In early October of 1973, Typhoon Nora devastated eastern Taiwan. Tzu Chi set standards for relief efforts and established the model for future disaster relief efforts, including fundraising, gathering resources, creating distribution lists, and so on.
Establishing a Disaster Relief Model After Typhoon Nora
After Typhoon Nora brought severe damage to eastern Taiwan, Master could not bear seeing the suffering of the survivors. With firm faith and an aspiration to help them, she called on the more than forty commissioners to conduct disaster relief.
October 24, 1973
After the powerful typhoon (Nora) devastated eastern Taiwan, which affected more than 1,000 families, or more than 8,000 people in total, Master personally led commissioners in assessing the damage in Yuli Township. On the 25th, a disaster relief team was created to decide on the standards for providing disaster relief and to establish a model for disaster relief that Tzu Chi could implement following future domestic and international disasters.
November 4, 1973
Master led more than fifty people to go to Yuli Township to launch the first relief distribution following Typhoon Nora and to provide free medical services to the survivors. The relief funds and cash aid totaled NT$71,340. In addition, 100 blankets and around 1,000 pieces of clothing were distributed.
November 18, 1973
Master gave a talk about the relief efforts for Typhoon Nora and thanked everyone for their dedication to providing disaster relief. She also provided a clear explanation of how the donations were being put to use.
December 5, 1973
Master led commissioners to Taitung to revisit the survivors of Typhoon Nora. Disaster survivors who were unable to return to their old lives and now suffered from poverty were listed as care recipients. The amount of cash aid given and the distribution date were also determined.
December 18, 1973
During the Medicine Buddha Dharma assembly, Master discussed the current disaster relief situation for Typhoon Nora, as well as the preparations for the second distribution in Taitung.
December 25, 1973
The foundation organized a relief distribution in Taitung’s Jieshou Hall for Typhoon Nora survivors. In total, there were 554 families, or 2,631 individuals. More than NT$300,000 of relief funds and more than 400 blanket were distributed.
January 15, 1974
Cash aid was also distributed to disaster survivors from Wenquan Village and Tai’an Village in Taitung. In total, there were 63 households who received a total of NT$28,600 in aid.
April 10, 1974
The Tzu Chi Merit Association organized a Dharma-assembly celebrating its 8th anniversary. The previous year, Typhoon Nora devastated eastern Taiwan and caused tremendous damage. Because of this, Master held a special seven-day Buddhist retreat for the disaster survivors of Typhoon Nora where she expounded the wondrous Dharma of the Medicine Buddha Sutra.
Tzu Chi Monthly Issue 85
Beginning on October 8, Typhoon Nora brought heavy rainfall over three consecutive nights which caused devastation across the eastern region of Taiwan. With the Buddha’s spirit of compassionately helping the world and the organization’s mission of helping those in need, Tzu Chi organized its largest disaster relief in the seven years since its establishment.
After the typhoon and the subsequent flooding, Master gathered the commissioners for a meeting. They decided to establish a disaster relief team and begin fundraising. On October 24, Master led several commissioners to Yuli to assess the disaster situation on-site, and discovered that it was more serious than they had imagined. On November 4, Master led a group of more than fifty people to Yuli to distribute relief funds, cash aid, blankets, clothes, and other relief items.
In total, the amount of cash aid distributed in Yuli totaled NT$71,340, along with 100 blankets and approximately 1,000 pieces of clothing. There were still nine households who had not picked up their cash aid, so it was left at the Yuli Township Community Center for these nine households to pick up.
Tzu Chi Monthly Issue 85
On Sunday, November 4, more than fifty people under Master’s leadership went to Yuli to distribute relief funds, clothing, blankets, and so on. The elderly Dr. Zhang Youchuan from Hualien, as well as Nurse Superintendent Zhuo Jumei, nurses Lin Biba, Chen Bi’e, Deng Shuqing, and other medical personnel from national Hualien Provincial Hospital also went to assist in the disaster relief effort and provided free medical services to the disaster survivors. At 6 am that day (on the 4th), they took the train heading south and arrived at Yuli around 8 o’clock.
(…omitted…) From 9 am on, disaster survivors brought their whole families, the young and old, to Zhongzheng Hall in Yuli to await their relief funds. The distribution quickly became very busy. The standard for this distribution was that every household whose home was completely devastated would receive NT$500 in relief funds. Families of 3 or less would receive NT$100 of cash aid per person while families of 4 or more would receive an extra NT$50 for each additional person. Disaster survivors whose homes were partially damaged would receive NT$200 of relief funds. For these families of 3 or fewer, each person would receive NT$50 in cash aid, while those families of 4 or more would receive an extra NT$20 for each additional person. Furthermore, every household with 5 people or fewer would receive a new blanket, while those with 6 or more people in their households would receive two blankets. The donated clothes were also divided into 24 large boxes and distributed based on the disaster afectee’s gender and age. Every person received several items of warm winter clothes to wear, as well as clothes for spring, summer, and autumn. Apart from the distribution work, there were also free medical services, which allowed poor people from Yuli to see the doctor and receive medical treatment. (….omitted…) During the distribution of aid and resources at Yuli, every family was given a letter of comfort. When the aid recipients read it, they were all very touched.
Tzu Chi Monthly Issue 86
The disaster situation in Taitung was very serious and the number of disaster survivors was very high. A little over a month after the disaster, some survivors were able to return to their normal lives, while others have moved and found a new livelihood. The Foundation has determined its principle for disaster relief, which is that those who are unable to return to their old lives or who are suffering from poverty will receive long-term aid. In this way, the purpose of providing relief will not be lost.
The Foundation decided on the 5th and 6th of this month that the commissioners would be split into three teams, to be led respectively by Master Cheng Yen, Manager Jiang Muhuo, and Mr. Ke Wanjian, to go to Taitung for return visits. After the assessments ended, they called for a commissioners’ meeting and decided on the amount and distribution date of the relief funds. Initially, Taitung disaster survivors were to receive NT$500,000 in total.
Tzu Chi Monthly Issue 86
This year’s busy season seems to have begun a month or so early. This is not because of the busyness of winter distributions, but because of the unprecedented workload which Typhoon Nora brought. Everyone worked very hard for well over a month providing disaster relief and gathering donations. Even now, everyone continues to work hard. It is indeed a lot of hard work! I am truly touched and grateful from the bottom of my heart. The disaster relief in Yuli has successfully come to an end, but the disaster relief throughout the Taitung region is an even bigger and more laborious matter. As the affected area is very large, this disaster truly caused unimaginable tragedies. It is estimated that there are over 1,000 affected households, and the number of those affected has reached more than 8,000.
This disaster relief work in Taitung requires very serious and cautious consideration. What can we do to truly benefit the most needy disaster survivors? It is such a challenge!
There is also an eminent senior monastic who is known for his excellence in academics and in virtue. I am often influenced by his awe-inspiring virtue and wisdom, which has become a strong energy which nourishes Tzu Chi’s spirit. All in all, I deeply respect his academic virtue, and also the virtue from his spiritual cultivation. His everyday life is peaceful and simple, transcending the state of interpersonal conflicts. However, he deeply cares about Buddhist culture and Tzu Chi’s work. In this terrible disaster in eastern Taiwan, this virtuous elder showed deep care and compassion. He even donated NT$20,000 to support the disaster relief and sent a letter requesting that his name be kept anonymous. There were also many people locally and overseas who sent letters of encouragement, and also actively asked for donations on our behalf. We frequently received donations in the mail to our foundation. To receive the attention and support of virtuous people from so many places, I am truly comforted and filled with infinite gratitude!
Usually, when the requested amount has been met or even exceeded, we should be joyful and at ease. Of course, receiving everyone’s support, assistance, and comfort truly made me feel happy, blessed, and grateful! However, afflictions and mental exhaustion are inevitable. As the number of disaster affectees is nearing the tens of thousands, if we distributed our few hundred thousand dollars among these households, it would not be of any use. All this money came from the labor of many people; it was with their help, with all of their mental exhaustion and hard work, that we were able to raise this money. If we do not use this money appropriately, not only will we lose the purpose of providing disaster relief, but furthermore, we will not be able to live up to the kindness of our donors.
What can we do so that we can benefit the recipients and bring peace of mind to our donors? This requires a lot of thought and effort, so afflictions are inevitable. Lately, the commissioners have truly been hard at work, but at the same time, this hard work is also a blessing. In this world, there are no free lunches. As people of the past have said, we reap the rewards of whatever hard work we put in. Although we are providing relief and helping the poor, in fact, we are also accumulating blessings for our future lives and creating future affinities. I hope that every person can continue to double their efforts. No matter if it is providing disaster relief or saving the poor, we must continue to work hard. Constantly having kind intentions that never cease is also growing our blessed karma!
The Footprints of Master Cheng Yen, Fall 2002
Master mentioned that, when Typhoon Nora struck eastern Taiwan in 1973, Tzu Chi organized disaster relief efforts and established a model that would be adopted in future relief efforts.
At that time, it was Taiwan’s National Day. Strong winds and rains had caused devastation from the south of Yuli to Dawu in Taitung. Landslides buried many houses so that you could only see the rooftops. Coffins from gravesites had also been scattered across the ground by these landslides. It was truly frightening! Some of these were new coffins that contained intact bodies. Some of them were half rotten, and there were also some who were just a pile of white bones. This scene was truly tragic. “When this disaster happened, it had only been seven years since the Merit Association was established. Although the budget was limited, and there were only about twenty commissioners, I could not bear to see this situation and therefore gathered them together, expressing my determination to provide disaster relief!”
“At that time, there was a commissioner who was employed at Taiwan Cooperative Bank, doing recording work. When she heard my estimate, that I would need NT$600,000 to provide disaster relief, she immediately dropped her pen and paper, went to the doctor’s room at the back, and spoke to Master De Rong. ‘Master has no money but still wants to provide disaster relief. Where will this NT$600,000 come from?’ she asked. She then came back and continued taking notes. I said, ‘By the end of this year, we will distribute these relief funds.’ After hearing this, she thought, ‘How is it possible that Master has the ability to do this?’ She again laid down her pen and went to express her concerns to De Rong.”
Master knew that everyone was worried and doubtful. So, she recited a Buddhist saying which we Tzu Chi volunteers are now all familiar with: “Enter my door and you will not be poor, exit my door and you will not be rich.” In order to strengthen everyone’s faith, Master said, “When we lovingly serve others with utmost sincerity, the Buddha will not let us down. No matter how big the challenge is, we will reach our goals.”
As the disaster had happened around National Day, many overseas guests had come to Taiwan. In order to give them a good impression of Taiwan, the government decided to suppress this news, so western Taiwan did not learn of this disaster. As such, how could fundraising efforts begin? Master had an idea. She personally wrote a short letter requesting donations to provide disaster relief. After it was carved on the metal board, she then printed copies of it and sent them to the temples she was familiar with. She also flipped through her telephone book and mailed them to the addresses of other temples, too. Very quickly, many people responded and sent clothing and money. Among these, there was clothing that was relatively new, but there were also some undergarments, even old clothes that were worn and torn, and so it was difficult to sort them. Master instructed the commissioners to take the dirty clothes back home to wash. During the day, they would sort out the clothes at the free clinic, discarding, mending, or ironing accordingly, and then reorganizing the clothes by size, season, and type.
During the day, commissioners were already extremely exhausted from this work, and at night, they still had to go house to house to gather donations. “At that time, the donations we received were mostly five or ten dollars. Some people would donate NT$50, which was quite a lot!” The money and clothes were all drops of love gathered together. In terms of how this aid should be used to truly benefit those who needed it, this required a very detailed disaster assessment.
“I personally led the commissioners south in order to assess the situation. We visited each and every family, making an effort to assess and understand their lives in the past, as well as the disaster situation. As the bridges and roads were damaged, it was very arduous walking there.” Since the roads were difficult to walk, and the days were so long, Master finally fell ill in Taitung. “I cannot rest for too long. I must quickly get up and work!” Despite being ill, Master completed a detailed list of people who required disaster relief. With everyone’s efforts and cooperation, at the end of December there was, indeed, a relief distribution which benefited more than 600 households, amounting to more than 3,000 people. It was all for the poor families who were truly unable to support themselves after the disaster.
“Providing this disaster relief was truly very arduous!” As she reflected back on the past, she was filled with emotion. Truthfully, this large-scale disaster relief effort, from assessing the disaster situation, to creating a list of recipients, fundraising, and gathering clothing donations, to the relief distribution, was truly a very arduous process. Yet it helped strengthen Master’s faith in future relief distributions. It also brought valuable disaster relief experience for Tzu Chi. Because of this, Tzu Chi commissioners and members were also recruited in western Taiwan.
“We are thankful for the past, and we are hopeful for the future.” Looking ahead to the never-ending Tzu Chi path, Master encourages everyone to do their utmost to carry out their fundamental duties. She encourages everyone to dedicate their hearts together towards the mission of saving people and benefiting this world.