In October, Honduras was hit by devastating floods, which affected areas in the south of the country particularly badly. On October 28, a team of five volunteers left from Tzu Chi of the United States and arrived in the capital, Tegucigalpa, where they met a local volunteer Chang Hong-cai. After the meeting, they immediately went to see First Lady Madame Rosa Elena de Lobo, who told them that 13,000 homeless people were still living in makeshift shelters.
They decided to hold the first aid distribution on November 12 in the city of Morcaiva, in the department of Choluteca in southern Honduras, between El Salvador and Nicaragua. It is one of the most fertile areas of the country, producing sugar, watermelons, okra, shrimps and precious metals. They used the five volunteers from the U.S., nine volunteers from Tzu Chi in Honduras and 100 local volunteers, invited by Chang. Some were themselves victims of the flooding. They were assigned their posts and duties, which they performed smoothly. The Mayor and officials of the city fully supported the relief operation. The recipients were mostly peasants whose land was inundated by the heavy rain that wiped out their livelihood. Ten days ahead of the distribution, Chang asked for a list of those who should receive the relief, to ensure that they were the most needy; their names were written down on the relief register.
The distribution was due to begin in 8.30 a.m. at the Civic Center in Morcaiva. By 6.00 a.m., the recipients had started to queue up, the distribution slips in their hands. By 8.00 a.m., there were a long line of people. Unable to tolerate elderly citizens waiting under the hot sun, Chang invited them to wait inside the hall. The governor of Choluteca province, the mayor of Morcaiva city and village chiefs arrived and the opening ceremony started. Volunteer Chu Tai-bo from the U.S.A. addressed the crowd: "Dharma Master Cheng Yen cannot bear to see local people suffering from the floods and always cares about the disaster situation in Honduras. Although Brother Chang Hong-cai was born and educated in Taiwan, he now lives in Honduras. He feels that we all live in the same global village and should all help each other without regard to race or religion. We should embrace everyone as one family. The aid goods we are distributing only last for two weeks but are filled with blessings from us. We hope everyone will soon get back on their feet and volunteer with us to help others."
At 8.30 a.m., the distribution began. Excited as they were, the recipients remained composed and orderly, queuing up in line to accept the goods. Chu, who has taken part in many international relief operations, commented: "the Honduran volunteers showed us the idea of 'being rooted in the local community and using local resources'. For the first distribution here 13 years ago, all the volunteers were from the U.S.A. but this time we have only five from the U.S. to help the relief operation. This is what Master Cheng Yen means when she says 'community volunteers.'" In 1998, Honduras was struck by Hurricane Mitch, which caused extensive damage. A large number of volunteers came from the U.S. to conduct a relief operation for the victims.
The mayor of Morcaiva city, Nahun Calix, joined the distribution as a volunteer. He was moved and said: "During the relief operation, all the process was well organized. Every recipient held a slip, so that each could come to a different counter to receive the relief goods. It is truly a great experience which we should repeat in other activities." After the end, the local volunteers handed back their Tzu Chi vests and shook hands with the visiting volunteers, to show their appreciation.
Later, volunteers used the same procedures to hold a second distribution in the city of Choluteca. With the help of the local government, they prepared a list of recipients in advance and completed the distribution successfully.
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