Medical students from Tzu Chi University in Hualien, Taiwan numbering to 26 visited the province of Leyte on July 13. The educational tour allowed them to trace Tzu Chi Foundation’s relief and rehabilitation efforts, as well as its ongoing programs, in Tacloban City, Palo, and Ormoc City in the wake of Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) hit the Eastern Visayas region.
The visiting students also met and formed bonds with Tzu Chi’s youth volunteers in Ormoc, whom they will be working closely with during their volunteering activities in the next couple of days.
This was what students from the Tzu Chi University (TCU) in Hualien, Taiwan had found in the province of Leyte, one of the hardest hit areas when Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) struck in 2013.
The visit is part of the university’s annual volunteer service mission program for its medical students.
This year’s 26 participants came from three races: Taiwanese, Indonesian, and Indian. From July 12 to 20, they will take part in a medical mission, home visitations, among other volunteer activities of the Tzu Chi Philippine chapter. Through these experiences, Tzu Chi hopes to expose the future medical professionals to the suffering of many people, inspire them to cherish their blessings and to use their abilities and resources to serve the needy.
But before proceeding with this mission, the students got to know the members of their Tzu Chi family in the area.
In Tacloban City, they were welcomed with a song and a banner expressing warm greetings. Over breakfast, local Tzu Chi volunteers presented photos and videos to recount the destruction left by Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) and the role Tzu Chi Foundation had played in the recovery of the city. This includes the donation off Php50-million to renovate the Sto. Niño Church, the oldest Catholic church in the city.
In the wake of the super typhoon, Tzu Chi had launched the cash-for-work program which hastened the cleanup of debris washed by the powerful wind. The program also provided needed cash assistance to the survivors. In addition, Tzu Chi had built prefabricated classrooms and housing villages in Palo and Ormoc City, as well as opened livelihood programs to help the people and their children get back on their feet.
In the town of Palo, a Livelihood Center teaches typhoon survivors to sew bags, do cross stitch, bake breads, and cook vegetarian food among other livelihood projects. This made it possible for housewives to help their husbands earn for their families.
The Taiwan-based students visited the center and were in awe of Tzu Chi volunteers’ continuous efforts in caring for the typhoon survivors.
“Seeing Tzu Chi’s footprints in Leyte made me very glad because it shows how the foundation had used its resources for the better: to reconstruct the people’s houses and give them jobs,” said Medicine student Hsian Min-Han.
Min-Han was only 15 years old when the super storm hit the Philippines. She have watched the catastrophe in the news several times yet to hear about it from the actual survivors and to see what remained of M/V Jocelyn, one of the ships that ran aground during the storm’s onslaught, was still heartbreaking.
“I can’t imagine how Tzu Chi had helped build this city from such wreckage,” mused Traditional Chinese Medicine student Lu Haohai, 30. “That’s why we are so moved. I think that is what we learned from all of this – Tzu Chi’s effect is beyond what we can imagine.”
Haohai witnessed more of such effect upon arrival in Ormoc, a two-hour drive from Tacloban City.
Residents of Tzu Chi’s Great Love Village waved flags and beat plastic bottles together as they sing a welcome song for the students.
The local youth volunteers performed the sign language of the song “Children of the Earth” while the Taiwan-based students sang the classic Filipino song “May Bukas Pa”. Both groups have mindfully prepared for their presentations.
While Ormoc Youth members rehearsed every night after their classes, TCU students had sought help from Filipino teachers in Taiwan.
It was a challenging song to learn. “Filipinos spell their words very different from what we were used to,” said Haohai.
But after understanding the song’s meaning, the students worked harder to learn it. First, they learned how to pronounce the words correctly. Then, they practiced getting the tune right; until finally, they gained the confidence to stand up before Filipinos to sing the song.
“It was a step-by-step process, just like what the song says: ‘we may face struggles, but there will always be a brand new day waiting for us tomorrow.’ Through the difficulties, we learn to be better,” Haohai added.
After the introductions, the students and the young local volunteers spent time to get to know each other. This part is important as they will be working together in various activities for the next couple of days.
Everyone was surprised to see both groups instantly warm up to each other. The conversations flowed easily despite the language barrier. Over dinner, they sang, danced, and laughed together as if they were old friends who met again after a very long time.
Both groups have a different way of explaining this connection. Haohai believed understanding each other was easy because they listened to their hearts instead of words. For 17-year-old Ormoc volunteer Ariel Flores, it was because everyone was innately friendly.
But for the adults who witnessed this beautiful meeting, there is a very important lesson to be learned: with hearts as pure as children’s it is easier to accommodate and love each other almost instantly; with such heart, everyone is our brother and sister, regardless if their faith and social status is different from us, regardless if they are from across the sea.