August 7, 2021
Tzu Chi extends rice, grocery relief to Zamboanga, Jolo, Sulu
By Joy Rojas
With COVID-19 cases still on the rise and the highly transmissible Delta variant a looming threat, the Tzu Chi Foundation continues its relief distribution efforts to help sectors affected by the lockdowns—wherever they may be.
In Zamboanga City, a targeted 4,711 jeepney drivers, tricycle drivers, tricycad drivers, van drivers, and boatmen ferrying tourists from the city to Santa Cruz Island were the recipients of rice and grocery items from Tzu Chi’s Zamboanga chapter. On July 22, 27, 29, and 31, Tzu Chi volunteers set up a distribution area at the seafront parkway Paseo del Mar, where each beneficiary went home with two 10-kg sacks of rice and a grocery pack containing two packs of 300g spaghetti noodles, two packs of 300g spaghetti sauce, soy sauce, vinegar, cooking oil, salt, refined sugar, bath soap, and detergent bar.
Public Utility Vehicle (PUV) drivers were among the sectors hardest hit by the modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) imposed in Zamboanga City from June 16 to 30. “They required quarantine passes to go out and they were not allowed to ply their routes on Sundays,” says volunteer Harvey Yap. “Their income was really affected.”
In Zamboanga Sibugay, some two hours away by car from Zamboanga City, Tzu Chi volunteers distributed the same aid to 653 beneficiaries from different barangays. On July 9, 295 recipients from Barangay Sanito in Ipil received their goods; 250 recipients from Barangay Guinoman in Diplahan claimed their relief on July 11; on July 17, goods were distributed to 40 recipients from Barangay Makilas in Ipil; and 68 recipients from Barangay Loboc in Tungawan received their rice and groceries on July 28.
Tricycle drivers, farmers, single parents, jobless and laid off workers, and those in depressed areas who claimed their two sacks of 10-kg rice and grocery packs were all grateful for the timely assistance.
“During lockdowns, less people are going around and spending money, and this is discouraging to our farmers,” says volunteer Dexter Tsang. “The distribution [of rice and goods] was a very big relief for them. They were so joyful when they received the rice and grocery packs because these will go a long way.”
For the first time, both relief distributions employed the RDG app, technology that verifies each beneficiary through a QR code. This hastens the distribution process significantly and leaves very little room for error: Rice and aid for 1,000 recipients were dispatched in 2-3 hours.
So efficient is the process that Zamboanga City Mayor Maria Isabelle “Beng” Climaco-Salazar, who participated in the distribution, plans to use Tzu Chi’s technology in the city’s future relief programs. “Miles de gracias Master Cheng Yen and Tzu Chi Foundation!’ she said.
Zamboanga isn’t the farthest place Tzu Chi has gone. Last year and with assistance from the University of Zamboanga Muslim Students Association, sacks of rice were distributed to the Muslim community in Jolo. It’s a largely neglected sector, says Yap, due to safety issues in their area. Just before Eid’l Fitr in 2020, 150 sacks of rice were brought by boat to Lugus, a tiny island in Sulu—and the farthest place in Mindanao that Tzu Chi rice has reached, says Yap.
“With the grace and power of Allah, we never expected to receive such blessings,” wrote Ameer Najib Butlangan Daud, president of the Federation of Muslim Students Association in Manila, on his Facebook post. “Truly it gives happiness to the people this Ramadhan, just before Eid’l Fitr.”