On the faraway continent of Africa, there is a group of Zulu Tzu Chi volunteers, who reach out to needy elderly, AIDS sufferers, orphans, etc. on foot, singing merrily as they embark on their charitable mission.
These volunteers take serving others as their duty. Despite being materially poor, they are spiritually rich.
From the first Tzu Chi seed in Africa, a Taiwanese entrepreneur, the team has grown to thousands of local volunteers, who have set foot on 8 countries on the continent, bringing relief, light and hope to the suffering.
In 2019, Malawi, one of the world's poorest countries, was hit by the Indian Ocean tropical cyclone Idai. In response to the disaster, South African Tzu Chi volunteers initiated a timely disaster assessment and relief by distributing corn flour to the victims and help rebuild their home. At that time, the victims were only hoping for survival, shared the CEO of Tzu Chi South Africa, Chu Heng Min.
On 8 January 2020, nine Tzu Chi volunteers from South Africa arrived at Tzu Chi Humanistic Youth Centre in Singapore to share with over 300 people about Tzu Chi’s charitable movement in Africa as well as their heart moving and joyful experiences when assessing the disaster situation back then.
“Sometimes the road was just in front of us, but it felt as if it was very far away,” CEO of South Africa, Chu Heng Min shared about a time when the vehicle accidentally fell into a mud pit when it was heading towards the disaster hit area. Tzu Chi volunteers did their best to push the car out of the pit and took turn to guard the vehicle by walking next to it to prevent the vehicle from falling into the mud pit again.
Accompanied by the volunteers at the side, the vehicle was driven slowly on the muddy road, and the 100-meter journey took nearly two hours to complete. The journey to the disaster-stricken area was a tough drive, but it did not shatter the will of Tzu Chi volunteers in South Africa to assess the disaster and provide relief to the victims.
Rebuilding home with love
The continuous occurrence of various natural catastrophe at the same area had sent volunteers into deep thoughts on how to help the victims. Chu continued to share about the touching story of Alina, a disaster victim who helped volunteers rebuild the homes of the victims. Despite having her own home semi damaged, Alina donated all 1,500 bricks which she had prepared to rebuild her own home, hoping to help other people who were in need. Alina opined that those who have lost their whole house needed these bricks more than her and her generosity and helpful spirit had moved the local victims and Tzu Chi volunteers.
The mutual assistance and love between volunteers and the victims of the disaster has built homes and spread love in the community. The most moving part of the entire disaster relief process was where volunteers gave hope and confidence to the disaster victims and lighted up the hearts of many.
"Purifying hearts and minds, bringing about harmony in society, and mitigating disasters in the world is what Master Cheng Yen has hoped for Tzu Chi Africa. If you treat refugees as refugees, they will always be refugees,” said Chu.
Lee Si Qin, a businessman, agrees very much with what Chu said. After reading the touching stories of Tzu Chi’s love in Africa, he learned that the way to improve the situation is to start making changes and caring for others sincerely before slowly influencing the people around him to spread the love to more people.
Lee shared that Singapore is a well-managed and relatively happy nation. By having a deeper understanding of how people in other countries are suffering, one will appreciate the happiness that one has. Therefore, he never forgets to contribute by actively participating in Tzu Chi activities such as the Festive Charity Fair.
Outdoing oneself and persist till the end
Another Tzu Chi Durban volunteer, Yuan Ya Qi shared with everyone her experience serving in nine African countries, as well as the many heart-moving local volunteer stories. She talked about how an experienced senior volunteer whom everyone respectfully addressed as grandma Lu Wei, had upheld her promise until her last breath despite facing health deterioration due to diabetes in 2018. Grandma Lu Wei had never been absent from the first charitable visit to rural areas in 2019 until the volunteer monthly meeting a day before she passed away. She had dedicated her life to the suffering and left behind good legacies for the younger generation.
"Everyone should be willing to help others, bring joy to others and also to themselves," shared Chen Yan Xian, an audience who was deeply moved by what Grandma Lu Wei did for Africa. Chen saw the deterioration of Grandma Lu Wei’s health from the screen and how she even required assistance to get on the car, however, she never stops serving others. Her persistence to do good is something worth learning by the younger generation.
Chen shared that she has started doing her best to volunteer on every first Sunday of the month to help distribute aid materials to old folks who are living alone. After listening to the sharing from Tzu Chi South Africa volunteers, she hopes to become a Tzu Chi member to give love and help others to make the society a better place.
Poverty does not prevent one from serving others
Gladys Ngema, the first certified native African Tzu Chi commissioner, said, "If we do not purify our hearts, we will never have peace and there will always be chaos."
Ngema was helped by Tzu Chi after her house was burned down 20 years ago. Pan taught her to let go of hatred and become a savior to others. After serving in Tzu Chi for 10 years, Ngema finally let go of her afflictions and keeps the kindness and love going since then.
"She was terribly sick, and she was dying, yet she persisted until her last breath,” shared Sim Hee Chew who was particularly touched by the practice and vow of the African volunteer. He mentioned that 40 kilometres of distance is considered very far in Singapore, it is nothing compared to the African volunteers who travel more than 2000 kilometres in an old vehicle and still carry on even when there is problem with the vehicle engine, or the vehicle gets stuck in the mud. Besides natural disaster, they had to deal with manmade problems too, yet, the poorest African countries are still creating blessings by doing good to keep the love going around the world.
Sim whom is in his 70’s felt that he has already owned whatever he should have, and thus, it is time he contributes to the society the best he could in the second half of his life. He hopes that everyone can also take a step forward to realize what suffering is about, cherish their blessings and create more blessings for themselves and others and subsequently spread the pure thoughts and action to the rest of the world.
“Whether we are in a rich country or a dark corner, we should learn to let go and take good care of our body so that we could practice the bodhisattva path and spread love,” said Sim.