2016 Parangal Lingkod Sambayanan awardee shares disaster management experience
Representatives of Tzu Chi Foundation Philippines shared their experience in disaster relief operations in the country as an awardee in Ateneo’s Traditional University Awards given during the Special Academic Convocation last Sept. 27, 2016.
Tzu Chi Foundation is the world’s biggest Buddhist organization. Their main mission is “to spread love” to those in need in terms of charity, medical assistance, educational support and humanistic culture appreciation.
Ateneo Vice President for Social Development, Atty. Jaime G. Hofileña likened the teachings of Master Cheng Yen, founder of the Tzu Chi Foundation, Parangal Lingkod Sambayanan awardee, to that of St. Ignatius of Loyola.
“There is, in the deepest of ways, similarities. We have resonance in humanitarianism rooted in spirituality,” Hofileña said.
He added that the Ateneo has much to learn from Tzu Chi, in helping others and in the spiritual transformation.
Likewise, the Dean of the School of Social Sciences, Dr. Fernando Aldaba, said that through the right motivation from an inspiring leader, volunteerism is here to stay and disaster risk reduction and management can be efficient and effective.
“The story of Tzu Chi Foundation is a breath of fresh air,” Dean Aldaba said. “In our current situation where we see a lot of polarization, fragmentation and violence, we see a positive story--and we need a lot of stories like this in our society.”
Decades of Excellence and Disaster Risk and Reduction Management
Tzu Chi, translated as “compassion relief,” lives by the teachings of Master Cheng Yen. In 1991, she received the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Tzu Chi’s donation to the victims of the Mt. Pinatubo eruption. Since then, Tzu Chi has been helping the country, especially in disaster relief efforts.
When Typhoons Ondoy and Yolanda struck, Tzu Chi was one of the first teams to respond. Tzu Chi Chief-Executive-Officer, Alfredo Li, and other Tzu Chi volunteers shared their experiences during the 2 calamities.
“When we arrived in Tacloban, it was totally devastated. The people were dumbfounded. They didn’t know what to do. They were just waiting for relief goods,” Li said.
He asked for Master Cheng Yen’s advice and she told them to start a cash-for-work program where the people were paid more than the minimum wage so they could afford basic needs.
Upon spreading the news about the program, Li thought thousands would participate but only 610 people came. He said that the people didn’t know who the Tzu Chi Foundation was and thought it a scam. Nevertheless, they paid the workers PhP500 each.
“The next day, 2,500 people came. On the 3rd day, 5,500 people came. On the 4th day, 9,500 people came. On the 5th day, 15,000 people came,” Li said. “So many people came to join, even from the other places.”
Li called Master Cheng Yen again and told her they were being swarmed. Master Cheng Yen told him, “The people need the money. You accept all of them.”
Prior to this, a similar operation happened in Marikina during Ondoy. Michael Siao, one of the volunteers there, said that the cash-for-work program provided many benefits, such as the quick restoration of the environment, prevention of the spread of diseases, rehabilitation of the survivors and the awareness to share positive inspiration. “Every time we organize the people, we boost their morale,” he said. “We give inspiring messages and share Tzu Chi sayings so we can soothe the hearts of the people.”
Tzu Chi Commissioner Rita Tan said that through Master Cheng Yen’s teachings, they not only helped the victims of calamities but also the volunteers. As the Chinese say, “To be in this life as a human is a blessing. To be able to hear the dharma teachings is also a blessing, but to be able to have a good mentor is the most blessing of all.”
Finally, in order to maintain the organization’s efforts, Commissioner Sally Yunez said that Tzu Chi has set up programs that will help the residents in the long run. These programs include having a mini-cooperative and tricycle financing, giving kitchen and food services, holding workshops on baking, sewing, gardening and farming and providing scholarships.
Aside from the 4 major missions, Tzu Chi Foundation Philippines also has active programs on international disaster relief, bone marrow donation, community volunteerism and environmental protection. They have been in the country for 22 years and are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year.