“Master Cheng Yen has reminded us to invite more people to join us as volunteers when we return to Sri Lanka.” Gratified and touched by their experience in Hualien, Six Sri Lankan volunteers worked tirelessly upon their return to Sri Lanka to hold a tea session to introduce Tzu Chi to their countrymen.
Bearing in mind Master’s words
The tea session was held in the evening of a Sunday (28 Aug) at a club house in the outskirts of Colombo. Organizing a big scale event for the first time, the volunteers were cautious and prudent; they arrived at the club house to make preparation three hours before the event to test the PA system, prepare door gifts and plan the moving line. They paid attention to every single detail, even using a string to align the tables and chairs, striving to display to the fullest the much acclaimed beauty of Tzu Chi’s humanistic values.
Guests started to stream into the club house after 5pm. Among the full house of 172 guests were former superintendent of Bandaragama District Hospital (where the previous Tzu Chi free clinic was held), Mr Richard, TIMA Sri Lanka member, Dr Kodagoda, 30 over local volunteers, and members of the public who were invited to the tea session by the volunteers – close to 80 of whom were invited by volunteer Wijenayaka alone.
Wijenayaka is an entrepreneur who enjoys a wide acquaintance. He had been very busy after returning to Sri Lanka from Taiwan.
“I made phone calls continuously and I visited household after household, inviting my neighbours, clients, friends and relatives to attend the tea session. I even invited strangers whom I met at my friends’ houses! This is a good opportunity to introduce Tzu Chi to people. I hope we can inspire even more people to join our ranks,” said Wijenayaka.
Wijenayaka shared that he and the fellow volunteers was very fortunate to have met Master Cheng Yen twice during the Cadre Camp in Taiwan. “The second time we met the Master, she told us to invite more people to join as volunteers. I keep her words at heart. I will give my utmost to recruit more bodhisattvas to promote Tzu Chi missions in Colombo and be a good disciple of the Master,” Wijenayaka uttered respectfully.
The session began at 6.30pm with the screening of a video introduction to Tzu Chi's work in Sri Lanka covering disaster relief efforts after the South Asia Tsunami, home visits to care recipients, free clinics, and visits to the Victoria Home for the Incurables. The guests were totally absorbed in watching the video; they were seen to be nodding and smiling from time to time, seemingly touched by the commitments exhibited by the Tzu Chi volunteers.
Also at the session were Sewwandhi and her mother who went to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia with the help of Tzu Chi Singapore for Sewwandhi to receive her spine-straightening surgery.Sewwandhi had just been discharged from the hospital and returned to Sri Lanka not too long ago. Still recovering from the surgery, the teenager has to wear a rigid back support which makes her movement slow and difficult. Nevertheless, upon learning about the tea session, Sewwandhi made her mind to show up no matter what. She also expressed her wish to share her story at the event and expressed her gratitude to Tzu Chi.
“Were it not for Tzu Chi, my daughter wouldn’t have the opportunity to receive medical treatment," said Shanthi, Sewwandhi's mother. "Tzu Chi volunteers are neither relatives nor friends of ours, but they are willing to extend their helping hands to us all the same. They are also very efficient in what they do; I have never seen an organization like this before. Apart from local volunteer Arosha, the Malaysian volunteers took great care of us during our 22-day stay in Malaysia. We have nothing to repay them except for our endless gratitude,” the mother said.
Sewwandhi made a vow to study hard so as to be able to help the needy like what Tzu Chi volunteers do. Shanthi’s husband, younger sister and friends also signed up as volunteers on the spot. “Tzu Chi has showered so much love on us; we in return will help those in need.
Although we are not well to do, we must repay in whatever way we can,” Shanthi uttered with much emotion.
Shanthi must have touched the hearts of the presents there and then that some were seen shedding tears silently. The guests gave Sewwandhi their applause of support as they themselves also felt inspired with compassion and love.
An inspiring and gratifying experience in Taiwan
Following the testimonials of the mother-daughter pair, four volunteers who recently visited Taiwan, namely Arosha, Kumara, Wijenayaka, and Pathumi took turn to share their experience in the 4-in-1 Cadre Camp.
Attending classes with so many volunteers in Hualien to learn about Tzu Chi etiquette, the essence of Tzu Chi's philosophy, new knowledge and Tzu Chi’s missions, as well as sharing experience in voluntary work, they deeply feel that "Great Love knows no boundaries". The high discipline of the overseas Tzu Chi volunteers has also impressed them immensely. Despite a more relaxing and slow paced lifestyle in Sri Lanka, they have made a resolution to learn diligently and become exemplary Tzu Chi volunteers.
Having been hit by tsunami before, the volunteers could empathize much with the tsunami and quake refugees in Japan. Upon learning in the camp that Japanese fishermen in the tsunami-hit area kill sharks for their fins and dolphins to prevent them from feeding on tuna fish, the volunteers opined, “Human beings can’t kill lives unnecessarily just to satisfy their own desire and greed, we have to love and protect the planet Earth.”
“Though I don’t understand the Chinese language, I roughly know what Water Repentance is about after watching the musical adaptation," shared Kumara. "It is very inspiring as it reminds me to be mindful of my own words, behaviours and thoughts and to reflect upon myself so as to be a better person.”
To wrap up their sharing, Wijenayaka encouraged all to join Tzu Chi's deeds while Pathumi urged all to go on a vegetarian diet to save planet Earth. The overall coordinator of the tea session, Arosha, on the other hand, expressed that he understands Tzu Chi’s philosophy better after the trip to Taiwan and has decided to walk steadfastly on the Bodhisattva path.
All of them are looking forward to initiate a recycling programme and step up efforts in home visits in order to bring peace of mind to the poor and needy. They also plan to organize sharing sessions and tea sessions to introduce Tzu Chi to more Sri Lankans.
"I want to do good deeds too"
“I used to accompany my child to the Victoria Home for the Incurables. That place is badly in need of help. Watching from the video how Tzu Chi volunteers bathed and fed the patients, as well as cleaning and tidying up the place, I am very touched.” Ananda, a retiree, shared his feelings.
After the tea session had ended, Ananda voluntarily asked for an application form to sign up as a volunteer. “Tzu Chi is a great organization, be it volunteers or helpers, they extend their help to the needy regardless of religion or race. This is the true spirit of Buddhism. I am so happy to know you and I have made up my mind to join Tzu Chi,” so said a joyous Ananda.
Jaejawidrana has been a neighbour of Wijenayaka for many years. He came to the tea session with his wife very early. The couple didn’t really feel much involved in the event in the beginning but as the event progressed, their sense of participation grew and their gazes became much intense.
“Frankly, I accepted the invitation to the tea session as I was too shy to decline. But now I find that this is a great event. Tzu Chi' work is very meaningful work. So Wijenayaka has been doing good deeds all this while. My wife and I have decided to emulate him and join the ranks of Tzu Chi volunteers to help the poor,” Jaejawidrana explained.
Originally set to end at 8.30 pm, the event didn’t end until 9.30pm due to overwhelming response from the guests. One could really feel the power of Great Love as 25 guests signed up as volunteers on the spot.
The solid, hard work of the local volunteers in Colombo has started to bear fruits. May each of these Bodhi seeds propagate and the team of volunteers in Colombo grow bigger and stronger in the near future.