Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation
EPIC partners play an important role in emergencies. Learn about a different partner each month.
What is the mission of your organization?
Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation is an international humanitarian organization whose mission is to relieve the suffering of those in need and to create a better world for all. Its operations can be broken down into four primary missions: charity, medicine, education, and humanistic culture.
- Tzu Chi’s Mission of Charity embodies the organization’s name and core philosophy: compassionate relief. Its programs consist of food and non food item distributions, financial assistance, and psychosocial support for vulnerable populations, especially for those affected by natural disasters.
- Tzu Chi’s Mission of Medicine promotes health care for the underprivileged. With a comprehensive network of hospitals, mobile units, and volunteer medical professionals, Tzu Chi provides free medical services to those who have limited or no access.
- Tzu Chi’s Mission of Education reflects the organization’s firm belief that education of the next generation is the key to a sustainable and successful future. Tzu Chi builds and operates schools, colleges, and universities worldwide that combine a strong education with the principles of virtue, compassion, and selflessness.
- Tzu Chi’s Mission of Humanistic Culture fosters and preserves a culture and language of gracefulness, civic responsibility, selflessness, and morality, offering spiritual guidance for developing love and compassion.
What is the role of your organization in a public health emergency?
During public health emergencies, Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation mobilizes its volunteer medical professionals, under the Tzu Chi International Medical Association, to areas with the largest affected population using its mobile clinic vehicles. The medical professionals provide complementary primary health care services, including acupuncture, physical examinations, and triage. Dental and vision services are also offered, free of cost. Infected individuals will be treated, if treatment is available.
Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) education is a key component in the medical outreach sessions, as good hygienic practices prevent the spread of contagious diseases. In some instances, Tzu Chi offers free haircuts in disaster shelters to promote good hygiene practices. When food security is threatened, beneficiaries are given bags of nutritious instant rice. Tzu Chi also donates gloves, plastic bags, masks, and buckets to disaster-affected populations to prevent mold, dust inhalation, and vector borne diseases.
A unique strength of Tzu Chi is its ability to bring together the communities that they serve, acting as facilitators between the affected communities, government, and civil society providers. This work helps facilitate the delivery of necessary services to affected populations, while galvanizing the community to find ways to empower themselves.
How do you plan for emergencies?
Certified Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation volunteers undergo 2 years of training in areas of humanitarian aid, community engagement, and emergency response before receiving the signature blue and white uniform.
Internally, Tzu Chi holds monthly disaster drills to prepare its staff and large volunteer base for any disasters that may come. Tzu Chi also participates in the yearly Shake-Out sessions. In the event of emergencies, all Tzu Chi offices have prepared emergency buckets containing essential supplies. Tzu Chi firmly believes in protection of self before helping others. Externally, Tzu Chi hosts disaster preparedness workshops, educating local communities, particularly the Asian-American community, on how to prepare for emergency situations as well as what to do during a crisis.
Tzu Chi also partners with government agencies, such as FEMA, and other organizations specializing in disaster response, such as the American Red Cross and the Community Emergency Response Team, to share resources and information. Training sessions from partner organizations, such as CPR certification, are offered to many Tzu Chi volunteers. Additionally, Tzu Chi volunteers participate in quarterly CDC webinars to keep up with health-related issues.
What is one experience or lesson learned that you have from an emergency response?
Because of the nature of disasters, the hardest hit populations are often those who are already disadvantaged, where the infrastructure is already at-risk. We saw a perfect example of this recently in Puerto Rico following Maria. Everyone is affected, but communities with already weak infrastructure and governance will face an even worse situation. In these locations, activation, mobilization, and implementation are even more difficult.
For Tzu Chi and many organizations providing aid and relief, most responders parachute in from other locations, something these communities rarely see. This means that there are knowledge and understanding gaps between them and the served population. These issues inevitably cause flaws and barriers in logistics; coordination; response; and, most importantly, communication. An effective way to mitigate such barriers is to engage with the community served and empower them to become leaders in their own aid.
What is one piece of advice that you would give to other EPIC partners?
Be ready—know that disaster and emergency situations are predictably unpredictable. As an organization, as a provider, as an individual working in a team with other responders and aid actors, preparing and having the capacity to adjust and adapt in the face of the unknown, especially when resources and manpower are spread thin, are vital to the sustainability of the organization and the health of the individual responder.
Being prepared for these types of situations, such as hurricane response when responders have not even finished with relief and recovery from a previous storm, means having strong partnerships as well as relationships and friends to lean on. Further, be open, ready, and willing to engage with new partners to develop relationships that may or may not be conventional. It really is in times of disasters and emergencies that people and communities must have the courage to not just continue on and push through, but to lean on one another; put faith in one another; and trust that, by doing so, sustainable recovery can truly be attained.
Additionally, placing faith and trust in one another, and having this sense of open-mindedness and ability to engage with partners, both conventional and nonconventional, will naturally foster an organic sense of altruism. Individuals and organizations will not be working to receive credit, and more cynically, funding, but will instead very simply and naturally work for the sake and betterment of those they serve.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention1600 Clifton Rd
Atlanta, GA 30333