In Haiti, Giving with Gratitude

In mid-February, five weeks after the January 12th earthquake in Haiti, Jordan Van Voast traveled to that devastated island as part of a medical relief team sponsored by the Tzu Chi Foundation. Tzu Chi is a Buddhist relief organization founded in Taiwan in 1966, now engaged in compassionate service worldwide.

Van Voast is a licensed acupuncturist with a special interest in alternative health care for people of all incomes and backgrounds. He directs the community acupuncture clinic, CommuniChi, in Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood. A long-serving board member of the Dharma Friendship Foundation, he is familiar with the local Tzu Chi chapter where his wife is a Chinese language instructor.

Tzu Chi’s immediate aid efforts in Haiti focus on distributing urgently needed relief goods (tents, tarps, blankets, etc.), providing medical and emotional assistance, and setting up food-for-work programs. The organization is also planning long-term reconstruction projects, including the rebuilding of sanitation systems, hospitals, and schools in the Leogane and Tabarre areas.

“The decision to go to Haiti was easy,” says Van Voast. He admits, though, to wondering “…what one person can do with a few boxes of needles when 250,000 people are dead and over a million homeless.”

He concluded: “The effects of actions can’t be measured by their outward appearances. Perhaps I would make only 100 people or so feel better for a few hours or even a day, but by planting seeds of love and compassion in an ocean of suffering, those seeds would eventually ripen.”

The team Van Voast served with spent 10 days together, including travel time into and out of Haiti from the Dominican Republic. The medical unit included four doctors, two acupuncturists, a dental assistant, and variously specialized nurses. Van Voast gave acupuncture treatments to over 140 patients in six and a half days.

Offering service and material help with respect and gratitude toward the recipients is essential to the Tzu Chi practice of compassion. Careful planning goes into the distribution of supplies and operation of clinics so that those receiving donations or medical care can do so in a calm, dignified environment. Tzu Chi volunteers express gratitude toward those they serve by bowing, thanking them for the opportunity to engage in compassionate action.

“The bodhisattva path is long, with many mountains to cross,” reflects Van Voast. “But if we truly wish to solve the problem of suffering in the world we have no choice but to walk this path, however how long it takes.”

For more information about Tzu Chi Foundation and its work in Haiti, please visit:
A Powerpoint presentation about Jordan Van Voast’s experience in Haiti can be found on his website:

Contributors: Jordan Van Voast, Julie Welch.
Photos: Jordan Van Voast, Bev Silvera, Sammy Sriva, Ines Allen, Towen Tseng, Joshua.