A middle-aged man who was digging a hole for the construction of his house said that the flood had taken everything from him. His family of five had to pick and eat wild plants, but even vegetables were hard to find. “Tzu Chi not only gave me a job and a house, but it also brought me hope.”
In the summer of 1993, Nepal, one of the ten poorest countries in the world, was battered by heavy rains that caused three major rivers to overflow in the southern and eastern parts of the country. Thousands of people died, while up to 400,000 others were injured, displaced or suffered property damage. Tzu Chi immediately dispatched a surveillance team to assess the needs of the victims. They decided to construct houses for survivors in the three worst hit areas—Sarlahi, Rauthat, and Makwanpur— which had received little aid.
When the Nepalese government learned of Tzu Chi’s principles in administering direct aid, it gave the foundation special permission to plan and execute a relief plan. Since flood survivors were most in need of new housing, Tzu Chi decided to construct 1,800 new homes for them. From seven parcels of land provided by the Nepalese government, the foundation selected four lots that provided better accessibility, environmental safety, and higher employment opportunities. To build the new houses, 2,000 construction workers were hired. The scale of the plan and the number of people mobilized were unprecedented in Nepal. In order to fund the housing project, Tzu Chi volunteers appealed to the public in Taiwan to donate money for construction. Many people, even children and prison inmates, responded. Tzu Chi then put the project up for bids among 45 grade-A construction companies in Nepal to select the contractors for the project. Two companies that had demonstrated high efficiency, quality, and care were chosen to construct the houses. Upon learning about Tzu Chi’s intention to help the underprivileged, the chairmen of both companies were inspired to hire flood survivors to work on the construction.
During the one-year construction period, Tzu Chi volunteers flew to Nepal 11 times to care for the affected people and to stay updated on the construction process. The foundation also sent builders and engineers to help with the construction.
In early April 1994, an unprecedented crowd of 750 people gathered on a vast plain in Sarlahi to construct homes for flood victims. Half of the workers were victims themselves and future residents of the new community. They worked zealously in the sweltering heat, constructing their homes with their own bare hands.
The new houses were built of brick while metal construction materials were used to reinforce the doors, windows, and roofs. All materials used were acquired locally to facilitate any possible future repairs. Each household was also allocated a cleared lot for basic farming. The community shared a large park. All houses were completed by July 1995. Flood survivors finally had homes to live in and land to farm. They generated income from raising crops and breeding livestock. Some of them also engaged in sewing and ceramics to enhance their livelihood. In order to take care of their beautiful new homes, residents formed a community management committee to facilitate tasks such as growing fruit trees in the park. While this not only beautified the environment, the proceeds from selling fruit went to the community fund.
The vice-chairman of the Nepalese social welfare committee remarked, “The floods occurred in Nepal, but the effects were felt by Tzu Chi people in Taiwan. Tzu Chi volunteers unceasingly raised funds to help Nepalese victims whom they had never even met before. This is an example of the manifestation of the Buddha’s spirit of Great Love.”