In the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, which struck Myanmar ten years ago, Tzu Chi Taiwan provided humanitarian aid to those affected by the devastating disaster. The spirit of great love shown by Tzu Chi volunteers had touched many impoverished farmers, such as U San Thein and U Thein Tun.
By the end of May 2018, U San Thein and U Thein Tun had successfully promoted the rice bank movement to 15 local villages and garnered the support of nearly 1,000 households. Each month, these villages manage to collect as much as 1,111kg of rice, which are turned into relief supplies for 66 impoverished families. The act of poor farmers saving rice to help others in need has unleashed a strong, positive community spirit among the locals.
Humanitarian aid inspires kindness among the locals
“Do not underestimate the power of a single grain of rice!”
The rice bank movement in Myanmar has successfully inspired many locals to do good and commit to helping others in need, and the 10 years of saving rice for a good cause has reaped positive outcomes in charity. Tzu Chi Taiwan’s spirit of love and kindness has been spread to many countries around the world through the efforts of its global volunteers in sowing the seeds of kindness in local soils. The NGO continues to inspire kindness in Myanmar, and now, many of the local farmers are no longer troubled by hardship — they have developed a positive outlook on life as they find joy in helping others.
South Asia was hit by Cyclone Nargis in 2008, with Myanmar bearing the brunt of the disaster. Tzu Chi Malaysia took the lead in carrying out disaster relief operations in Myanmar. Many paddy fields were inundated, causing many farmers to lose their lifetime savings and go into debt. As they had already taken up loans to purchase their rice seeds, many of the farmers could not afford to buy anymore seeds, thus driving the livelihood of many farming families to a dead end.
After receiving the news of the disaster, Tzu Chi volunteers began distributing high-grade rice seeds to impoverished farmers in Myanmar. These seeds were termed “blessed seeds” by the locals. One of the farmers, U Thein Tun, who later initiated the rice bank movement, pledged to help others in need after receiving assistance from Tzu Chi. His family would keep a handful of rice in a separate container before cooking every day, and the rice saved was then donated to the needy. U Thein Tun also practises the Buddhist precept of “No Killing” by not using pesticides on his crops. In 2014, he bought another plot of land, and the harvests from this field are fully donated to Tzu Chi.
The tangible gift of compassion
A team of volunteers from Tzu Chi Myanmar attended the training camp for global Tzu Chi volunteers in June 2018. After the camp, the volunteers from Myanmar had a session with Master Cheng Yen at the Jing Si Hall in Taipei, Taiwan, to share about their charitable milestones in Myanmar.
A visibly touched and emotional U Thein Tun shared that if Master Cheng Yen were to give him money, he would probably finish using the money very soon, but the compassion given to him by the Master would last him a lifetime. After Tzu Chi distributed the rice seeds to those affected by the cyclone in 2008, many local villagers learned about the humble early beginnings of the NGO from the volunteers. In those early days, Master Cheng Yen led 30 housewives to save NT$0.50 a day into bamboo coin banks to help the needy. The locals were so moved by the spirit of the Bamboo Bank Era that many families began taking the initiative to save a handful of rice before cooking their meal each day, to help others in need.
The rice bank movement has gained popularity in many villages in Myanmar. In Taiwan, Tzu Chi has also been actively promoting the concept of “eating till 80% full and saving the remaining 20% to help the needy”. By taking up a vegetarian diet, not only can we nurture compassion in ourselves, but also reduce our carbon footprint to conserve the environment. Indeed, if everyone is able to reduce their wants and desires by a little, they will have more to give to help those in need.
While engaging in charitable activities, Tzu Chi volunteers would often encourage aid recipients to help others in need. They would share with the latter that it is actually not difficult to help others even if one is poor — as long as one has a loving heart, one can still be spiritually wealthy and happy even while living in difficult conditions.