Tzu Chi aids Sri Lanka tsunami recovery

By Edwin Hsiao, Taiwan Journal, Jan 10, 2008

Siribopura, Sri Lanka -- A secondary school built by Taiwan's largest charity organization, the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation Taiwan, was inaugurated in Sri Lanka Jan. 5 after a year of construction. The charity, with a worldwide membership of five million, is helping to rebuild the South Asian country that was devastated by a tsunami three years ago.

The Tzu Chi National School is located in the Tzu Chi Great Love Village in the town of Siribopura in southern Sri Lanka. According to Ng Chong Fa, a Tzu Chi official, the new 33-room school can accommodate a maximum of 920 students and includes such modern facilities as a computer classroom and a laboratory. "We hope students will enjoy learning in a safe and spacious environment," Ng said, adding that before the school was built, students had to travel around 20 minutes to the town of Hambantota for schooling.

Construction of the school is part of the second phase of the Hualien-based foundation's plans to rebuild the coastal town. Other projects being undertaken include an assembly hall and a community center that will house a medical station. In the first stage of its reconstruction plan, the charity group built 649 residences for people who had lost their homes in the tsunami.

On Dec. 26, 2004, a strong earthquake struck in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia. Measuring 9.0 in magnitude, the quake triggered tsunamis that claimed the lives of over 38,000 people in Sri Lanka and more than 200,000 people in total. The massive waves hit Southeast Asia with the most intensity, but countries as far away as Somalia and Tanzania were also affected. Over a million people are estimated to have been made homeless by the natural disaster. The charity sent its first relief team to badly damaged areas in Sri Lanka Dec. 29, 2004, bringing two tons of medical supplies and other forms of aid.

The Tzu Chi foundation began its international relief operations in 1991 when it helped Bangladesh rebuild after a huge typhoon. As of the end of 2007, Tzu Chi has dispatched volunteers to at least 65 countries in five continents.

The foundation was founded in 1966 by Buddhist master Cheng Yen, who believes much of the suffering in the world is caused by material deprivation and spiritual poverty. "To save the world, we must begin by changing the way people think," Cheng Yen said.