Thursday, Nov 23rd

Last updateWed, 11 Nov 2015 11am

Saturday, 18 March 2017 00:00

An Unforgettable Christmas: Love & Hope to Syrian Refugees

Written by  Fu Jia Lik / KL & Selangor

Dr Kenneth Liao, Deputy CEO of Tzu Chi New York, shared about the plight of Syrian refugees in Jordan and Tzu Chi’s relief work, which eased their pain and warmed their hearts. [Photograph by Chan Tuck Meng]

Many people are blessed with material wealth and live comfortably. However, not all of them are happy because they are constantly worrying about how to protect their fortune and multiply their wealth; they don’t enjoy what they have. Their worries and afflictions stem from not knowing correct life principles. The Buddha teaches us that to have blessings, we must create blessings. This is the law of karma. If people have this concept, they’ll be able to better make use of their wealth. Lacking this concept may bring much misery. There is a sutra story that illustrates this.


Dr Kenneth Liao, Deputy CEO of Tzu Chi New York, and Dr Lee Yi-Pang, Head of Department of Oral Pathology, Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital, spent their 2016 Christmas on a Tzu Chi’s medical relief mission to Jordan. For the both of them, this is one Christmas that they will never forget.

Life as a Syrian refugee

To get the audience to truly appreciate what the lives of Syrian refugees were like in Jordan, Dr Kenneth presented a series of photographs. He explained that half of Jordan is a desert – showing photos of wide, barren and sandy land. If it rains, the entire area will become extremely muddy and even their bus was stuck in the mud for over an hour when travelling between relief centres.

A photograph showing a single solitary structure in the middle of a barren land was displayed to the audience. Mummers and gasps of shock and disbelief rippled through the crowd as Dr Kenneth explained that the structure was a single toilet shared by about 100 families at the camp site. The refugees lived in basic campsites, using tents and coverings for shelter, which were sponsored by various international NGOs, who came and since left.

The Jordan government is kind to their refugees, but due to too many of them there are, each family only receives 40 Jordanian Dollars a month, which brings them enough food for only about ten days. In order to sustain themselves, the refugees take what they can from the land, and leave whatever that is not of use. Trash littered the ground and Dr Kenneth exclaimed on how Tzu Chi’s Environmental Mission is also much needed there.

The relief team also visited Azraq, which is the world’s second largest refugee camp set up by the United Nations, spanning across 500 acres. There are about 80,000 refugees there and 90% of them are from Syria, with the remaining 10% from Iraq. Three years ago, all the NGOs had left the camp, leaving only two non-profit organizations to continue helping the people, with Tzu Chi being one of them.

A fence runs along the perimeter of Azraq, housing all the refugees within. The curfew at the camp is at 3 pm, there is only one grocery store and one female clinic, which is lacking in all sorts of medical equipment and is only capable of distributing basic drugs like cough medicine and fever tablets. Before each family was provided with a portable solar power charger, women who went to the toilets after nightfall were attacked and raped at an alarming frequency. It was not until they were able to bring some illumination with them to the toilets, did the women regain a sense of safety with the reduced rate of rape cases.

Tzu Chi Medical Relief

Volunteer Chen Qiu Hua, who has been there for the past ten years, leads Tzu Chi’s humanitarian work in Jordan. There were instances of commotion and slight chaos during the hand-out of food aid coupons and other aid, which according to Qiu Hua, are common occurrences. This is due to the refugees’ desperation and constant fear of missing out. Dr Kenneth was deeply saddened by how these innocents were fortunate enough to escape and survive the war, but have instead lost their self-respect and self-dignity.

This medical relief mission had the company of the Jordanian police as added security. This is due to a strong relationship between Qiu Hua and Prince Hassan of Jordan. Qiu Hua initially stepped foot into Jordan as a bodyguard for Prince Hassan, who was third in line for the throne. Due to a former revolution and incident at the palace years ago, where Qiu Hua was the only one who stayed by Prince Hassan’s side, a bond has formed between them since then. The security measures for Tzu Chi volunteers under the support of Prince Hassan is especially in line with Master Cheng Yen’s mandate for all volunteers to first ensure their own safety before conducting any relief work.

Both Dr Kenneth and Dr Lee are dentists. The lacking environment in the refugee camps meant that they had to bring along and set up portable dentist chairs and equipment before being able to treat the refugees. Many volunteers assisted in the process and an empty classroom was transformed into a temporary dentist clinic within the span of an hour. Dr Lee shared that at moments when there were more dentists than available chairs, he would take up the role of a dentist assistant. To him, it is all about giving and contributing however you can, instead of playing only the main role.

Dr Kenneth told the audience about his treatment of a six-year-old Syrian girl. She was separated from her family when escaping into Jordan, like many of the other Syrian refugee children. She however, was lucky enough to meet a family who was willing to adopt her. It was her first time experiencing a dental examination and treatment. “Her face be with me for a long time,’ said Dr Kenneth.

Other than TIMA members assisting in the medical relief, support came from the locals as well. Several local doctors were touched by Tzu Chi’s efforts and ended up volunteering alongside the TIMA team. Dr Lee talked about how impressed they were upon hearing that the TIMA members came over to Jordon paying out of their own pockets, even during a festive season. One of them said, “We as locals, must at least keep up with you!” Other that that, a German engineer, Benjamin and his Shanghai-nese girlfriend, Tiffany, who run their own private fundraising site, both volunteer at the Azraq camp every month after getting to know Qiu Hua. Additionally, a group of dentistry students from Jordan Medical School also joined this mission. Taken by the selfless giving of the volunteers, they announced their aspirations to become TIMA members and Tzu Chi commissioners in the future.

Education for the children

For Dr Lee, this was his second relief mission to Jordan. His reason for this second visit was simple – for the children who need warmth and love from them. Twenty-nine children faced the danger of not being able to continue their education if their tuition funds were not paid by the end of the year. Tzu Chi decided to help.

As Dr Lee handed the scholarship funds over to the person in charge of the school, she already had a receipt prepared. “How did you know we will bring the money?” asked Dr Lee. Her response was, “You are Tzu Chi people. You keep your word.” Dr Lee was very touched by the strong image that Tzu Chi has given the people there.

Upon arrival at the school, the students held a welcoming ceremony through a dance performance, donning only thin outfits despite the cold weather. There was not a hint of awkwardness nor unfamiliarity between the children and the relief team as they started to spend time and interact with one another. Their wide smiles and bright eyes were the greatest gift to Dr Lee after a long and arduous journey.

An awakening of the soul

Before this mission to Jordan, Dr Kenneth has participated in countless medical relief missions. However, this one truly stands out from the rest for him. During his transit in Istanbul on the way home, he took some time to write an e-mail to his family, telling them of his thoughts and realizations.

“This is really a soul-searching, real awakening and emotional mission, completely tragic and devastating situations unfold before a major catastrophic human race (due to) greed/power struggles where the most innocent people bear these grief consequences,” he wrote.

For both Dr Kenneth and Dr Lee, it was truly a Christmas experience that will not be easily forgotten!

 

A series of photographs were presented to get the audience to truly appreciate what the lives of Syrian refugees were like in Jordan. [Photograph by Chan Tuck Meng]   
Dr Lee Yi-Pang, Head of Department of Oral Pathology, Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital, shared that the volunteers travelled the distance of over 7,500 km with only one intention, that is, to send their care and love to the Syrian refugees. [Photograph by Chan Tuck Meng]

A series of photographs were presented to get the audience to truly appreciate what the lives of Syrian refugees were like in Jordan. [Photograph by Chan Tuck Meng]
 
Dr Lee Yi-Pang, Head of Department of Oral Pathology, Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital, shared that the volunteers travelled the distance of over 7,500 km with only one intention, that is, to send their care and love to the Syrian refugees. [Photograph by Chan Tuck Meng]