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Buddhist charity aids tsunami victims

By Meifang Lee, Taipei Times, Jan 7, 2005

Taipei, Taiwan -- Quick to respond to the recent tsunami that devastated countries in the Indian Ocean, various Taiwanese charities sent relief supplies including food, water and medicine almost immediately after hearing word of the catastrophe.

Among these, the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation is perhaps the best example of what Taiwan's nongovernmental organizations can aspire to. It was founded in 1966 by Buddhist Master Cheng Yen and today has dozens of branches worldwide.

Since New Year's Day, the foundation's volunteers have run a vast fundraising campaign in Taiwan and abroad. Tzu Chi plans to continue raising funds for tsunami victims until March 31. The group's volunteers, dressed in their hallmark blue-and-white uniforms, are visible at busy street corners and major train stations in several cities in Taiwan. They can also be seen in the United States, holding bilingual signs with pictures of the devastated region.

Ross Anthony, a U.S.-based writer, is one of many Westerners helping out Taiwan's most famous charity group. Anthony volunteered to hold the donation box in front of his local Wal-Mart in order to help Tzu Chi.

The relief efforts started much earlier, according to the foundation. Immediately after the tsunami, Tzu Chi volunteers in Penang, Malaysia, began providing hot meals to disaster victims, rescue workers and the families of the casualties. While some of them teamed up to help victims search through the rubble for survivors, others distributed food to the locals.

Still others lent their shoulders to comfort the bereaved.

Within days, Tzu Chi volunteers around the world got organized. They mobilized all available manpower and headed for Aceh province within a few days of the earthquake.

Before long, the group's representatives were pitching in in Penang, Thailand's Phuket, and Medan, the capital of Sumatra. Currently, Tzu Chi medical teams from Taiwan and Singapore are bringing medical supplies and equipment to Sri Lanka in preparation for long-term medical assistance in that country.

The group's founder Cheng Yen issued an open appeal Dec. 28, saying "When disaster strikes a region, everyone everywhere ought to help." The appeal was met with quick response from people all over the island. The very same day, each of the teachers at the foundation's educational institutions, which include a university, a technical college, a junior high school and an elementary school, donated a day's income. Many individual and group visitors made donations at the foundation's Jing Si Abode in Hualien. Local companies were quick to follow suit with cash donations of their own.

Other non-governmental organizations, including the Red Cross Society of the Republic of China and World Vision Taiwan, are playing an important role in channeling aid from Taiwanese people to countries in need.

The Taiwan Fund for Children and Families is currently working with other organizations to effect relief efforts and locate the children it helps sponsor in the affected area. Many Taiwanese people who sponsor children in the tsunami-hit region have been anxious to get information about their foster kids. However, due to the communication lines being down, the organization is not able to provide information on individual children. It will, however, inform sponsors right away once it determines the status of their foster children, according to a statement issued by the charity group.

Meanwhile, the ROC government has promised US$50 million in relief funds.

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