The Year-End Blessing Ceremony was held at the Cambodian Japan Cooperation Centre, or CJCC, in Phnom Penh city. Amongst the audience of 140 who attended the ceremony were Tzu Chi volunteers, members of the public and three Buddhist monks who came from afar. They had gathered to offer their prayers for a peaceful society free of disasters.
A video, 'The Story of Tzu Chi', with Khmer subtitles and news recording as well as photos taken of the aid distribution event conducted earlier in the day were also presented to the audience. The young sign language team, formed only in October, made its debut and performed the song 'Give Love' which was played during the aid distribution. Local volunteers were also invited on stage to share their blissful experiences with the participants.
Practicing the teachings of Buddha in daily lives
Venerable Heng Bunchea travelled through the night for six hours from Siam Reap to Phnom Penh, which is 300 kilometres apart, to participate in the aid distribution exercise in the morning.
The 38-year-old Venerable has been in monkhood for 20 years. He has tried to educate Buddhism to the world but did not know how. He humbly related of how the philanthropy work of Tzu Chi in different corners of the world has set an example for him, and though as a monk he does not have material wealth to donate, he made a vow to extend his blessings and support to Tzu Chi activities in future.
"Natural disasters bring about hunger, pains and diseases. Just as what Master Cheng Yen mentions in her aphorism: Purification of mind is the way to eradicate calamities. We have to practice the Four Immeasurables of Buddhism: Loving-Kindness, Compassion, Joy and Equanimity in our daily lives.” Venerable Heng Bunchea shared with all what he had learnt from the aid distribution, “Tzu Chi's aid distribution was done with a lot of 'heart'. They put the Four Immeasurables in practice in everything they do. This is an exemplar for the Buddhist world.”
The Venerable was anxious to give his encouragement, “The Tzu Chi people from Singapore and Malaysia are truly the blessed ones. They are willing to share their blessings with the underprivileged. The aid distribution inspires their compassion to love both others and themselves. I am sure such commitment will have an effect on the whole world.”
The Venerable first met volunteer couple Su Ying Long and Su Xiao Hong in India where they mentioned Tzu Chi and gave a bilingual booklet of Master Cheng Yen's Jing Si Aphorisms in both Chinese and Khmer to him. The Venerable loved the booklet so much that he brings it with him wherever he goes and reads it frequently.
Noting that the aphorisms are all about practical Buddhist teachings, the Venerable lamented that human beings commit mistakes due to unwholesome mind. It is only through the purification of one’s mind that one can turn from bad to good. This was why he identifies with and is touched by the Tzu Chi volunteers as they walk the talk and practice Buddhism in their daily lives.
Welcoming the inaugural batch of new 'bodhisattvas'
A total of 29 local volunteers received their grey uniforms at the ceremony amongst whom were mothers and daughters, sisters and brothers, classmates, and so on. They are the first batch of Cambodians to receive the grey uniforms from Tzu Chi, making it a historic moment for the Foundation’s efforts in launching its missions in Phnom Penh.
Tzu Chi was reconnected with Cambodia this year after a 14-year hiatus, thanks to Singapore's entrepreneur volunteer Yoshikazu Shaku who introduced Tzu Chi to his university junior, Su Ying Long and his wife. The couple started to carry out home visits and gradually enlisted around 60 volunteers in Phnom Penh in the charity effort. The group is currently helping 30 households by providing them subsistence or education allowance through Tzu Chi.
"These 29 volunteers being certified today have contributed much in our charity work and are given the grey uniforms as a certification of their roles as full-fledged Tzu Chi volunteers,” declared Brother David Liu during the certification ceremony.
“This batch of volunteers is the seed that will grow and let the Tzu Chi spirit flourish in this Buddhist nation. The aid distribution of today comes about due to our continuous effort in reaching out to the poor and needy. This is also the first time in the history of Tzu Chi that an aid distribution is conducted in Phnom Penh.
“Our organization has all along stressing on practicing the teachings of Buddha, hence all of our volunteers have to participate in voluntary work to help the poor and inspire the rich. It is a challenge to promote charity work here, just language alone is a problem and we have to rely on translation. But we can connect with the locals through our hearts, it is only when we reach out to the needy do we realize how blessed we are.
Brother Liu continued, "Tzu Chi has its presence in more than 50 countries worldwide and Cambodia is the latest to be added to the list. Master Cheng Yen has been paying close attention to the need of Cambodia and instructed us to ride on the aid distribution exercise to hold this Year-End Blessing Ceremony to convey her well-wishes to all.”
Brother Liu also explained to both the Tzu Chi donating members and volunteers present that the 'Red envelope of blessing and wisdom' they received from Master Cheng Yen signified the earnest gratitude from the Master.
Experiencing hardships from one’s vicissitudes
“I have always wanted to help the needy around me but I did not know how and for how long I could sustain. I am grateful that I now have Tzu Chi to help me build my confidence. I will do my best and I hope we will have a Tzu Chi premise in Phnom Penh in future.” Clad in her smart grey uniform and white pants, Sok Chantai looked graceful and dignified. She was at the ceremony with her 20-year-old daughter, Ly Heang, who was also certified. They were elated and their facial expressions said it all.
The shabby, temporary tent where the aid distribution exercise was conducted brought back sad memories for the mother. When Sok Chantai was 12, Cambodia was under the Khmer Rouge and she had to stay in shabby tents like that for three years. With the red Khmer Rouge taking over the city, she was forced to work in the field. All her family members were separated from each other and she could only survive on plain porridge. Skinny, with swollen legs due to malnutrition, and dressed in tatters, she lived in fear every day.
She later returned to Phnom Penh and worked hard to improve her life. She got married and started to lead a normal life. She regretted not getting an education and is therefore illiterate, so being able to volunteer with Tzu Chi is a blessing to her. She is now responsible for the monthly procurement of aid materials for distribution to the needy and she has got her son and daughter to join Tzu Chi. Both are now members of the sign language team.
Recognize one’s blessings from sufferings of the others
Pan Mingyun is a petite, final year medical student. After getting to know Tzu Chi, she has invited six of her classmates to join the sign language team. Donning the Tzu Chi grey uniform today, she was deeply touched.
“After joining Tzu Chi, I get to see for myself the sufferings of life. I am really grateful to my parents for taking good care of me and giving me the opportunity to attend school. I hope to introduce Tzu Chi to more people.” She always shares news about Tzu Chi from the internet with her classmates and other young people. During her spare time, she participates actively in Tzu Chi’s activities and puts in efforts in learning Tzu Chi's sign language in the hope of attracting more young people to join Tzu Chi.
Tzu Chi’s first ever large scale aid distribution in Phnom Penh took two months of planning and preparation. It involved home visits to generate the list of aid recipients, the procurement of aid materials, the preparation of publicity materials and the planning of logistics. Though the preparatory work grew intensive a few days before the actual event, all discharged their duties diligently and faithfully supporting and accommodating each other. This has culminated in the successful conclusion of the event.
The tangible aid materials warm the hearts of the villagers but the intangible humanistic values and the bliss of Buddhism are ingrained in the volunteers. May our new ‘bodhisattvas’ in Cambodia grow from strength to strength to help relieve the pains and sufferings of their countrymen.