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Nurturing Young Seedlings at Tzu Chi National School, Sri Lanka

On 23 January 2015, the Sri Lanka Tzu Chi Foundation in Hambantota organised its first large-scale free distribution of stationery at the hall of the Tzu Chi National School. A total of 900 students from Grade 6 to Grade 13 benefitted from the event which was held on the same day as the Tzu Chi Year-End Blessing Ceremony.


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The Year-End Blessing and stationery distribution event held at the Tzu Chi National School in Hambantota opened with a joyful traditional dance by students. (Photo by Teoh Moh Sang)

On 23 January 2015, the Sri Lanka chapter of Tzu Chi Foundation organised its first large-scale free distribution of stationery at the hall of the Tzu Chi National School in Siribopura, Hambantota. A total of 900 students from Year 6 to Year 13 benefitted from the event which was held on the same day as the Tzu Chi Year-End Blessing Ceremony and attended by the principal, 13 teachers, 150 student representatives and more than 300 residents of the Great Love Village as well as Tzu Chi members and volunteers.

Fifteen year old Shashinika Dilhani, a Grade 13 pupil of the Tzu Chi National School, thanked volunteers in her speech given at the distribution ceremony: “(Teachers and students are) very grateful to Tzu Chi volunteers who raised funds, rupee by rupee, to make today’s free stationery distribution possible.”

Expressing gratitude for Tzu Chi’s help in rebuilding their lives, Dilhani recalled that many families had loved ones taken away even as countless others had their homes and assets destroyed when the December 2004 tsunami hit Sri Lanka. During that difficult period, Tzu Chi entered their lives and brought them new hope.

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With ten exercise books, three pens and a small booklet of Jing Si Aphorisms bound by a blue ribbon, Tzu Chi hopes that the gift of love made possible by many at the commencement of the new school term would encourage students to study hard. (Photo by Lim Chwee Lian)

Gratitude Expressed in a Cup of Tea

The ceremony opened with a joyful dance performed by students from the dance and performance society, garbed in colourful traditional wear. Apart from videos recapping Tzu Chi’s overall activities in 2014 and volunteers’ 10 years of post-tsunami efforts in Sri Lanka, there was also a sign language performance by volunteers and the first-ever “presentation of tea in gratitude to one’s teachers.”

Principal R.K Athapaththu said in her speech: “Today is a very special day as Tzu Chi is distributing stationery to all students.” She thanked Master Cheng Yen for her kindness and expressed his appreciation to volunteers who stayed to help rebuild the school so that the students could continue their education. Exhorting the students present to take their studies seriously and engage in doing more good deeds, she expressed the wish that they will be of benefit to society in future and help the needy.

In their neat white uniforms, wearing purple ties with matching purple ribbons in their hair, ten female students performed the sign language item “Love and Care” and later also represented the student body in presenting tea to their teachers in a show of gratitude.

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Principal Athapaththu expressed gratitude towards Tzu Chi for building the  Tzu Chi National School, benefitting Hambantota’s children. (Photo by Lim Chwee Lian)

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Participants at the ceremony watch with interest, the video recapping Tzu Chi’s efforts in the ten years after the tsunami disaster in Sri Lanka. (Photo by Lim Chwee Lian)

In their neat white uniforms, wearing purple ties with matching purple ribbons in their hair, ten female students performed the sign language item “Love and Care” and later also represented the student body in presenting tea to their teachers in a show of gratitude. 

Principal Athapaththu expressed how moved she was by the student’s respectful presentation of tea—with a ninety-degree bow, they knelt in front of their teachers and offered them tea. She felt inspired to do more for her students and hoped that another tea ceremony would be arranged during the Teachers’ Day celebrations in October so that students would be given an opportunity to express gratitude for the dedication of their teachers.

The ceremony concluded with the sincere prayers of attendees present. Students received their stationery and a small booklet of “Jing Si Aphorisms” while attendees too received the Master’s blessings, a red packet.

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Though it was the first time that they were presenting a sign language item, the students were successful in bringing out the humanistic culture of Tzu Chi. (Photo by Lim Chwee Lian)

 

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The tea offering segment during which student representatives present tea to their teachers espouse the ethical values of respecting one’s elders. (Photo by Teoh Moh Sang)

Having administered  Siribopuran for less than a year,  village chief Suman Wickramarathna attended the ceremony for the first time and experienced deep emotions when he saw the images on screen recapping the tsunami disaster. village chief

The village chief recalled how he lost his mother and sister to the tsunami though it was fortunate that his house remained intact. Filled with sadness, he had busied himself with helping the stricken villagers and it was then that he first made contact with Tzu Chi. The villagers were resettled in tents and later, he became involved in the planning of the Tzu Chi Great Love Village. Till now, he has never forgotten how grateful he felt.

As one of the VIPs presenting the stationery to student representatives, Suman expressed that the gift was filled with meaning and serves to encourage students to continue to work hard at their learning.

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Village chief Suman Wickramarathna (front row, second from right) attends the Tzu Chi event for the first time. Watching the video, he is full of emotions. (Photo by Teoh Moh Sang)

Inspiring Goodness, Raising Funds of Love  

While Tzu Chi has organised three stationery distribution exercises over the last 10 years, they were smaller in scale and the beneficiaries were children from poor families.  

Principal Athapaththu told volunteers during their visit in October 2014 that though the school provides subsidies for uniforms and textbooks, many students in the school are from low-income families and cannot afford to buy exercise books, which they had to purchase themselves. The school thus has to chip in with additional help in order that their studies are not affected.  

Local volunteers wished to help the school and have made plans to start a stationery distribution exercise for secondary school students in January next year, when the new school term starts. This will benefit all students from the eight educational grades as everyone will have ten exercise books and three ballpoint pens.    

As the expense involved for 9,000 exercise books and close to 3,000 pens is not a small amount for Tzu Chi’s Sri Lanka branch which has less than 200 members, local volunteers vowed to gather all the volunteers in Hambantota and Colombo to fulfil this undertaking.  

Dimuthu a Tzu Chi social worker shared how she gathered up her courage and started contacting old friends and new acquaintances when she was off from work, sharing with them Tzu Chi’s continued efforts to help the needy in Sri Lanka, even though it had been 10 years since the tsunami disaster. She persuaded them to donate money towards the cause, explaining that it was time for the locals to help one another out. Though she was met with suspicion along the way, she never wavered in her determination.  

When a team of volunteers from Singapore came to Sri Lanka to conduct a volunteers training session last year, Dimuthu was struck by how difficult it was for Master Cheng Yen to establish Tzu Chi. Though the Master was getting on in years, she tirelessly works for the good of sentient beings. This realization spurred Dimuthu on, who described herself as a shy person in the past, never having the confidence to speak to others about Tzu Chi. Now however, she understands that “difficulty is merely the feeling that one has before making the first step.”  

Uditha the husband of Dimuthu, who got to know her at Tzu Chi after the tsunami, shares his experience of how her encouragement gave him the courage to once again approach a friend who had rejected him three times in the past. On the fourth try, his friend was moved to make a donation. Uditha has started sending text messages to his friends’ mobile numbers after which, he follows up with a phone call. In this way he has successfully solicited many donations.  

Singapore volunteer Lim Chwee Lian who has been assisting with Tzu Chi’s Sri Lankan activities, encouraged the local volunteers with: “What we are soliciting for is kindness and the thought for others; the amount does not matter, even a book or two is precious.” Her call resounded within the hearts of many-- that day, 140 exercise books were donated and bright smiles were seen all around.  

With the hard work of many people, 900 sets of stationery were finally ready the day before the stationery distribution event. The stationery were packed into boxes according to class and delivered to the principal’s office. In view of space considerations, volunteers invited five pupils from each class as representatives and who would attend the event on behalf of their classmates.

The Importance of Education  

The Tzu Chi National School was inaugurated on January 2008 and has good facilities built in place; compared to the other provincial and county level schools, it receives more financial aid from the educational ministry. This is especially so in the area of extra-curricular activities, where the students have more choices to choose from.    

With 48 teachers, it is the school with the best teacher to student ratio in Hambantota and the ideal school in the minds of many parents and students, resulting in a waiting list for admission. Principal Athapaththu also disclosed plans to expand on the schools facilities and teaching resources in gradual phases. In the eight years since then, the hard work of teachers and students have resulted in the school being awarded prizes in many categories of academic and extra-curricular activities. From 185 students when the school first opened, it now has 900 students occupying 29 classes today.  

Principal Athapaththu praises the dedication of the teachers that has produced a good school ethos. Many students of the school have returned money which someone else has lost to the teachers’ room.      

Kathija, a parent who moved her family from Colombo to Hambantota three years ago due to financial difficulties, is pleased to note that her daughter has made friends, improved her communication skills, and enjoys studying in the Tzu Chi National School which provides better opportunities for studies and activities. This was in contrast to the school she was enrolled in while in Colombo. Now, Kathija also enjoys lower school fees of LKR450 (SGD4.50) every year at the Tzu Chi school as opposed to LKR 10,000 (SGD100) every three months at the old school.  

“What Master Cheng Yen says is good, similar to (what is taught in) my religion. I am moved by the selfless contribution of Tzu Chi members around the world and this has opened my eyes,” said Kathija who is of the Muslim faith and was attending the large-scale Tzu Chi event for the first time. Having worked in an Australian company before, she is fluent in English and had just recently joined as a volunteer.  

In addition, Kathija spoke of her gratitude and how she appreciated the hard work of volunteers that made the stationery distribution possible, thus providing her daughter with practical benefits.  

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Kathija (second from left) had enrolled her daughter (right) into the Tzu Chi National School when she moved to  Hambantota three years ago. Seeing how her daughter has made friends and enjoys studying in school brings comfort to Kathija. (Photo by Teoh Moh Sang)

Rebuilding Homes in the Great Love Village

Volunteer Anoja could not hide the joy in her heart as she watched her daughter give a speech on stage; she never expected that her daughter could speak so well. She was also proud of her daughter who was selected to perform in the sign language item and tea presentation to teachers.

Ten years ago, Anoja lived by the sea. Her home was destroyed by the tsunami and after living in a tent for close to a year, she finally moved into the housing provided by Tzu Chi and could rebuild her life. Forty-one year old Anoja has five children aged from nine to twenty-two years old and her husband repairs appliances for a living while she sews school uniforms to bring in additional income. Her three daughters now study at the Tzu Chi school and are polite and well-behaved.

Having seen for herself the efforts of volunteers over the 10 years, Anoja has brought all her children along to be volunteers. Samandika her oldest daughter has graduated and is the team leader of the dispensary at the Tzu Chi traditional medicine section of the free clinic.

 “Though I cannot give very much in monetary terms, I hope to be able to contribute in other ways in Tzu Chi activities,” said Anoja earnestly.

Tzu Chi first established contact with the simple and unassuming people because of a tsunami disaster. The organisation hopes that acts of goodness will continue to inspire others to do likewise, that the local volunteers will be the ones to work for the benefit of their own communities.

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Anoja (in white) had benefitted from  volunteers’ help after the tsunami disaster. Now living in a house in the Tzu Chi Great Love Village, her entire family has become Tzu Chi volunteers. Daughter Samandika (second from right) even presented a speech on behalf of the student body during the stationery distribution event. (Photo by Lim Chwee Lian)

 

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