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Engaged Buddhism: Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation Marks 25 Years of Poverty Relief and Refugee Aid in Jordan

Yazid Rashid, six, needed surgery to remove the orthopedic bracket and to use medical shoes, so that he could go to school. Photo by Asmaa Akhras. Image courtesy of Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation

The Taiwan-headquartered global charity and humanitarian organization Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation recently marked 25 years of providing poverty relief in Jordan and humanitarian assistance for refugees sheltering there.

“From food assistance for seasonal farm workers to medical assistance for Syrian refugees, Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation’s (BTCF) footprints of love in Jordan have continued uninterrupted since its first winter distribution in 1997,” Tzu Chi stated in an announcement shared with BDG. “BTCF Jordan started with regular relief for 10 impoverished families in the north of the country in 1997, providing them monthly rent support and packs of necessary foods such as rice, sugar, tea bags, lentils, and cooking oil. The farm workers lack income between November and April, and the food relief provided by BTCF helps carry them over these lean months.”

Tzu Chi noted that the scale of the winter relief provided in Jordan has grown over the years, and as of 2022 encompassed 1,600 vulnerable families who were served by 19 distribution stations in 11 rural areas. Humanitarian aid has also included winter clothes and footwear for children and women, and fuel for the cold winter months. 

“The relief recipients often attest to how the warmth, care, and love of BTCF volunteers is even more valuable than the food the volunteers bring,” Tzu Chi added.

Above, a girl participates in Tzu Chi’s summer camp, painting a chair-shaped plant-holder made from recycled wood. Photo by Chen Chiou-hwa. Right, mothers learn how to cut patterns for clothes in a tailoring class. Photo by Asmaa Akhras. Images courtesy of Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation

Although it has a population of just 11 million people, Jordan serves as a refuge for people fleeing conflict and persecution in nearby countries, including Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. Many of these refugees, who now number around three million, are housed in huge camps some 150 kilometers from the capital Amman. 

“In 2016, as needs for medical assistance increased drastically, BTCF was one of the organizations that stepped up,” Tzu Chi explained. “Since 2016, BTCF has assisted refugee children and adults with more than 1,000 surgeries, ranging from minor cases like tonsil removals to major cases such as open-heart surgery, hernia surgery, and gallstone removal. BTCF also provides hearing aids, and dentures for those completely lacking teeth.”

Tzu Chi volunteers conduct a medical day every six months, providing refugees with free medical examinations and medication. In the case of more serious health conditions, Tzu Chi can ensure they receive full medical support, including surgical procedures and hospital stays. 

Among other initiatives supported by Tzu Chi in the country, the foundation has sponsored the education of 155 Syrian school children and 30 Syrian and 30 Jordanian university students over the past six years. The organization is also supporting a community education center that promotes recycling and the use of recyclables in arts and handicrafts, such as making furniture out of used pallets or turning used clothes into paintings. Such activities are not only aimed at teaching the children to value the Earth’s finite resources, but also to provide training in cooperation and teamwork.

“BTCF is grateful to Jordanian society and all its aid recipients for accepting the work of a Buddhist charity organization in this predominantly Muslim country, and to its global donors for their support to its missions,” Tzu Chi emphasized. “The Jordanian volunteers look forward to continuing to develop its activities to assist even more refugees and people in need.” 

The Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation, Republic of China, more widely known as the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, was founded in Taiwan in 1966 by the Buddhist nun and Dharma teacher Master Cheng Yen. With a focus on “putting compassion into action,” the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation is a UN-accredited NGO with some 10 million supporters and 432 offices worldwide across 51 countries, undertaking regular activities in the fields of humanitarian aid, medical care, education, and environmental sustainability.

As a global icon of socially engaged Buddhism, Master Cheng Yen has expressed a deeply held belief that all people are capable of manifesting the same great compassion as the Buddha. She has noted that true compassion is not simply feeling sympathy for the suffering of others, but is found in reaching out to relieve suffering with concrete action.

Master Cheng Yen is popularly known in Taiwan as one of the “Four Heavenly Kings” of Buddhism, the others being: Master Sheng Yen, founder of Dharma Drum Mountain; Master Hsing Yun, founder of Fo Guang Shan; and Master Wei Chueh, founder of Chung Tai Shan. These four global Buddhist orders, correspondingly known as the “Four Great Mountains,” have grown to become among the most influential Chinese Buddhist organizations in the world.

Tzu Chi founder and spiritual leader Master Cheng Yen. From tzuchi.org.tw

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