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Need for Development of International Relief System within Buddhist Community
By Hong Min-seok
Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism
As the world watched the great disaster in Haiti unfold, leaving a 100,000 people dead, many nations dispatched emergency relief groups. The Korean government and other relief organizations also dispatched various relief groups. The Buddhist community, which follows the teachings of the Buddha to take on the suffering of others, quickly began a fundraising program.
The Jogye Order Social Welfare Foundation along with Dongguk University Medical Center formed the “Jogye Order Emergency Medical Relief Team” and sent them to . I was part of that team. We went via New York to land in Dominica . Then it was a day’s long journey by road in an endless caravan carrying supplies. Near the border, it was a great ordeal with so many people and bumper to bumper traffic.
The people seemed to have a cold and solemn look about them. It’s hard to expect a happy welcome for foreigners from a people whose situation becomes more and more tense, day to day. When the Jogye Order group entered the capital, it was a shocking site to see the countless Haitians like ants, looting the supply trucks. We also didn’t feel very safe.
The day after the arrival, the volunteer medical booths were set up. The leader of our group Ven. Myojang, Vice-Director of Jogye Order’s Department of Social Affairs, offered prayers for the volunteer group and the Haitian people. We recited together the Heart Sutra and resolved to do our best in our relief volunteering. The medical group put on green surgery uniforms and unlimited compassion seem to exude from their countenance. Haitians ceaselessly came to receive treatment and silently waited under the scorching sun for hours. Most hadn’t ever received medical treatment. There were cases where amputation was required because a small wound had greatly worsened due to improper care.
In this way for five days, we were able to relay the engaged compassion that is stressed in Korean Buddhism, treating over 1000 people. There were people who were healed by our treatment but most will need further medical attention. This left our hearts heavy as we returned to .
Taiwan’s Tsu Chi Foundation (the only other Buddhist organization in ) had a program called “cash for work,” which gave a small amount of money to those who would collect trash. This fulfilled two objectives: helping Haitians develop self-reliance and making the streets cleaner. The Tsu Chi Foundation is always ready to act in relief aid through their branches worldwide. As such, they were able to proceed in relief aid in a manner befitting Buddhist compassion.
There was also a German mobile hospital, which borrowed an entire sport complex to perform even high-level surgery. When I saw this, I thought that to perform relief aid on a large scope, there must be support and participation from the government. This was a good example to follow for the Korean government, which acts small but advertises in a big way, and likewise, for some NGOs, which came to pose for pictures.
What remains fresh in my memory are the young Haitians who earnestly helped our volunteer group, the children crying out of fear when getting shots, and the hungry faces who gave us a great surprise when they suddenly came around during lunch preparation. Of course, we ended eating together.
Our group is in the beginning stages of international relief but if we can apply the Buddha’s teaching of the oneness of self and other, I think we have greater potential than any other religion. With this relief aid experience, the Buddhist community (on the level of NGO and Buddhist order) must continue to prepare to lend a hand of compassion when people of the world are in need. It is because disasters are an unfortunate part of the world’s future.