As the excitement of the New Year slowly faded away, another celebration took its place in Haiti on January 21, 2012, as Tzu Chi broke ground on three new schools for the island nation. Exactly two years prior - on January 21, 2010 - Tzu Chi volunteers entered Haiti to provide relief to a country overrun with despair and devastated by the January 12 earthquake.
Since that day two years ago, volunteers from Tzu Chi Foundation have always remained committed to the long-term health of the island. On the second anniversary of the beginning of the relief effort, Tzu Chi broke ground on three schools run by the Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Anne. Just two years removed from the unbearable devastation of the earthquake, breaking ground on these three schools is a particularly poignant reminder of the countless challenges that locals and volunteers have had to overcome in a very short time. A Milestone in Hope and Love without Borders
On the morning of January 21, the groundbreaking ceremony opened with a simple greeting from Tzu Chi volunteer Lori Chen: “Thank you all for coming. This is truly a milestone in Haiti's recovery.” The ceremony was both a new beginning and the culmination of two years of tireless efforts by Tzu Chi volunteers. Volunteer James Chen has traveled to Haiti 17 times since the earthquake to help coordinate the school rebuilding project. Chen emotionally expressed, “Leaving [the people of Haiti] was never an option for us.
We all worked hard together, but none more than our founder Master Cheng Yen whose heart went out to the people of Haiti. So no matter what obstacles we encountered, there was only one option: to overcome it.” Overseas Engineering & Construction Corp. (OECC) has lent its full support to Tzu Chi and will undertake the entire rebuilding construction work. Executive Vice President David Chang said, “For us, this wasn't about winning some major project for revenue, but rather doing charity work, so we volunteer our service and help to build [the schools] well.” OECC's America Regional President, Peter Jan, added that rebuilding the schools is a form of corporate social responsibility: “We're also very grateful to and impressed by Tzu Chi volunteers' compassionate commitment, and making it possible for us to participate.
It's an honor for us too.” Interfaith Unity in Education, Hope, and Great Love Sister Rita Larivee, General Superior of the Sisters of Saint Anne, made a special trip from the congregation's headquarters in Montreal, Canada, for the groundbreaking ceremony. Sister Rita said, “Montreal, [Hualien]. Buddhist, Catholic. It’s a phenomenal undertaking to see cultures so different – whether because of our nationalities or because of our religions – able to focus on one thing in common, and this to unlock the freedom for children to have education.” A symbolic scattering of soil christened the construction process that continues the long-term dedication of Tzu Chi volunteers to Haiti. Feeling the significance of the occasion, Tzu Chi volunteer James Chen explained, “This was Master Cheng Yen's wish; we just did what we could to make it happen. Now that the contract is in place and construction is underway, all will be on track from now on.”
Dr. William Keh, CEO of Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, has long been committed to relief efforts in Haiti and was also on hand for the ceremony. “The future of these children is truly our common goal. To rebuild hope in Haiti, education for the children is of utmost importance.” Construction on all three schools is expected to be completed in 14 months. While January 21, 2012, marks a new beginning for the local Haitian people, there will never be an end to the care and companionship given by Tzu Chi volunteers.
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