The Dharma Comes Home to Nepal
Returning with Compassion to the Buddha’s Birthplace
There are two peaks in Nepal. One is the mighty Himalayas and the other a pinnacle of human civilization -- Buddhism. Nepal is the birthplace of the Buddha. As such, it attracts thousands of tourists; but, for many centuries, her people have been living in poverty and suffering. When a devastating earthquake struck Nepal in April 25, 2015, living conditions became even worse for them.
As a Buddhist organization, Tzu Chi Foundation inspired its volunteers and they departed for Nepal two days after the earthquake. Fifteen of them, including five medical doctors, brought 1.4 tonne of medicine and relief materials; they hoped to provide immediate support to the victims of the earthquake. Tzu Chi’s mission to Nepal was no simple matter; it had no prior connection to the country – except for one project in 1993. The foundation built 1,800 permanent homes for the survivors of severe flooding in the Makwanpur, Rautahat and Sarlahi districts. After that, it ended all its relationships in the country. Therefore, the volunteers were particularly grateful that Dr. Keshab Man Shakya, former Minister of Science, Technology, and the Environment, met us the moment arrived at the airport of Kathmandu. He introduced us to leaders of the major political parties that very day, to let them know our principles and motivation in coming to support the survivors of the earthquake. It was also an opportunity for us to ask for their support and advice. It was really fortunate that, on the very next day, we received permission to conduct medical clinics.
Our physicians split into two teams. One conducted free clinics in rural villages accompanied by Doctor Nirdesh Shakya, son of former Minister Keshab Shakya. The other team performed surgery in two hospitals in Kathmandu; they lacked bone replacements and the technical equipment needed to treat the patients severely injured by the earthquake. Many patients did not even get enough pain relievers on the first day we visited; many simply lay on the floor because there were not enough beds. To remedy this, Tzu Chi imported thousands of convertible beds from Malaysia and mainland China; these were invented by residents of the Jing Si Abode and are called ‘Jing Si Multi-purpose Folding Bed’. They were supplied to the hospitals and the residents who lived in the temporary tents.
From May to August, over a period of more than 100 days, Tzu Chi sent nearly 100 doctors and nurses to provide medical services to over 15,000 patients. The love and compassion of Tzu Chi doctors inspired many local physicians to organize the TIMA in Nepal. That is the Tzu Chi International Medical Association that was established in 1996 and has since worked in over 23 countries and regions.
In mid-May, a major monsoon hit Kathmandu. During the night, the heavy rain almost overturned the medical tents which Tzu Chi had set up in the resettlement areas. Despite the rain, the residents came out to protect these tents with their own hands for almost two hours – disregarding the fact that their own tents might have collapsed. This story shows how much they were touched by the care and compassion of Tzu Chi’s medical personnel.
The first week in Nepal was difficult for the volunteers. It took time to earn the trust of local government officials. It also involved long-term negotiations and evaluation to purchase the relief materials they needed. It was the branch in Indonesia that made the breakthrough; they worked with the Indonesia military to arrange a military cargo aircraft which flew directly from Jakarta to Kathmandu. It brought 14 volunteers of the foundation and more than 60 military tents. They started to cook hot meals for those living in the tents. The volunteers from Indonesia were responsible for purchasing relief materials. The other volunteers, from Taiwan, Malaysia and the United States, were responsible for negotiations with city officials regarding name lists of people eligible to receive relief distribution in the city of Bhaktapur. In Kathmandu, Tzu Chi started its first distribution on May 10, the Buddha Day in Taiwan. More than 25,000 people received the relief materials. As of August, over 200,000 people have received Tzu Chi’s relief goods. During this stage of emergency relief, Tzu Chi also built tents as temporary shelters for hundreds of families.
On May 12, there was a second major earthquake, of 7.2 magnitudes. It struck Kathmandu and elsewhere in Nepal. The screaming of the villagers in the relocated areas was so loud and the people were so terrified that the Tzu Chi volunteers rushed to hug and comfort them. It is always the principle of Tzu Chi during relief work to provide love and care as well as material help.
As the stage of emergency relief came to an end, the foundation started to think about and plan relief for the medium term, as well as long-term rehabilitation and reconstruction. The earthquake ruined more than 390,000 classrooms; Tzu Chi volunteers first considered reconstruction of schools in Kathmandu, including high schools and colleges. The foundation sent architects from Taiwan and Malaysia; they worked with a construction company owned by local entrepreneur Mr. Naresh Dugar. Mr. Dugar joined Tzu Chi’s relief work in June; he was introduced by Indonesian volunteer, Mr. Frank Huang. He and all the members of his family devoted their energy to Tzu Chi’s mission in Nepal.
One of his daughters, Ms. Shristi Dugar, joined the volunteers in cleaning lice from the heads of residents. She belongs to the caste of Brahmin, who are forbidden to touch people known as Dalit; they are the lowest caste, considered ‘untouchable’ in the traditional Hindu system. Despite this ban, Shristi touched and cleaned the head lice from Dalit people. That was seen as unprecedented in Nepali society; it shows how the power of compassion can break the barriers of caste and ethnicity.
Almost every day during the four months since the earthquake struck, Dharma Master Cheng Yen held a video conference with volunteers in Nepal. She gave instructions, insights and compassion to all the volunteers and local friends, including Mr. Naresh Dugar, Doctor Nirdesh Shakya, Mr. Mukunda Bista, Doctor Sarvesh Gyawali and Father Gregory Sharkey. The success of the relief work has been the result of the wisdom and compassion of Dharma Master Cheng Yen and the joint efforts of volunteers from around the world, especially Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, the United States and mainland China. These volunteers come from different countries and professions, including, charity, medicine, education, humanities and construction; they share one ideal – to give with gratitude and work altogether as a team. All paid their own travel costs and stayed at least two weeks -- some even more than a month – to give their love and compassion to the suffering people of Nepal.
The support from the local and central government of Nepal also significantly contributed to Tzu Chi’s emergency reliefs and rehabilitation plan. The Bhaktapur city office published in a local newspaper the names of the recipients of Tzu Chi’s relief; this showed the transparency and accountability of the government of Nepal.
Finally, what impressed all the volunteers most of all has been the people of Nepal. As descendants of Buddha, they have pure and loving hearts. Even in this most devastating situation, they never forgot to smile and be grateful. Many have joined Tzu Chi’s relief mission, as volunteers or participants in the relief work. They are now good friends and have become members of the Tzu Chi family.
This book aims to recognize all the love and effort of the volunteers, both local and international, for those who were victims of the Nepalese earthquake. We sincerely believe and expect that, after the tragedy of this century, these volunteers represent the strength of compassion and a new hope and enlightenment for the people of Nepal.