Over the Mountains, Into the Water - Year Round. Review of Dharma Drum Mountain Relief Works in Myanmar and the province of Sichuan in China.

25 May 2009

In May 2008, Myanmar (located in the Indo-China region) was hit by a sudden cyclone and in the same month, China’s Sichuan Province was struck by an earthquake, both resulting in the deaths of thousands of people. Throughout the past year since the occurrence of the natural disasters, and under the instructions of Master Sheng Yen - founder of Dharma Drum Mountain ("DDM"**) - DDM’s relief team and volunteers endured both, Myanmar’s burning temperatures and waded through Sichuan’s muddy and unidentified trails to bring warmth and hope to the people in the disaster areas. Filled with the love and care of the Taiwanese people, DDM was determined to support the disaster victims through their harsh ordeal through a long term commitment, and to accompany them in their path towards recovery

Due to the poor economic conditions facing Myanmar, and the distrust Myanmar’s military government harbors towards the outside world, several obstacles were encountered in the execution of any kind of foreign resources and foreign aid, which made any type of reconstruction and relief work in Myanmar painfully slow. Therefore, the most eminent and important consideration for relief work in Myanmar was, how to use the limited resources and assistance available to satisfy the urgent needs of the people in the disaster area.

Damage to Myanmar’s coastal villages was catastrophic; schools and buildings were completely destroyed, and the land and water were seriously salted as a result of the intrusion of sea water. As a result, access to clean drinking water became the most urgent need of the people. After interviewing the villagers and making an evaluation, the DDM relief team decided to make its first priority, the reconstruction of the public water facilities as their primary relief work. The DDM relief works included drilling 20 wells in 18 villages, equipping water purifiers, and cleaning more than 200 water tanks for 80 villages. All the relief works were aimed at satisfying the urgent needs for potable drinking water. In addition, the DDM relief team aided in the construction of two school buildings and their accompanying facilities.

In regards to the relief works in Sichuan Province of China, the Chinese government effectively organized provinces which were not affected by the earthquake around the nation to provide assistance to the disaster area, making the reconstruction projects work both efficiently and timely. However, when the physical and structural reconstruction work was on its way, DDM concluded that there was a strong need for "psychological and mental" rehabilitation. Thus, over the past year, DDM focused on psychological and mental rehabilitation services, which included planning educational programs and activities based on spiritual healing and ethics for school teachers and students. DDM also provided scholarships in the hopes that all students may learn and study in a safe and sound environment. DDM also assisted both, a primary school and a local hospital in developing spiritual rehabilitation programs.

At the same time, the DDM relief team also established two "Spiritual Consolation Stations" in Shifang city and Xiushui town of Anxian. Various Spiritual Consolation programs and projects will be hosted by both stations for a minimum duration period of three years, that will be aimed at helping the victims to keep hope and passion towards a bright future.

We understand that every step of the recovery process for all the victims of the natural disasters will be long and difficult; however, DDM will stand next to them and bring the warmth from our people to nourish each and every needy heart.

*The author, Ms. Susan Chen, is a senior specialist of the International Affairs and Development Department, Dharma Drum Mountain Foundation.

** Dharma Drum Mountain (DDM) is founded by Chan Master Sheng Yen, known throughout the world for teaching Buddhism and as a foremost teacher of Chan Meditation specializing in guiding intensive meditation retreats.