Following the devastating earthquakes and aftershocks that rocked southern Türkiye and parts of Syria in March, the revered Korean monk Venerable Pomnyun Sunim, the leading Dharma teacher of Jungto Society, joined volunteers from Jungto’s sister organization, JTS Korea, and local relief groups to assist in providing humanitarian aid to survivors of the disaster.
Soon after news of the earthquakes spread around the world, JTS volunteers responded with team members on the ground, working hard to reach out to those at the epicenter of the humanitarian crisis in Türkiye (formerly Turkey), distributing supplies and offering support for those in need.
Ven. Pomnyun Sunim arrived in the southern city of Gaziantep on 15 April, making his way to the nearby Osmaniye Camp where the distribution of relief supplies was underway. Working closely with the Turkish humanitarian organization Shafak, Ven. Pomnyun Sunim and JTS volunteers provided food and other necessities to 500 affected families housed at the camp, with each family receiving a 40-kilogram aid package composed of 14 food items, including rice.
“Despite the scorching 35-degree heat, the volunteers, many of whom were observing the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, continued to distribute supplies without even taking a sip of water,” Jungto Society shared with BDG. “Ven. Pomnyun Sunim also personally distributed supplies the whole day without taking a sip of water in solidarity with the Muslim volunteers.”
The Buddhist humanitarian relief organization Join Together Society (JTS) was established by Ven. Pomnyun Sunim as an expression of the compassion of engaged Buddhism and based on the principle that helping others is the best way to enrich one’s own life. Charged with bringing hope, empowerment, and self-reliance to underprivileged communities in developing countries, JTS is run and manned by unpaid volunteers, who ensure that all donations benefit marginalized communities. JTS carries out relief work in countries suffering from humanitarian disasters, and has engaged in humanitarian projects in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, North Korea, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka. The relief organization has also earned Special Consultative Status to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).
Ven. Pomnyun Sunim then traveled to Türkiye’s border with Syria on 16 April to visit the Watan Camp. Here, the renowned Dharma teacher joined the volunteers in distributing boxes of relief supplies to 2,000 more families.
The team also visited a makeshift school within the camp that has been educating children affected by the earthquakes, and also incorporating a program of play-therapy as a means to address psychological trauma. After observing the children and their conditions, Ven. Pomnyun Sunim joined in their games and offered encouragement to the school’s teachers and staff.
On April 17, Ven. Pomnyun Sunim and the JTS team surveyed the extent of the damage to earthquake-affected areas in the border region and discussed potential ways to help the people there—such as by rebuilding schools and providing other support for affected communities. The team visited several damaged schools, including an elementary school (grades 1–8, 3,500 students enrolled), where 150 students and 10 teachers had lost their lives in the quake.
“Currently, the students are attending classes in temporary tent classrooms. JTS plans to provide funding for the school’s reconstruction and restoration work to normalize school operations and classes,” Jungto Society explained. “The team also met with members of the White Helmets, a local organization that has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times and has received recognition in Korea.
“During discussions with the White Helmets leader, Ven. Pomnyun Sunim emphasized the importance of helping everyone in need—regardless of gender, religion, or nationality. Both the White Helmets and Ven. Pomnyun Sunim agreed on this principle, highlighting their shared commitment to providing aid and support to all those affected by the earthquake.”
Ven. Pomnyun Sunim is a widely revered Dharma teacher, author, and social activist. He has founded numerous organizations, initiatives, and projects across the world. Among them, JTS Korea, an international aid organization working to eradicate poverty and hunger, and Jungto Society, a volunteer-based community founded on the Buddha’s teachings and dedicated to addressing modern social issues that lead to suffering. Ven. Pomnyun Sunim also works closely with the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB).
In October 2020, The Niwano Peace Foundation in Japan presented the 37th Niwano Peace Prize to Ven. Pomnyun Sunim in recognition of the revered monk’s international humanitarian work, environmental and social activism, and his tireless efforts to build trust and goodwill between communities of different faiths and cultures, toward the goal of world peace.*
Related news reports from BDG
Engaged Buddhism: Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation Brings Compassion and Relief to 36,000 Families in Türkiye
Engaged Buddhism: Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation Announces US$1-Million Matching Fund for Türkiye Earthquake Relief Effort
Engaged Buddhism: Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation Mobilizes Relief Effort for Earthquake Survivors in Türkiye
Dalai Lama Expresses Sadness Over Loss of Life in Türkiye and Syria, Pledges Support for Rescue Effort
Engaged Buddhism: JTS Korea Distributes Humanitarian Aid in Pakistan