East Africa was hit twice by Cyclone Idai in mid-March 2019. The storm brought torrential rains that led to severe flooding in Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique, with the Province of Sofala in central Mozambique bearing the brunt of the disaster.
Tzu Chi volunteers travelled as far away as Taiwan to the three countries to conduct aid distributions, and they plan to hold large-scale free clinics from 17th to 25th May for the disaster victims.
Medical team departs to Africa together with medical equipment
The medical relief team consisted of 52 Tzu Chi volunteers, who hailed from the United States, Australia, Hong Kong and Taiwan. They included hospital superintendents from four major hospitals in Taiwan, doctors from various disciplines, and members of the Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA).
Due to the long distance and limited seats in the connecting flights to Africa, the medical relief team had to depart in two groups on two separate days. In the afternoon of 16th May, a group of 11 people arrived at Tzu Chi Taiwan’s Taoyuan Jing Si Hall for a briefing and to pack some of the medical equipment and medicines prior to departure.
Tzu Chi’s General Affairs personnel, Liao Ming Chuan, said, "Today, we have packed the dental equipment, toothbrushes, dental beds, air compressors, pipes, materials for Buddha Bathing Ceremony, etc. They are packed into 11 boxes weighing 233kg, which the first team of volunteers will bring with them on board. Tomorrow, there will be another 26 volunteers who will bring with them other medical supplies."
A rare opportunity not to be missed
Tzu Chi also plans to conduct a Buddha Bathing Ceremony during the trip to Mozambique. Tzu Chi volunteer Chen Mei Hui shared that she would be bringing 84 handmade “lotus flowers” that were used for an outdoor Buddha Bathing Ceremony in Nantou, Taiwan on 12th May, to Mozambique. The “lotus flowers” were made by volunteers using used PET bottles.
This was the first occasion Tzu Chi Taiwan mobilised a large number of volunteers to Africa, so everyone really cherished the opportunity to join the relief mission. Among them was TIMA dental assistant Huang Feng Jiao, who had been to Jordan once to serve in a Tzu Chi free clinic. Therefore, she was able to relate with the difficult conditions in an overseas aid mission.
"When I saw the heart-moving footages of the African Tzu Chi volunteers spreading the Dharma in their homeland, I told myself that I would definitely seize the opportunity to volunteer in a Tzu Chi free clinic in Africa, if ever there was one," shared Huang.
Another volunteer, Chen Mei Hui, just went to Myanmar to participate in Tzu Chi’s rice seed distribution in mid-February and March this year. Just as Chen and her husband, Dr. Hong Qi Fen, were going to accompany their daughter to Germany, where the latter would be working, she received the invitation to join the medical relief mission.
When she was hesitating whether to accept the invitation or not, Dr. Hong encouraged her and said, "This is a rare opportunity, you should seize it!"
And that made her decide to join the trip.
The power of compassion keeps charity going
The team of 11 Tzu Chi volunteers arrived at Johannesburg in South Africa past 7am on 17th May. They were then joined by Ye Xin Yi, a nurse from Australia, before travelling together to Mozambique’s Beira in a small airplane.
Those volunteers who were travelling to the cyclone-stricken areas in Africa for the first time initially could not feel the “scars” left by the cyclone that devastated East Africa over two months ago. But as the airplane approached Beira, they could clearly see that Pungwe River and its tributaries were still turbid and muddy, and the coconut trees on both sides of the river were bent towards the same direction after being blown by the strong winds of the cyclone. The thick, tangled roots of the trees (which had been uprooted by the cyclone) scattered all over the ground; they were evidence of how powerful the winds were when the cyclone struck.
The medical relief team checked into the Chinese-owned Golden Peacock Resort Hotel upon arrival at Beira. The hotel is only about a 7 to 8-minute drive from the airport. Not far from the hotel, there was a tent area set up by the government to accommodate cyclone victims, who lived without water and power in the hot and humid weather. As the volunteers felt for the plight of the affected residents, they learned to count their blessings and feel grateful for what they have in life.
After dinner, staff from the Tzu Chi headquarters in Taiwan, Lv Zong Han and Zhang You Ping, gave a briefing about Tzu Chi’s disaster relief operations in Mozambique. Lv mentioned that the number of local volunteers had exceeded 500, which was more than what was originally expected by Denise Tsai, the volunteer in charge of Tzu Chi’s missions in Mozambique.
"We are most grateful to Dino Foi and (his wife,) Denise Tsai. Dino is a local who is ‘assisting foreigners to help his own country’. But he is willing to give up his high pay job to live and strive together with his fellow countrymen. His spirit has impressed Tzu Chi volunteers greatly," he said.
Denise shared that she felt very touched to see so many Tzu Chi volunteers from all over the world coming to Mozambique to support her and the locals.
"I believe that the power of compassion will groom more Tzu Chi volunteers in Mozambique and lotus flowers will bloom from every step we take," said Denise.
Stephen Huang, who mentors Tzu Chi’s global volunteers, has been visiting Africa to guide the local volunteers since last year. He has also been stationed in Mozambique for some time post Cyclone Idai, to help plan for the rebuilding of schools and the free clinics. He said to everyone: "People who are able to make it to Africa to volunteer themselves are very blessed. We should bless ourselves. The best spiritual cultivation ground for Tzu Chi volunteers is among the people."
Mozambique is a young country that has only gained its independence 24 years ago. With a population of 30 million, the country covers an area that is 22 times the land size of Taiwan. Stephen Huang reminded all the volunteers to cherish every minute of their time here and seize the opportunity to interact with the local volunteers. He also asked them to pass on Tzu Chi’s spirit of love and care to the locals and to give the latter support and encouragement.