Shickshinny offered help from group of Buddhists

by MATT HUGHES, The Times, leader, Nov 5, 2011

Scranton, PA (USA) -- “We want the people being helped to help other people.”

A charity grounded in Buddhist philosophy is seeking to brighten the spirits of one Luzerne County community devastated by flooding.

The Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation is an international humanitarian organization founded in 1966 in Taiwan that offers disaster relief, frequently in conjunction with the Red Cross.

It has offered aid to disaster victims in the United States and abroad, including victims of Hurricane Katrina and the tornado in Joplin, Mo. Its members are now hoping to help the hardest-hit households in Shickshinny, through contributions of about $300 to those local flood victims.

“I know it’s not going to be much, but at least they can use that money to buy some food for the kids, maybe some milk powder for the baby,” Tzu Chi Mid-Atlantic Region spokesman Chuan Feng Shih said. “We know we’ll not be the only group to help the residents of that area, but at least we’ll be able to help them for several days.”

Shih said the group follows the teachings of Buddha, who encouraged disciples to help those in need, and he hopes its actions will inspire those they have aided to do the same for others.

“If we can help people with their suffering, their life will become much better. Then they can use that energy to better their life; they can give help to someone else,” Shih said. “We want the people being helped to help other people.”

Tzu Chi believes it can be of most help in Shickshinny because, compared to surrounding communities, the borough is more isolated and less affluent.

The group at first requested contact information for flood victims from Shickshinny but was told the borough couldn’t give that information out.

“We would love the help,” Shickshinny Borough Secretary Melissa Weber said. “Anybody and anyone who would like to help our individual homeowners and our businesses, we’ll accept any help whatsoever, but people need to ask for the help, I can’t just send them to a business owner.”

The borough agreed to distribute the group’s contact information at an Oct. 28 meeting with flood victims, but Shih said none have contacted him yet. Anyone interested in the assistance can contact the borough and ask to be put in touch with the foundation.

Shih said he hopes flood victims are not dissuaded by the group’s Buddhist affiliation, as they are only seeking to provide relief.

“One obstacle for us is that not many people know our organization, but really, we’re an organization willing to help, just like the Red Cross, which is why the Red Cross has signed a memorandum of understanding with us,” Shih said. “To us we are more like a charity group than a religious group. The religion side is more for our really committed volunteers.”