Volunteers delivered fifty sets of supplies to the Association Le Manteau in French Saint Martin. The association expressed gratitude, acknowledging the timely arrival of the volunteers. | Photo by Martin | 2023/10/17

Tzu Chi volunteers in Sint Maarten, a Dutch island territory in the Caribbean, have been doing charity for nearly two decades. However, there are currently no volunteers in French Saint Martin, the northern part of the island. The French territory accounts for 56 per cent of the island’s area, and the Dutch part 44 per cent.  The island is at the northern end of a chain of islands, east of the Dominican Republic. So, in 2023, Tzu Chi volunteers not only took care of the needy in Sint Maarten but also extended their great love to those in French Saint Martin.

Resource Management

The volunteers operate on the principle of the threefold goodnesses -- "speak good words, think good thoughts, and do good deeds." They regularly visit nursing homes, orphanages, and charitable organizations to distribute aid. Their sustained efforts, shown through different initiatives and reports, have led to a continuous increase in care recipients.

On July 31, 2023, a team of thirteen volunteers visited the Home Away from Home Foundation, where they distributed goods. That day volunteers brought 100 bags of 10kg rice, 500g spaghetti, and powdered milk respectively.

A team of thirteen volunteers visited the local Home Away from Home Foundation for distribution. They brought 100 bags of 10kg rice, 500g spaghetti, and powdered milk. | Photo by Martin| 2023/07/31

In addition to providing supplies, the volunteers showed concern for the physical and mental well-being of the elderly residents. They led them in hand exercises and explained the meaning of the "threefold goodnesses"; they created a joyful time together. Volunteer Patricia Brown, a devout Christian, gradually realized the similarities among different religions. While Christianity teaches universal love, Buddhism emphasizes compassion and great love for all sentient beings. The teachings of Master Cheng Yen have resonated with her, leading to her own personal transformation, and now she believes in the true essence of love through concrete action within the community.

Charitable activities require resources, and local volunteers sometimes receive second-hand clothing donations from external sources. To sustain their mission and offset expenses, they sell these items through fundraisers organized at the center, prolonging the material life of these items and bringing financial support for their charitable work.

On August 12, the inaugural second-hand goods charity sale took place at the Tzu Chi office in Dutch Sint Maarten. In preparation, volunteers Magalie and Robinson created posters and shared information on the website, inviting fellow volunteers and the public. With the help of local volunteers, they carefully organized clothing and displayed it neatly, ensuring that these items would not end up in landfills.

On the day of the event, over a dozen volunteers worked together, showing the importance of enthusiasm and caring, even with a small number of people. In the end, the first sale in the courtyard made US$105.45. This set the stage for growing in the future.

The Tzu Chi Sint Maarten is a second home for the volunteers. | Photo by Martin| 2023

The Tzu Chi Sint Maarten is like a second home for the volunteers. Every Saturday, they clean inside and outside, looking after chairs, windows, and floors. To prevent weeds, they plant vegetables in the field. Volunteers also cultivate cassava outdoors. On a special day, Emilo sold a bag of cassava for US$12 and joyfully donated the money to charity.

In their free time, volunteers help to make coin banks. They give these coin banks to families in need and ask them to share their kindness. About two hundred people donated, and volunteers swap coin banks with them. This way, even small contributions lead to significant acts of kindness.

Steady Steps in Distribution

On August 22, ten volunteers went to the Belvedere Seniors Home, a place regularly visited by the Red Cross in Sint Maarten. They gave care packages with rice, cooking oil, cornmeal, dried peas, pasta, peanut butter, instant oats, toilet paper, and powdered milk to the elderly.

The following day, at the Mental Health Foundation's Faraha Day Treatment Center, another aid distribution took place. Volunteers prepared forty 10kg bags of rice, thirty 500g bags of dried peas, twelve one-liter cans of cooking oil, and three packets of powdered milk.

Volunteer Lorene shared the origins of Tzu Chi and captured the attention of everyone present. Patricia, another volunteer, expressed her feelings about Tzu Chi as a place filled with goodwill, respect, and love. They take pride in being part of Tzu Chi and are eager to contribute to the community.

Volunteers proactively joined the unloading efforts at the office. The progress went smoothly, and the unloading was completed in less than two days. | Photo by Martin | 2023/09/04

On September 4, the nineteenth shipment of rice from Taiwan arrived, bringing joy to the volunteers. With a large quantity, volunteers actively assisted in unloading the cargo at the Tzu Chi office. Everyone willingly took on tasks, and the unloading process was completed in less than two days.

Volunteers are grateful for the opportunity to assist the church in caring for sixty families and spreading love in this community. | Photo by Martin| 2023/10/01

How time flies! On October 1, six volunteers visited Delight Ministries Church, which cares for sixty families. They brought sixty sets each of 10kg rice, 500g dried peas, powdered milk, and cooking oil. The volunteers were grateful for the opportunity to help these families and spread love in the community.

Volunteers visited the Hope Estate Recreation Senior Center to care for the elderly and led them in hand, shoulder, and limb exercises. | Photo by Martin | 2023/10/10

On October 10, ten volunteers visited the Hope Estate Recreation Senior Center to provide care. They distributed fifty packages each of rice, dried peas, powdered milk, and cooking oil to the elderly at the center. Following the distribution, they engaged the seniors in hand, shoulder, and limb exercises, spreading joy through movement.

Volunteers again brought twenty food and living packages to the Belvedere Seniors Home of the Red Cross. Volunteers went door-to-door to deliver the packages for those with limited mobility. | Photo by Martin | 2023/10/26

On October 26, volunteers returned to the Belvedere Seniors Home with twenty sets of food packages. Distributing food to each elder was a joyous moment for the volunteers, who meticulously arranged the supplies. Mobile seniors came downstairs to meet the volunteers, while those with limited mobility received door-to-door deliveries.

On the same day, four volunteers delivered thirty bags of rice, thirty pounds of dried peas, and thirty-seven pounds of hot meals to the newly added care unit at The Good Samaritan New Life Assembly Church. The church provides lunch from Monday to Friday for about thirty vulnerable individuals. The priest expressed immense joy and gratitude for Tzu Chi's support over the past year. Volunteers believe that this assistance genuinely aids the church in serving more people.

Joining Hands to Care for the Vulnerable

Saint Martin (referred to as the French Quarter) is a French overseas administrative region directly governed by the central government in Paris since 2007, with a population of about 35,000 people. It is the northern half of the island, and Sint Maarten is the southern half. The majority of the residents are of French, Haitian, Dominican, American, and European descent.

On October 17, volunteers brought food and supplies to the Cape Association (Association Le Manteau) in the French Quarter. Audrey Gil, the president of the association, warmly welcomed the volunteers; she provided them with a tour and explained the organization's operations. She said that the association's mission included providing daytime meals and nighttime shelter for the homeless, supporting single mothers and children, offering low-cost food through a mobile food truck, and weekly food distribution for sixty families.

"You arrived just in time." The Cape Association was delighted to receive fifty portions of rice, oil, and powdered milk from Tzu Chi, which it could include into its food package distribution. Volunteers commended them for assisting the vulnerable in French Saint Martin in various ways, giving them significant recognition.

Volunteers brought eighty bags each of rice, powdered milk, and eighty cans of cooking oil, delivering them to the St. Jean Bosco Foundation in French Saint Martin. | Photo by Martin| 2023/10/18

The next day, volunteers, carrying eighty bags each of rice, powdered milk, and cans of cooking oil, visited the St. Jean Bosco Foundation in the French Quarter. They introduced themselves and explained Tzu Chi's mission. President Audrey said that St. Jean Bosco was supported by two other foundations in France and Guadeloupe; it aims to care for disabled children and adults, support vulnerable elderly individuals, and assist delinquent children and minors. Additionally, they provide food and cooking classes to those in need.

The foundation's assistant mentioned that, while they received subsidies from the government, these only covered rent and personnel expenses. They still need funds to buy materials, which is not easy. They hope Tzu Chi can support them with food every two months to help more families in need.

Because of Love, We Are Together

After thorough and careful preparations, on October 29, Tzu Chi volunteers in Sint Maarten organized a large-scale distribution event at the office. Whether it was planning the logistics or preparing for rainy weather, volunteers took every detail into consideration to ensure a smooth distribution. They made sure that fellow residents who came to collect supplies could feel the spirit of "gratitude, respect, and love."

Tzu Chi volunteers in Sint Maarten organized a large-scale distribution event at the office. Beyond providing essential items to local residents, the event aimed to make them feel gratitude, respect, and love while encouraging them to contribute to the spirit of giving. | Photo by Martin | 2023/10/29

Despite drizzling rain, male volunteers quickly set up tents. Since the households in need required food, they were determined to go out and collect supplies, rain or shine. With gratitude, volunteers set up stations, and a crowd gradually gathered. "Wow! So many households in need have come to the office." The long line extended through the courtyard, reaching inside the office. Thanks to the volunteers from collaborating organizations who helped verify the recipients' information and input it into the computer, the distribution process became even more seamless.

The distribution went smoothly. In the "Bamboo Bank Eras" section, volunteers encouraged recipients to do kind deeds and gather blessings, and experience the joy of giving and easing their own troubles. Both the givers and receivers felt blessed.

Volunteers also provided drinks and snacks to the recipients. This small gesture warmed everyone's hearts. Just as the distribution of two hundred and twenty portions of rice, powdered milk, dried peas, and cooking oil was almost done, the long-awaited rain finally arrived. Volunteers quickly opened umbrellas to shield the local residents, creating a heartwarming scene.

With the successful distribution to two hundred and twenty families, joyful Tzu Chi volunteers in Sint Maarten took a group photo to commemorate the occasion. | Photo by Martin | 2023/10/29

The distribution ended successfully. For all the volunteers involved, it was a challenging yet incredibly rewarding day. "We did it!" Volunteers cheered each other on. In Sint Maarten, volunteers will continue to bring timely aid and love for those in need. They are always ready to provide support and protection.

Chu Si-fang, Chu Xiu-lian | Central America Report| 2024/01/02

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