Giving Grains of Hope in Port-au-Prince
Updates | June 25, 2018 by Tzu Chi USA
Having survived so much disaster, turmoil, and economic disadvantage, we believe in the power of the people of Haiti to overcome. In the past, we have demonstrated our commitment to giving a helping hand to our Haitian neighbors. Our commitment to them has never been stronger.
Through our volunteer trips to Haiti, we’re proud to work side-by-side with locals to address everyday Haitians’ true needs. This spring, our mission was nourishing Port-au-Prince’s most impoverished.
As such, we have successfully distributed 40,000 bags of rice to 40,692 Haitian families this spring… that’s 400 tons!
Over the course of 4 days, eight large-scale distributions were held between May 28 to June 1, with smaller distributions at places like the OPEPB Central Kitchen, the Hospital Foyer Saint Camille, the San Ann Congregation, and more. This is our daily diary.
Taking A Big Step Forward at the Cité Soleil Canteen
After having met Dharma Master Cheng Yen in Taiwan, Father Zuchi Obrice- who is also the Head of École Salesienne De Don Bosco School in Port-au-Prince, Haiti- started a new program at a canteen in Cité Soleil to help relieve hunger. We visited it to distribute rice and offer our support. The program currently provides food for 1,700 students and 250 elderly people, whereas these individuals may not have access to essential, consistent meals otherwise.
Monique Noel, part of the canteen’s cooking team, told us “we cook the food for all the schools in Cite Soleil, San Juan Bosco, and downtown. After we cook the food, we deliver it.” We’re glad to have helped give them a few more resources to do the beautiful work they are doing.
Indeed, Cité Soleil resident Nerzilia Pierre tells us “I’m very happy. It’s just rice, but sometimes I don’t get to eat, and it causes a lot of stress.” It both breaks our heart yet encourages us to do more that, for many, a bag of rice can mean the difference between having food for their families and their neighbors, and going hungry.
“I’m very happy. It’s just rice, but sometimes I don’t get to eat, and it causes a lot of stress.”
- Nerzilia Pierre
Nourishing Children and Fostering Strength through Charity
As of today, we have officially distributed 26,649 bags to Haitian families across Port-au-Prince, in both Cité Soleil and La Saline!
Throughout this mission, we have strived to provide crucial nourishment for those who would otherwise be forced to go without, and help bright young students in La Saline, like at the Don Bosco school, succeed. Father Zuchi Obrice tells us, “we want to thank Master Cheng Yen who understands that we cannot educate people without food.”
“We have a Haitian proverb that says ‘an empty sack doesn’t stand up.’”
- Father Zuchi Obrice
Yet, for many children in Haiti, hunger is a constant issue. “Education helps the children become someone important in the future,” said Clermina Durand, Principal of Saint-Antoine De Padoue School. We were touched by the devotion of the teachers in Cité Soleil and privileged to get a glimpse of students’ lives as we held a truly heartwarming rice distribution for the parents of these kindergarteners!
Many volunteers also donned our signature yellow vests to successfully complete a rice distribution in Cité Soleil and even in La Saline. Serving others with all their hearts, they provided much-needed hope and sowed the seeds of kindness throughout their community.
Giving Sustenance to Vulnerable Populations in Port-au-Prince
There’s nothing like wholesome food to give people a reason to smile. And, as school lets out for summer and children will be eating more at home, our distributions couldn’t come at a better time.
We are also grateful for the help of volunteers who help us ensure that no one gets left behind.
Tzu Chi Haiti volunteer Father Zuchi Obrice introduced our team to a very precious yet very vulnerable portion of Cité Soleil’s population: the blind, elderly, and those with disabilities. Often overlooked or even shunned, we’re proud to be able to give them the nutritious boost they need with rice they can cook for their families as well as hot meals.
Moreover, when we offer our help, we are excited when others pitch in to join us. And, more often than not, these volunteers have modest means themselves.
“Volunteering means serving the people. You don’t expect to receive anything in return,” said Doctor Madiani, a Tzu Chi Haiti volunteer. Annie David also told us “we are strong. We want to help the population. We want to help the nation.” We’re so inspired by their effort, their passion, and their willingness to give back.
Rice Distributions Begin in Cité Soleil & La Saline
Today, we held our first rice distributions in the towns of Cité Soleil and La Saline in Port-au-Prince, and what a success they were! They are the first of more to come this week, and we’re so thankful for the effort of our dedicated volunteers, who came from near and far, to ease the economic burdens of families in these poverty-stricken areas.
Upon receiving a bag of rice from Tzu Chi USA, Thercilia Laurent, a resident of the impoverished Cité Soleil, said “I’m gonna take it home and eat it and share with those who don’t have any.” There are few rewards greater than someone being willing to pay a charitable act forward.
As our distributions continue, volunteers from Tzu Chi USA and Tzu Chi France arrive from abroad to help. For many families, the rice is a much needed help and promise of nourishment for the community- from within.
Cité Soleil itself is notorious for its dangerous, impoverished, and densely populated landscape. In fact, it’s even considered to be among the worst slums in all the Americas. At the same time, we are grateful to have had the opportunity to fill stomachs and bring smiles to residents- even if over a few grains of rice.
Still, donating rice may seem like a modest gesture. But, for families like those that live in other areas of Port-au-Prince, like La Saline, too, it’s a lifeline. Local resident Jean Francklin told us, “the people are suffering a lot. They can’t get food. It’s really important to continue this.”
At the distribution, we also had the chance to speak and work with a few bright stars in the community; those who are striving to pave the way for Haiti’s future generations, one bag of rice at a time.
Celebrating Mother’s Day, the Haitian Way
Our visit to Haiti comes right in time for Mother's Day, always celebrated on the last Sunday of May in the island nation. It’s also a holy month in which Catholics honor the Virgin Mary. For such an auspicious and celebratory occasion, Tzu Chi volunteers wanted to learn about the Haitian way of commemorating loved ones.
A Buddha Bathing Ceremony Takes Place in Port-au-Prince
We held a Buddha Bathing Ceremony in Port-au-Prince, Haiti! The heartwarming event took place at our new Tzu Chi Campus in a predominantly Catholic and even Vodou community. We were joined by our dedicated local volunteers, who even shared what it means to practice “compassion in action.”
A beautiful connection emerged among all present as people from different faiths came together as one family. Our footprint of humanitarian aid has left its mark on this nation for years, where our disaster recovery missions and rice distributions have had an impact in helping bring relief.
In a tradition that imbues gratitude, respect, and love for the Buddha and his teachings, we hope to inspire a brighter future.
In time for celebration, Tzu Chi USA hosted a ceremony to bathe the Buddha at our campus in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, alongside our dedicated Haitian volunteers.
Tzu Chi Returns to Haiti
Throughout our previous humanitarian aid missions in Haiti, we have witnessed the true resilience and strength of heart that the people of Haiti possess. Their homes have been bombarded with disasters from Hurricane Georges in 1998, to the tragic earthquake in 2010, Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and then Matthew in 2016. For many, life has not been easy.
Hunger is prevalent, but so is the desire for educational advancement. By providing our rice distributions and sincere support over the next week, we can empower those who need a helping hand, and endeavor to ensure students can thrive despite the challenges their families may face.