May 17, 2013, was a landmark day: a historic moment for Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, for the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Anne,for education in Haiti, and for the country’s post-quake reconstruction. At 10 AM, approximately 500 guests filled the front atrium of Collège Marie-Anne secondary school, as more than 100 students watched from the second and third floor balconies. Alongside Bishop Quesnel Alphonse, nuns from several orders, and Jordanian peacekeepers, Senate President Simon Desras, Canadian Ambassador Henri-Paul Normandin, Port-au-Prince Mayor Dr. Marie René, and many other dignitaries were also in attendance.
Senate President Desras spoke first; he asked for God’s blessings and the Buddha’s as well. He expressed his hope that Tzu Chi will remain in Haiti, for Haiti still has a long journey ahead.
After delivering his speech in French, Ambassador Normandin of Canada, who previously lived eight years in China, added some words of gratitude in Chinese as well: “Tzu Chi came to Haiti after the earthquake to help and has now built such a wonderful school, allowing the children to receive a quality education and helping Haiti to develop.”
Mayor René remarked that where the earthquake had left ruins there now stood lofty buildings. She expressed her hope that students will study hard and prosper in order to do justice to these buildings. She also called Tzu Chi a model for all nongovernmental organizations that want to help Haiti.
The event emcee offered special thanks to David Chang and his team at the Overseas Engineering and Construction Corp. (OECC), as well as Tzu Chi volunteer James Chen, who made thirty-five trips to Port-au-Prince in the past three years to assist in project planning. As these men stepped onto the stage, they were greeted with a rousing standing ovation.
Stephen Huang, Tzu Chi’s Executive Director of Global Volunteers, expressed gratitude on behalf of Dharma Master Cheng Yen and all Tzu Chi volunteers. He especially thanked the peacekeeping forces from Jordan, Brazil, United States, China, and elsewhere for all their assistance after the earthquake that made it possible for Tzu Chi to hold relief distributions. He also thanked Dharma Master Cheng Yen for leading worldwide fundraising that raised millions of dollars to help Haiti and rebuild these schools.
Huang told attendees that on this visit to Haiti, he had been given three tasks by Dharma Master Cheng Yen. First, he was asked to see if OECC had done a good job building the schools. (He asked all attendees, “Were the schools built well?” Everyone applauded as they yelled, “Yes!”) Second, he was to ask Sister Rita Larivée, General Superior of the Sisters of St. Anne, whether she would accept the three schools. (Sitting in the audience, Sister Rita raised both hands and answered, “Yes!”) Third, he was to find out whether Haiti still needed Tzu Chi even after the schools were rebuilt. (All the attendees shouted, “Yes!”) When a student representative of Christ the King Secretarial School rose to speak, she thanked Dharma Master Cheng Yen and Tzu Chi for rebuilding her school and also thanked local entrepreneur Roy for his donation of sixty computers. She said, “Words cannot express our gratitude, so we will dedicate a song (“Protector of My Soul”) to Tzu Chi volunteers instead. Tzu Chi volunteers go all over the world to help others, and they are always full of joy. So, we hope that God will protect Tzu Chi volunteers and let them complete their mission.” One of the nuns responsible for establishing Collège Marie-Anne primary and secondary school said that the sisters pray for Dharma Master Cheng Yen and Tzu Chi volunteers each day during mass. She also asked everyone in attendance to stand and applaud to express their gratitude to Dharma Master Cheng Yen.
Student representatives of Collège Marie-Anne made a special presentation of a commemorative plaque to Tzu Chi. It was joyfully received by Stephen Huang, James Chen, Tzu Chi CEO Han Huang, former CEOs William Keh and Austin Tsao, and Tzu Chi Education Foundation CEO Paulina Luan.
Sister Rita was the last to speak during the ceremony. On behalf of all the Sisters of St. Anne around the world she thanked Tzu Chi for the wonderful gift. She said, “Without you, the Tzu Chi Foundation, we would never have been able to rebuild what we lost during the earthquake of January 2010. Your commitment to those in need in the world will make a major difference in the lives of many Haitian children and young adults. Your gift, however, is much more than these buildings; it is a gift of hope in a country where hope was sometimes difficult to find following the earthquake….
“We come from different religious traditions, this is true. We are Catholic and you are Buddhist. Yet we feel that we are among friends and family members when we are with you. Truly, our spirits are united as one as we respond to the suffering of others in the world….
“Following the earthquake, many people came to Haiti to help. And many people made many promises and said they would come back. But as the months passed, many people did not return and many promises were broken. But you came back and you did what you said you would do. You kept your promise. This was worth more than the buildings. You gave hope. You gave commitment. You gave friendship. And you gave love.
“The project, under the guidance of Mr. Chen, was not easy. There were many challenges to solve. But you always found a way to solve the problem. And you did this with great kindness and great patience. This, too, was a wonderful gift. You taught us that hope and compassion can overcome many obstacles. You taught us that strong values and respect for the human person is the first priority, that this is the foundation for all projects.
“You cannot see the foundations of these new buildings, but they are not made of cement and steel. The real foundation is much deeper than the cement and steel. The real foundation is the courage you have given us that nothing is impossible. The real foundation is the strength you showed us that when people work together, dreams can come true. The real foundation for these schools is that compassion does work miracles.
“You have been our teachers and we are grateful. And these buildings will remind all the students, for many, many generations, that they, too, must do the same. They must show compassion and caring to the world. And they must believe that nothing is impossible and that they can create a better world.”
Many in the audience were visibly moved by Sister Rita’s speech, especially the words: “You gave hope. You gave commitment. You gave friendship. And you gave love.”
With Sister’s Rita’s words the ceremony was complete, and all attendees reconvened at the main gate for the ceremonial grand opening of the five-story school building whose wall plainly reads “Collège Marie-Anne—Donated by Tzu Chi Foundation.” For all generations that follow, these few words and these few buildings will bear witness to Great Love: the love that transcends religion, race, and nationality.