DDM's Relief Team Returns Home after Successful Mission in Burma
On the afternoon of 19 May 2008, the Dharma Drum Mountain relief team returned home safely after eight days of humanitarian work in Burma.
Leader Li Haozhuo noted in the team's working diary that since the Burmese government restricted humanitarian aid from foreign governments and organizations, the team often had to take off DDM's volunteer vests and put on local garments in order to pass through official checkpoints.
"Unfortunately, although we tried to keep a low profile when transporting and distributing relief materials, a portion of the medical supplies was still confiscated by the Junta and handed over to the local hospitals."
Volunteer Chen Jiehui said that following the Junta's ban on broadcasts by the international media, the outside world has little way of knowing how badly affected the cyclone-stricken areas really are. Moreover, Burma's waterways, usually the most expedient means of transportation, were so severely clogged by garbage – including corpses – that access was incredibly difficult and time-consuming.
Local humanitarian organizations and entrepreneurs also had to be extremely cautious when working with outside volunteers for fear of provoking the Junta, Chen added.
Despite such harsh circumstances, the relief team successfully accomplished their mission and managed to provide much-needed aid even in the remote regions of the Dillin and Dedyye townships. This was achieved with the assistance of a local Chinese couple, Cai Fungcai and Mao Jilan , who managed to procure approximately 2.5 tons of emergency materials from the local market in a short time.
According to a local farmer, DDM was the first international relief team to reach the cyclone-hit areas. "Perhaps because we were the first relief team here, the victims were very grateful, and received the supplies peacefully with no looting or fighting," said volunteer Lien Shufeng . "I was very impressed. Many local farmers even voluntarily joined us in distributing the supplies."
Chen Jiehui added that he was deeply moved by the unquestioning faith displayed by the locals in Buddhism. "Before aid was distributed, all the victims sat on the ground in front of a Buddhist monastery and listened attentively to Venerable Zhu Dao's Dharma talk about the ideas of the 'Protecting the Spiritual Environment'." Venerable Zhu Dao was similarly touched by their devotion.
Team members continue to express their concerns over insufficient access to drinking water, rice, and medication by the victims.
Below is an outline of some of the main challenges identified by them:
1. Shortage of Rice. As farmlands are severely flooded by Cyclone Nargis, it is unlikely that rice can be planted this summer. This may result in a serious rice shortage in the future.
2. Sanitation of Drinking Water. People living in cyclone-afflicted areas generally consume underground water. Water purification is thus crucial to prevent an epidemic outbreak.
3. Scarcity of Medication. Most medical resources, including facilities and manpower, are concentrated in larger cities. Victims in remote areas receive only miminal medical aid.
4. Continuation of Education for Children. The main problem remains the lack of funds. Although it takes only US$5 to send a child off to school, those living in cyclone-affected regions would be unable to spare this sum.
Although the relief team did not have time to visit more remote rural regions, information it has gathered will enable DDM to draw up long-term plans for reconstruction – both materially and mentally – in the Cyclone-hit areas.
DDM has thus far collected NT$2.6 million for its relief operations in Burma. With regard to the problem of education, DDM pledges to act in close cooperation with the local Chinese people as well as volunteers and various governments to provide further assistance.
(by Jin Yang/edited by DDM Australia Editing Team)