Leading the Tzu Chi volunteers through the golden deserts, Chen Chiou-hwa (陳秋華), CEO of Tzu Chi Jordan, passionately implements a unique approach to charity. Always mindful of the donations of love received from around the world, when getting ingredients to help prepare food packages, Chen will personally oversee the process to ensure everything served is vegetarian.
On October 13, 2023, the Jordanian volunteers embarked on their bi-monthly journey to the Mafraq governorate. Chen Chiou-hwa, accompanied by his wife, Kao Yi-Yi (高怡怡), led a team of fifteen volunteers to the Zaatari area and Huweija village in Mafraq. There they hand-delivered supplies, offering solace and care to sixty-seven households, benefiting a total of three hundred and eighty-six individuals.
Chen Chiou-hwa's unwavering commitment to providing vegetarian food packages, coupled with the volunteers' hands-on approach to spreading warmth, reflects the enduring dedication of Tzu Chi. Over the years, their hearts have remained as steadfast as ever, and their love as timeless as the sands they traverse.
Handmade Sandwiches of Love
Just as the sun began to rise at 7 a.m., fifteen volunteers set out from Amman towards the two distribution locations in Mafraq, 85 kilometers (about 53 miles) away. This journey is part of their regular bi-monthly distribution of essential supplies to the local communities.
With the intention of ensuring that the residents could savor a fresh and healthy breakfast, the volunteers scheduled pit stop at a supermarket en route, and made 160 falafel sandwiches on the spot.
"Wrap it in tighter!" The volunteers gathered around a long table in a corner of the supermarket, resembling a well-coordinated assembly line. Some focused on slicing open fresh baguettes, while others diligently spread hummus, added salad and falafel into the bun. Finally, each sandwich was neatly tucked into a bag and counted. With everyone working in harmony, Chen Chiou-hwa reminded them to ensure the sandwiches were securely wrapped, making it easier to handle for both the adults and kids.
In addition to the handmade falafel sandwiches, each household's food package included 4.5 kg of white rice, 4 kg of sugar, 3.6 L of cooking oil, 3 kg of red lentils, one hundred tea bags, 2 kg of white beans, two cans of fava beans, one kilogram of date syrup, 600 grams (about 1.32 lb) of sesame paste, and a tray of thirty eggs.
Unwavering and Unabandoned
In the vast expanse of yellow sand, after a journey of over an hour, volunteers finally arrived at the Zaatari tent area, where the Bedouins live. The Bedouins are nomads who consider the earth and sky as their home; they own camels, cows, and sheep as their prized possessions. Often referred to as people living on the edge of the society, they have no permanent place to settle, often being displaced and herded away. However, despite the challenges, Tzu Chi volunteers have been faithfully delivering warmth through essential supplies since 2002.
This Bedouin tent area in Jordan consists of thirty-two households, totaling one hundred and seventy-two individuals. The Mafraq desert region experiences scorching summers and harsh cold winters, with frequent sandstorms. Resources are scarce, making their lives undeniably challenging. Enduring hardships with resilience, these people are known for their industrious spirit, warm hospitality, and a free-spirited, unrestrained lifestyle. Despite their tough exterior, job opportunities are limited, and most residents rely on temporary work such as farming or herding to make ends meet. These labor-intensive jobs are seasonal, providing only a few months of employment throughout the year.
Since families live in tents with an unstable income, their children's right to education is often neglected, leading to a halt in their schooling. Generations pass down this cycle, perpetuating a life at the bottom rungs of society, making it difficult to break free from the cycle of hardship. Tzu Chi Jordan extends its caring embrace every two months, bringing warmth into the challenging lives of these residents.
Giving Even More
Despite their poverty, the Bedouins find solace in living on their homeland. But it is different for Syrian refugees. Having fled the strife in their own country, they arrived in Jordan with broken families and lost loved ones. After leaving the Zaatari tent area, the team swiftly moved to the Huweija village, a Syrian refugee settlement. This community consists of thirty-five households, totaling two hundred and fourteen residents, where Tzu Chi volunteers have been providing care since 2016.
With years of regular visits, the Tzu Chi volunteers are familiar faces in the community. Children eagerly line up, anticipating the arrival of the volunteers. They gracefully bend down, distributing sandwiches, accompanied with juice packets and water. Each interaction is filled with love, like the warmth shared among family members; evident in the radiant smiles on everyone's faces.
Regularly and compassionately attending to the needs of the residents, the volunteers pay special attention to the education of the children. In Huweija village, a makeshift classroom has been established, with Arabic and English teachers employed and their salaries sponsored by Tzu Chi. This initiative ensures that children in this isolated area can strengthen their learning; this prevents them from falling too far behind in their studies and losing confidence.
"In the face of poverty, innocent children find joy in simple things, crafting mud cakes from the earth and using grass stems as candles for amusement," said volunteer Lamiya Lin. Her years of companionship echo a heartfelt concern, emphasizing the hope for more than just material aid for the children.
Lamiya explained that their hardships are hidden behind smiles, and the lives of Syrian refugees in Jordan are inherently difficult. Residing in the desert, they endure scorching sun and bone-chilling winds. And, if illness befalls, seeking help becomes nearly impossible. Therefore, beyond the distribution of essential supplies, healthcare and education initiatives coordinated by the volunteers serve as a lifeline for countless refugees.
Genuine Compassion Never Forgotten
During this recent distribution, a 65-year-old elder named Nawaf Fares Alfares came forward to express his gratitude. It turned out that many years ago, Nawaf sought help at the Mafraq free clinic due to a hernia, and Tzu Chi's medical volunteer, Dr. Mohanad, performed the surgery for him. In May of this year (2023), he returned to the clinic seeking medical attention for a tumor in his bladder. Having depleted his savings after a previous surgery in a public hospital failed to remove the root cause, Nawaf found himself in dire financial straits. With his two sons unable to gather enough funds for further medical expenses, Nawaf endured eight months bedridden with a urinary bag, before seeking help at the clinic.
After the clinic visit, volunteer Mohamed Khir Alriz accompanied him to Amman for a referral to a specialist. During the process, Mohamed introduced Tzu Chi and explained the compassionate spirit of Master Cheng Yen, deeply moving the urologist, Dr. Bahaa. This doctor agreed to reduce the surgical fees from 3,000 Jordanian dinars (approximately US$4,230) to 2,000 Jordanian dinars (approximately US$2,820).
During the surgery, the meticulous examination by Dr. Bahaa revealed that the prostate did not need removal; this automatically reduced the surgical fees by another 500 Jordanian dinars (approximately US$705). Touched by this series of care, Nawaf took the opportunity to visit the volunteers in Huweija village, when he learned about Tzu Chi's distributions. Deeply grateful for Tzu Chi's life-saving assistance, he etched this kindness into his heart.
In the challenging terrain of Jordan, Tzu Chi volunteers persist through harsh weather and vast distances to reach impoverished communities in remote desert areas. Despite limited manpower, their selfless dedication and compassion shine through. As Tzu Chi continues its crucial work in Jordan, it leaves an enduring mark on lives, illustrating the profound impact of compassion in fostering a brighter world.
Authors: Xiu-Ling Wu, Lamiya Lin