Tzu Chi gives relief goods to quake survivors in Myanmar

News and Press Release
Originally published

A 6.8 magnitude tremor shook Myanmar, near its border with Thailand, causing the deaths of 75 people on March 24. Tzu Chi volunteers were allowed special permission to enter the quake-hit area, in the first step to distributing aid to survivors.

A Tzu Chi disaster assessment team composed of Burmese and Malaysian volunteers arrived a few days later in hard-hit Tachilek, Myanmar. Less than a week later, on the 4th of April, volunteers handed out aid relief to local residents, most of whom were members of an ethnic minority indigenous to the area. Despite the fact that none of the volunteers spoke the local's language, their love and compassion was enough to overcome any communication obstacles.

On March 30, after obtaining the permission of the Myanmar government, a group of six Tzu Chi volunteers from Malaysia and Myanmar entered the stricken area of Tachilek to conduct a survey. Tzu Chi was the first foreign NGO to be allowed in. Escorted by a military officer, the volunteers went from village to village, noting the details of each household. They found the residents huddled in tents, after their homes had been reduced to rubble or had become too dangerous to stay in. Too afraid to go back to home, whole families were sleeping in temporary shelters. Through an interpreter, the volunteers visited each family to understand their most pressing needs. Knowing that somebody cared for them, one woman was moved to tears and was comforted by a hug from the volunteers. The volunteers drew up a name list for the relief distribution. Communications were down in the disaster area, but the volunteers worked hard to overcome every obstacle to provide the supplies badly needed by the survivors.

Tzu Chi volunteer carried out the distribution in two Buddhist temples in Dar Lay city. The recipients were divided into three categories. The first were those who had lost family members, the second those who had lost their homes and had nowhere to live and the third whose homes were damaged but still habitable. All three groups received the same goods, including straw mats, oil, table salt, mosquito nets, water buckets, soap and sarees. In addition, those in the first category received 100,000 Myanmar kyats, canvas and eco blankets and those in the second category received 50,000 kyats and eco blankets, those in the third category received 20,000 kyats.

It was the first distribution for the local volunteers, who speak Burmese. The recipients belong to a minority group, the Shan, and most of them speak only the Shan language. Only one volunteer could speak their language. So, most of the volunteers had to express their love and concern despite the language barrier. They understood the trauma which the survivors had been through and their fears for the future. The volunteer read a letter of condolence from Master Cheng Yen, the founder of Tzu Chi Foundation which they translated into Burmese and into Shan. When they heard it, the recipients were very touched. When the volunteers sang the song "We are One Family", everyone burst into tears.

One recipient said:" the items you are bringing us are all things we badly need. We will continue to live bravely. As for those who have passed away, we will let them go with an open heart." Another said: "your song has really touched our hearts, it is very beautiful. This quake has made the people in the village love each other more. A third said: "If you had not come, we would not have had these items. You are giving us the strength to go on."

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