“Are there any Tzu Chi volunteers in Berlin, Germany? My niece is a graduate student in Germany. My sister is worried for her daughter because there are no face masks over there, should I ask my niece to come back to Taiwan?”
Caring for International Students
The Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) is spreading globally in an ongoing pandemic with Europe becoming the next epicentre of the disease. To prevent the disease from spreading, some schools are closed while many countries have adopted stricter border control. As the announcement came with very short notice, several international students were trapped in Europe, prompting a Taiwanese to seek help from Tzu Chi through social media.
“This is my friend’s daughter. She does not have any face mask nor hand sanitizers. She just went to UK last September. I hope you can help her.”
This message was circulated online and eventually came to the notice of a Tzu Chi UK volunteer, Susan Ong.
Some parents of international students were concerned that their children were unable to grab hold of any hand sanitizers, face masks nor bleach for cleaning purposes. While these parents were contemplating whether to ask their children to return to Taiwan, they hoped that Tzu Chi volunteers could help to check-in on their children and provide some help in terms of sending them face masks or showing them some care.
After receiving the requests and the basic personal details of the students, Tzu Chi volunteers started making phone calls to the respective international students to understand more about their needs. The action that followed was the distribution of care packages that contained multi-grain instant mixes, tea bags, instant noodles, face masks and other personal protective items to the students. Apart from that, volunteers had also given each student a keychain and a Jing Si Aphorism card in three languages, hoping that they will remain calm during such time of crisis.
Tzu Chi UK volunteers have also begun to check-in on international and exchange students by sending face masks to them. Inside the envelopes, the volunteers included the English version of Master Cheng Yen’s advice to promote love and kindness. Besides, they also encouraged the students to consume less meat and pray with a sincere heart. Upon receiving the message and face masks from the volunteers, the students responded by sending photos of themselves receiving the parcels to express their gratitude.
Volunteers do their best to send love and avoid spreading the disease
Besides doing extra sessions of epidemic relief, the usual charity work carried out by Tzu Chi UK volunteers were also slightly adjusted where the food distribution for the homeless on 14 March was modified to distribution of pre-packed cooked meals. Besides that, the homeless also received a set of epidemic relief care package to help them sail through this difficult time.
After distributing food for the homeless, volunteers headed to Yalding (in Kent county) to follow up on the situation of the residents in the aftermath of a flood. Relieved to see that the residents have returned to their normal life, volunteers distributed safety goggles, face masks and Jing Si Aphorisms booklets to the residents.
Although Europeans do not have the habit of wearing face masks, the European Tzu Chi volunteers were still determined to make cloth face masks for people who need them. A volunteer who has never tried sewing was diligently learning how to sew using her daughter’s sewing machine. She said, “Since I am not doing much at home, might as well use the time to make things that are needed by others.”
Maria is a Portuguese volunteer who does not speak Mandarin; she too is contributing her time and effort in a charity organization which she usually helps, by sewing cloth face masks.
Volunteers could not leave their homes after the lockdown in France. Therefore, they had to look for volunteers who are living nearby to the needy to help distribute face masks when they received the emergency requests for face masks. All these were no easy tasks that challenges the wisdom and patience of the volunteers, but like the saying goes - if there is a will, there is a way!
With the worsening of the virus situation, emotional turmoil is inevitable. Volunteers made good use of technology to invite everyone to pray for peace and love in the world. The volunteers also promote vegetarianism through the sharing of recipes and cooking methods on social media. The social media has also become a mean to care for others and spread messages of positivity, in the hope of bringing calmness amid chaos.