When disasters strike, Tzu Chi volunteers strive to be the first to arrive and the last to leave, answering the call for aid with compassion and care. For many survivors who receive Tzu Chi’s relief, one enduring symbol of this love is indeed the DA.AI eco-blanket provided by volunteers during distributions. Started by five forward-thinking entrepreneurs with ties to the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, DA.AI Technology is committed to upholding compassion while creating products that benefit both the planet and all sentient beings.
But do you know the story of just how these blankets are made? Well, it’s a story that’s inspired by the spirit of great love.Each eco-blanket begins with the collection of discarded polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic water bottles - seventy of them, in fact - which are broken down into raw PET chips, and then woven into fibers with DA.AI Technology’s innovative manufacturing process. Interwoven with each and every one of these threads is the universal love and support of all who helped in the creation of these blankets.
From disasters, to international charity missions, to the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-4), Tzu Chi and DA.AI strive to enkindle the light of hope wherever circumstances may have seemed bleak, and DA.AI’s eco-blankets have brought forth a much-needed sense of inspiration through the years. Let’s take a look back at just a few of these moments in time.
In August of 2016, a historic 1-in-500-year rainfall event dropped 7.1 trillion gallons of water on the greater Baton Rouge area in Louisiana, destroying more than 60,000 homes, and leaving over 120,000 people displaced in the aftermath. During Tzu Chi’s relief mission, survivors received not only financial help, but an attentive ear, and an eco-friendly blanket filled with love. Residents were touched by the compassion they felt at the distribution event, the knowledge that they are not alone, giving them the strength to move forward.
“When you don’t have a blanket, you don’t have nothing to lay on, and somebody cares enough… The blankets help. The blankets help. We have nothing, but we have love.”
- Flood Survivor, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Hurricane Florence caused devastating floods in portions of North Carolina in September of 2018. Tzu Chi visited one of the hardest hit areas, Lumberton, twice over the course of two months to answer the call for aid.
“For something to come that fast and take away everything that you put together as a team… it hurts. It takes you to another place.”
- Katrina Harvey, Lumberton Resident
During the distribution of our DA.AI eco-blankets, many were impressed by the craftsmanship, and were fascinated upon discovering that blankets and other textile products could be crafted from recycled plastic materials.
“My experience was really good, and I’m so grateful for the things that she talked about, and the stuff that she gave us. Especially the blanket that was made out of recycling. I never knew that [was possible] with water bottles.”
- Sallie Sinclair, Lumberton Resident
Hurricane Michael made landfall in Florida on October 10th, 2018 - the first Category 5 hurricane on record to impact the Florida Panhandle. Chillier months were speedily approaching, and many residents now had nowhere to call home, no clothing, and no funds in the face of rebuilding one’s life utterly from the ground up.
Tzu Chi USA set up a disaster relief tent in Panama City, Florida, one week before Thanksgiving to provide aid to over 600 families affected by the hurricane. Volunteers brought more than just financial aid, as they offered comfort and warm blankets that helped ease people’s emotional stress as well.
“Thanksgiving is today and every day. Because now we have hope. We have hope. We have hope. To know that there is someone out there, with the goodness and the grace of God… To help us when we thought that little ol’ Panama City that no one knew… ”
- Linda Godwin, Panama City Resident
California Camp Fire
The deadly Camp Fire broke out in Butte County, Northern California, on November 8, 2019. It was not long before the violent blaze became the most destructive fire on record in the state. Tzu Chi volunteers from all across the country swiftly mobilized. They provided emergency disaster relief funds, blankets, and love, but California was on fire, and they knew they needed to do more.
“My wife and I had nothing 54 years ago. We spent our whole life building our retirement home. Now we are back to the original state.”
- Camp Fire Survivor
With so many people displaced after the Camp Fire tore through California, some impacted individuals had set up tents in a Walmart parking lot for shelter. Nights saw temperatures drop to 39 degrees Fahrenheit, however, and the tents alone were simply not enough. Tzu Chi volunteers traveled through the smoke-filled expanses at dusk to reach this tent city, and distribute eco-friendly blankets to stave off the chill, as well as warm their hearts during this difficult time.
It was Dharma Master Cheng Yen's great hope that 10,000 families could be helped by Tzu Chi USA before the one month anniversary of the Camp Fire. This was the dawn of Tzu Chi's "Hope Heals" campaign.
“We couldn’t have done this incredible video without [Tzu Chi], and my heart has been so touched by their selfless generosity…We want to help as many people as we can, and we thank you so much for your support. God Bless Paradise! ”
- Skip Culton
Palm Sunday in Sierra Leone
“He was known as ‘Survive’ at first because he was surviving on the charity of people, so they named him as ‘Survive’. Survive! Survive! Does anybody have food? Survive! And he was there.”
- Sister Agatha Kamara, Social Worker, Saint Mary’s Children’s Home
From a brutal ten-year civil war, to the Ebola outbreak in 2015, to the horrific mudslide that buried the mountain town of Regent on the outskirts of Sierra Leone's capital, Freetown, residents have endured much pain and suffering. Tzu Chi volunteers provided their aid through the Ebola outbreak, and did so again after the 2017 mudslide. As part of our ongoing charity in the country, the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation financed the renovation of a women’s terminal care ward at the Connaught Hospital in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Tzu Chi volunteers visited orphanages on the outskirts of Freetown, including the Manahaim House and the Rosaleneh House of Hope.
“The kids are happy because the gift is one [thing], but when they realize that there are people who care, psychologically it helps them to grow up in a dignified manner with confidence that it’s not all about us, that we have an extended family outside who could think and plan and send for us.”
- Father Peter Konteh, Executive Director, Caritas Freetown Sierra Leone
UNEA-4: Plastics vs. The Planet
From horizon to horizon, plastic waste can be found absolutely everywhere as it clogs streets, litters parks, chokes oceans, and puts Mother Earth in jeopardy. An estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic ultimately ends up in our oceans each year, killing millions of marine animals. Statistics state that more than one million PET plastic bottles are sold every single minute globally. However, an astonishing 91% of plastic isn't recycled. Moreover, it takes at least 450 years for a plastic bottle to completely degrade, creating quite a lasting dilemma. At UNEA-4, many bright and compassionate minds came together to share their knowledge as well as their solutions. Tzu Chi explained the DA.AI model at the event, and showcased several eco-products as examples of what could be achieved with these methods.
“The fact that you can see a blanket, you feel it thinking it’s made of cotton, and it’s made of these PET bottles - that is awesome and amazing. I want to bring it to my country.”
- Mike Ereira, Environment Specialist of Ghana Waste Segregation and Composing Movement
Exchanging Ideas to Solve Different at UNEA-4
Tzu Chi volunteers were not the only ones who brought forth new ideas at the event. There, we also had the pleasure of meeting young innovators from Global Spark, an organization which also develops bricks from plastic.
- Marshall Q Siao, Director, R&D Jing Si Technology
Tzu Chi’s footprint of humanitarianism has now reached five continents, assisting 100 countries and territories globally. With each relief mission, the ripples of this great love expand to touch even more lives. Both the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation and DA.AI hope that in the future, the world can be free of disasters, and that all people can thrive in harmony with Mother Earth.