Written by Huan Xun Chan
Edited by Dilber Shatursun
At Tzu Chi Northwest’s charity concert, “Gratitude, Respect, and Love,” three volunteers from Chico, California shared with the audience what they saw, heard, and experienced thru Camp Fire recovery.
“There’s an urgency with winter approaching,” disaster case manager Bobbie Rae Jones said. She went on to explain that many families still battled with homelessness after last year’s Camp Fire, which wiped out the town of Paradise, CA, on November 8, 2018. More than 18,000 buildings turned to ash; about 52,000 people evacuated and left their homes.
Ten months later, the goal of rebuilding or returning home is a big hope for many families. But, the future remains unclear.
Even for those with housing, many Camp Fire survivors struggle with stable income, steady jobs, and even bare necessities like water and electricity. “A lot of people are washing out of a basin right now, they warm the water on the stove out of a trailer,” Jones elaborated.
After Tzu Chi’s short-term disaster relief efforts ended at the end of 2018, Tzu Chi volunteers then shifted their operations to encompass long-term recovery. This would mean they would open cases for individuals and families in need of sustainable assistance, and that volunteers would lead case management.
This encouraged the help of local volunteers. And, on September 12th, Tzu Chi held its second local volunteer orientation for their benefit.
“Walking into the arena of the [Tzu Chi] Foundation, knowing what Buddhism is about, [I think] this is perfect. But, again, it wasn’t perfect for me, it was how the spirit just chose this blessed opportunity,” said disaster case manager Baba Kauna Mujamal.
Mujamal joined Tzu Chi in August 2019 after Jones referred him. He sees Tzu Chi as a “loving” organization that aligns with his own spirit. Watching a documentary film of Tzu Chi’s, Mujamal noticed Tzu Chi volunteers wearing whites pants and blue or gray tops during disaster relief missions. “I have to admit, I do struggle with conforming, I do struggle in imaging in my own little way, but this feels more of a gift of service,” he remarked.
Mujamal has many years of experience in the fields of therapy and counseling. However, he still finds disaster case management very different from what he has done before. “I have never been around with these [many] disasters, never seen it in this mass. It’s interesting how it pulls at the heartstring but also allows you to stay centered,” Mujamal said.
In contrast to Mujamal, Camp Fire survivor and singer-songwriter Skip Culton crossed paths with Tzu Chi immediately after the Camp Fire. He, too, attended the new volunteer orientation on his first day officially joining Tzu Chi for Camp Fire long-term recovery work.
“I’m still trying to navigate my way through while finding strength and courage really to keep putting one foot in front of the other with this great journey we have in front of us, to help survivors,” Culton said.
He’s been a Paradise resident for more than 20 years, and after the fire, he wrote a song called, “Another Prayer for Paradise.” In December 2018, the Tzu Chi USA media team connected with him through its disaster relief efforts and produced a music video for this song.
To Culton, working in Tzu Chi for disaster recovery isn’t just a regular job.