In the afternoon on 1st October 2017, waves of lively Indian music could be heard coming from Tzu Chi’s Jing Si Hall. The wooden floorboards at the lobby and the main hall were adorned with “Rangoli”, a colourful traditional Indian floor art, and there were also folding screens decorated with Indian ornaments on display-- the entire venue was imbued with a festive atmosphere. On this day, the Foundation held a heart-warming Deepavali celebration, which was attended by 29 of its Indian aid/care beneficiaries and their families.
The North Zone charity team leader, Phay Lay Leng, said that this was the first Deepavali celebration held by Tzu Chi, and volunteers had specially invited Indian friends and beneficiaries to prepare Indian delicacies and festive decorations as well as present an exciting line-up of programmes.
Such an arrangement not only highlighted the Indian traditions of this festival, but also provided opportunities for the beneficiaries to contribute their efforts and talents, including serving as translators, Henna hand-painting artists, etc.
“This is my first experience preparing food for so many people. When everyone sang praises for the tasty dishes, it brought tears of joy to my heart,” shared Mdm Rani. She had readily agreed to the invitation by Low Mi Lan, her daughter-in-law and a Tzu Chi staff, to help prepare Indian dishes for the celebration. “It is a tremendous challenge to cook Indian dishes without garlic and onion, so I had to find suitable ingredients as substitutes without compromising on the taste.”
Garlic and onion are commonly used in Indian recipes. Mdm Rani had purposefully replaced these ingredients with cashew nus and almonds, and managed to whip up fragrant and delicious Indian vegetarian dishes that were nutritious, too. She was full of admiration for the tireless efforts of the elderly volunteers, who helped alongside her for the whole day without a single word of complaint or grumbling, and she hoped to continue to serve as a volunteer in the days ahead.
Grateful and Giving Hearts
At the start of the programme, Aravin (wearing a blue-hued traditional Indian long-sleeved shirt) stood next to the emcee to serve as a translator for the beneficiaries who did not understand English. Thus everyone in the audience could enjoy the programme without being limited by language barriers.
“When Tzu Chi volunteers invited me to be the Tamil translator, I readily agreed,” said Aravin. He felt the importance of the Deepavali celebration and was most happy to help out at the event.
Tzu Chi has been subsidizing Aravin’s dialysis and transport expenses, but what truly helped him were the regular home visits by Tzu Chi volunteers. He was so inspired by the stories of real life individuals that the volunteers shared with him during each visit, that his explosive temper mellowed over time.
“Although I have lost my sight, I can feel that it is very special here. Everyone is so relaxed and at peace. I feel really blessed being together with so many kind-hearted people,” Aravin added. He came together with his wife and his wife’s aunt, and they arrived in Jing Si Hall an hour earlier for preparations and rehearsals. He lost his ability to work five years ago, after becoming blind in both eyes due to glaucoma. His wife had no choice but to come out of retirement to work so as to help support the family.
This day coincided with the “International Day of Older Persons”. Aravin made a thank you card for his wife with the help of a volunteer, and expressed his heartfelt gratitude to her in the presence of everyone. He thanked her for not leaving him and was deeply appreciative that she not only had to endure the rigors of work outside but also had to bear with his bad temper and took care of his daily needs after work.
The sincere words from Aravin’s heart deeply touched his wife, and she also thanked him for his toils over many years in supporting the family. The couple hugged and said, “We made vows to be partners for life, and to support each other till life’s end.” Then, upon the request of a volunteer, the wife staged an improvised dance, bringing much joy to all present.
The most eye-catching performance was presented by Devi, a talented dancer. In her energetic dance that lasted over 10 minutes, her perspiration-drenched face was lit up by a bright smile. It was so captivating that even the audience started moving to the lively beats of the music.
However, Devi’s bright smiles hid the unspoken sorrow of the death of her god-mother, Mdm Kumarasamy. The latter was bedridden and unable to talk for six years after a severe stroke. Over two years ago, Tzu Chi began to supply her with nutritional milk, and she passed away just two weeks earlier. Devi knew how her god-mother would delight in seeing her dance, so, she still came to stage the performance, hiding the sorrows in her heart while dancing on stage.
“Thinking of the joy this dance would bring to others gave me the strength to carry through with the dance. I feel honoured to dance for the audience,” said Devi.
But she could not hold back her tears when she spoke of her (late) god-mother. “In the past, the volunteers brought much comfort to Godma. They often made her laugh and would even pray for her.”
Soup for the Soul
“I am an 'angry bird', and would get angry easily. I suffered from depression and even attempted suicide,” said Emily, sitting in a wheel-chair as she recounted her story. She fell into depression after losing sight in her left eye at 42, and buried her sorrows in her heart, until she made a decision one day to speak about her feelings, thereby getting relieved.
“I am deeply grateful for the company of Tzu Chi volunteers, who really listened to me as I poured out my heart…” Emily recounted at length. Tzu Chi provides her with medical subsidies, and volunteers visit her home once a month to give her emotional support and care. Such monthly home care visits by volunteers brought spiritual nourishment to many beneficiaries.
On this day, Emily brought her bamboo coin bank, to donate the money she had saved to Tzu Chi to help others in need. As someone who had benefited from social welfare, she hoped to do her little part in bringing blessings to others.
“There is a strong Deepavali spirit here. Besides the decorations, the programme left an indelible mark in everyone’s hearts, be it the dance items or sign language songs,” commented Indra Devi, who was visiting the Jing Si Hall for the first time. She had specially dressed up to attend the celebration with her father, Mr Kandasamy.
Mr Kandasamy has mild dementia and depression, and seldom communicates with his family. Yet the arrival of Tzu Chi volunteers each month brought smiles to his face and even enabled him to start a conversation.
“I am very thankful to the people of Tzu Chi for coming to us when we needed help most,” said Indra Devi. She added, “They guided dad to do colouring, and even played jigsaw puzzles with him.”
Tzu Chi provides Mr Kandasamy with nutritional milk every month. The aid not only lightened his family’s financial burden, but also helped him open his heart to others. Mr Kandasamy’s wife was touched by the volunteers’ care and support, and showed her appreciation by adopting a bamboo coin bank. She even led her whole family into contributing their savings to help other needy people.
Another beneficiary, Mr Balu, shared that he fell into financial hardship since after he started needing kidney dialysis eight months before. Tzu Chi gave him timely aid by subsidising his interim dialysis costs, and the care from volunteers helped him walk out of the darkest stage of his life. This deeply touched his heart.
The unbearable burdens of illnesses and financial difficulties often leave people feeling helpless. But the warmth of caring hearts and support can help to chase out the darkness in life, and even transform the needy into individuals who can contribute to help others.