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New Hambantota Volunteers Striding Forward

Hambantota is a coastal city in the south of Sri Lanka. An underdeveloped city that was hit hard by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunamis, the local residents are mainly into fishing, salt manufacturing and agriculture. Tzu Chi came to be acquainted with the residents of Hambantota after the tsunamis. Today, not only are the local Tzu Chi volunteers resolute in following Master Cheng Yen’s teachings to help the poor and educate the rich, they also strive to promote Tzu Chi’s missions locally.

Nei Roshana had lost her family to the tsunamis in 2004. Today, she has finally overcome the local dress code obstacle for Muslim women and is proud to receive the Tzu Chi uniform. (Photo by Huang Po-han)

It was early in the morning but there was already a crowd gathering in the office of Hambantota Great Love Village. 45 volunteers staying in the village and nearby villages had come to attend the volunteers’ get-together. In addition to presenting the status report for 2011, local Tzu Chi staff Uditha and Udeni will also be sharing what they have learnt in Taiwan during the Tzu Chi 4-in-1 Cadre Camp.

Striding forward

There are 10 new volunteers who will receive their grey uniform during the get-together. Coincidentally, as today (27 Aug) is also Hari Raya Puasa, only six out of the 10 volunteers could attend the get-together as the rest has to attend their family's festive activities.

Nonetheless, they are all elated to receive their uniform from Brother David Liu, the CEO of Tzu Chi Singapore who also superintends Tzu Chi's missions in Sri Lanka.

Over the years, be it case visits, recycling activities, fundraising for the Japan earthquake etc, Shanti has never missed any Tzu Chi activity. Now that she is finally a uniformed volunteer, she is beaming with joy and said, “I am proud to officially wear the Tzu Chi uniform.

My wish is to meet Master Cheng Yen someday and I will work hard to follow her footsteps.”

Nei Roshana’s mother, sister and sister’s children had fell prey to the tsunamis in 2004. Even their house was gone. At that time, Nei Roshana and her husband happened to be away; hence they managed to avoid the calamity. After the tragedy, the couple was fortunate to receive aid from Tzu Chi and that was how Nei Roshana picked herself up and became a tuition teacher in Great Love Village, where she also lives in.

According to Muslim customs in Hambantota, the women cannot reveal their arms or wear long pants in public space. Even though Nei Roshana is a Muslim, she said, “I am thankful for all that Tzu Chi has given me, including the life in Great Love Village. I also want to become a volunteer to help others. I have overcome my obstacle of wearing the uniform and from today onwards, I will wear it as a Tzu Chi volunteer.”

“I aspire to become a commissioner and a good disciple of Master,” Dilrukshi vowed. Dilrukshi is Tzu Chi staff Udeni’s wife and ever since Tzu Chi stepped into Hambantota, she has been assisting in the Foundation's disaster relief work, case visits, and recycling endeavours, etc. Dilrukshi had previously resigned from her job in Tzu Chi to take care of her children, but she has never stopped being a volunteer. “Every time I hear the Master speak, I feel touched. I vow to walk the Tzu Chi Bodhisattva path diligently,” Dilrukshi said gratefully.

After the six volunteers received their uniforms, they vowed in unison that they will be more conscientious in doing Tzu Chi's work so as to alleviate the sufferings of the needy. They also look forward to getting the dark blue uniform, so they can officially be a “Blue Angel”, like what people in the international community call Tzu Chi volunteers.

Visiting a deprived family

After the get-together, the volunteers immediately changed into their new uniform and joined Brother Liu for a case visit.

The lady of the house is Chandrika, a young mother of 28 years old. Her husband is an odd-job labourer and her three children are 10 years old, five years old and three months old respectively. Even though they are poor, Chandrika remains cheerful and optimistic.

A few years ago, the eldest daughter had kidney failure. In order to foot the hefty medical bills, the family had to sell almost everything that they owned, including their house and farm. The family now lives in a simple hut built on the land rented by the government.

However, the hut was in an appalling state as there were many holes in the roof and they had to use wooden planks to hold it to prevent it from being destroyed by the winds. As it had just rained, water was also dripping from the roof, causing the (dirty) mattress to be soaked with water. There was no furniture at all and their clothing was simply put in a carton box. Imaginably, life is tough for the family. Fortunately, Chandrika’s daughter’s illness has stabilized by now and she was wearing her school uniform when the volunteers visited.

When Brother Liu asked if her daughter went to school that day, Chandrika replied, “She didn’t go to school today because there isn’t enough money.” It then hit upon the volunteers that her daughter only goes to school on days when they have extra allowance for transportation.

Brother Liu turned to the little girl and asked, “If there is transportation allowance, would you want to go to school?” The 10-year-old replied with a resounding “Yes!” Chandrika added that her daughter’s grades are decent and she even received a medal previously.

After assessment and discussion, everyone agreed to assist Chandrika’s family by providing them 2000 Rupees (about S$23) per month as living expenses and 500 Rupees (about S$6) as her children’s transportation allowance.

Under the guidance of Brother Liu, the volunteers felt that they have learnt a lot while doing case visits, especially for Priyadarshana, who just graduated from university, who said, “There are too many poor people in this place and we must do our best to help them.”

Dilrukshi added that even though she is not wealthy, looking at the masses of poor people really made her cherish what she has and count her blessings. “At least my husband still has a job and we have a roof over our heads. We should be appreciative and create more blessings,” said Dilrukshi in a grateful manner.

On 27 Aug 2011, 45 volunteers living in Great Love Village and nearby villages attended the volunteers’ get-together in the office of Hambantota Great Love Village. (Photo by David Liu)

Local Tzu Chi staff Uditha and Udeni sharing what they have learnt in Taiwan during the 4-in-1 Cadre Camp in early August. (Photo by David Liu)

Having just received their grey uniform, the volunteers took a photo with Brother David Liu under the applause of the congregation. (Photo by Khor Chooi Kim)

Shanti proudly told Brother David Liu that she has never missed any Tzu Chi activity - be it case visits, recycling activities, fundraising drive for the Japan earthquake victims, etc,. (Photo by Khor Chooi Kim)

After the get-together, the volunteers immediately changed into their new uniform and joined Brother David Liu for a case visit. Through the practical experience, they learnt the know-hows of conducting case assessment. (Photo by Khor Chooi Kim)

Dilrukshi felt that she has benefited tremendously from doing case visit with Tzu Chi. She has learnt to be thankful and cherish what she has. (Photo by Huang Po-han)

A picture of Chandrika's dilapidated hut. (Photo by Khor Chooi Kim)

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