this cyclone had on the countries in East Africa. More specifically, it showed how the Cyclone had changed each ordinary person’s life in regards to basic needs such as food and shelter. Discussions were guided on a personal level: in the event of a natural disaster, how would we react? What could we do to overcome such an event?
Perhaps the most impactful takeaway from the event was when our school principal, Susan SG, talked about how, as a result of food shortages, one shelter was only able to provide a single cup of beans. At the time, it was impossible to receive additional resources due to road blockages. She asked everyone how many people we thought were sharing that one cup of beans. The children made guesses ranging from five to ten people; in reality, she later revealed to our shock, there had been approximately 40 people who had been made to share that singular cup of beans.
All students were silent from shock that so many people were rationing that little cup of beans. It was a sobering story that helped to put the reality of the affectees’ struggles in perspective, allowing even the youngest schoolchildren to better understand the reality of the natural disaster. In this way, we hope that they are able to see beyond the mere food items of our fundraiser, and better understand how these funds can make a difference in the lives of others. It was truly heartwarming to see many of the students approach their parents for money to donate, wanting to help out as much as they could.
Our event’s main goal was to raise money to aid those affected by Cyclone Idai. But, more than just the money we were able to raise, we wish to raise awareness of the plight of the people affected by natural disasters around the world, and allow more people to truly understand and appreciate what ordinary people can do within their own means to extend a helping hand.
In this case, with regards to Cyclone Idai, there exists a challenge in attempting to communicate the adversity survivors face because we are so far removed from the situation, and this is all the more so when we are trying to convey this understanding to young children. Instead of numbers and statistical data, the administration focused on the personal stories of the affected and related their circumstances to our own ordinary lives.
Although numbers and generalizations are harrowing, it is the personal details that are able to resonate with people of all ages and all walks of life. Fundraisers are singular events; more than the simple action of purchasing food or donating money, it is what we learn in terms of a global awareness that we carry with us for the rest of our lives.
Take another step toward humanitarianism and help Tzu Chi relieve suffering after Cyclone Idai now.