The International Association for Volunteer Effort (IAVE) held its 21st World Volunteer Conference in Singapore from 24 to 27 Jan, with an affiliated Youth Volunteer Conference held on 21 to 23 Jan. Apart from providing an effective platform for global volunteers to share their valuable volunteering experiences with one another, the conference, themed “Volunteering to Change the World”, also aimed to promote awareness of various charity works conducted in host country Singapore. As such, the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation in Singapore was cordially invited to co-host one of the events.
In the morning of 22 Jan, the Foundation’s Jing Si Hall was graced by a dozen global volunteers from Thailand, the Philippines, Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. Tzu Chi Youths, eagerly anticipating the arrival of the guests, came as early as 7.30am to begin site decoration and lunch preparation. The groups of guests were greeted with warm cheers and applause, as they arrived at the venue at around 10.30am.
Green Diet helps reduce carbon emission
The event unfolds with the slogan 'Go Green, Be Bold', which serves to remind all the importance of environmental conservation through adopting a different lifestyle. Following the screening of a DVD introducing the founding and works of Tzu Chi Foundation (Singapore), recycling volunteer and Executive Director and General Manager of Lim Kim Hai Electric Co (S) Pte Ltd Ong Wee Heng shared with all, images of recent natural calamities which highlight the need for a global effort to engage in recycling work. More importantly, there is a need for citizens to adopt a vegetarian diet globally in the 21st century in order to reduce damage to the Earth.
Speaking from his own experience, Brother Ong shared with all that going vegetarian had never crossed his mind until he came across Tzu Chi. Resolving to make a difference in the world, he committed himself to a vegetarian diet three years ago. Since then, his physical and mental well-being has also improved greatly.
Following that, the recycling group from Tzu Chi Youths shared with all their unique experience in promoting recycling work at community and college levels. They came up with thoughtful little ‘Veggie Passports’ that can be carried around at all times and hence serving as constant reminders of one’s commitment to Mother Earth. A fully filled Veggie Calendar in the Passport means one has succeeded in committing to 100 vegetarian meals, a seemingly small but meaningful impact to the world.
Among the volunteers, Siti Hazarah Mohamad seemed pretty interested in the idea. The Singaporean said she knew about the health benefits of vegetarian diet long ago but she wasn’t aware that the diet could have a vast impact on the environment. (Editor’s note: poultry farming is a petrol-intensive process.)
“Frankly, I do not like vegetables. But after coming here today, I think I should start cutting down on eating meat if I can’t go fully vegan,” said Siti.
Green Living helps conserve natural resources
The volunteers next visited the recycling station behind the Hall where many received hands-on experience with recycling work for the first time. This physical engagement brought great excitement to the volunteers.
Mariam Alshansi, a volunteer from UAE shared with all that to engage in physical recycling work is a deeply enriching experience which complemented her learning experience in class. Learning how the sales revenue of recyclables can help support Tzu Chi's other charity works, Mariam fervently bought two secondhand items on the spot.
“These items are as good as new! Furthermore, by purchasing them I am also indirectly helping to support Tzu Chi's charity work. This is a great!”
Unlike many of our local Singaporeans who have never experienced a natural calamity, Zarni Htun from Myanmar had witnessed the traumatic disaster wrought by Cyclone Nargis in May 2008. Zarni, a sincere Buddhist now working in Myanmar's Forest Bureau, shares a deep belief that all Buddhists from across the world must commit to salvage the climate change process. Though it's his first time encountering Tzu Chi, Zarni was deeply inspired by the Foundation's effort in environmental protection. He vowed to return to his homeland and encourage more local volunteers to dedicate towards this great cause for humanity.
The entire morning has been an enriching experience for the global volunteers. The group leader Vickland Mohamed Malik shared that he was first introduced to Tzu Chi by his friend, Xu Yan Xin, a Tzu Chi Youth. Seeing how dedicated she was in promoting Tzu Chi ideals, Vickland was eager to learn more about Tzu Chi. The visit made a lasting impression in his mind, and he was glad to be acquainted with so many like-minded Tzu Chi Youths who are passionate in making a difference in the world.
Green Enterprise – an exemplar for future corporations
In the evening, Tzu Chi Youths were invited to the IAVE International Social Evening at the SCAPE building along Orchard Road. This presents a unique opportunity for Tzu Chi to present the latest products made by Da Ai Technology, the green enterprise established by five Tzu Chi entrepreneur volunteers. The Youths explained how the fabrics were made from recycled PET bottles, the process of which marveled many in the audience. The IAVE volunteers were equally amazed at the good quality of the fabrics.
Aaron Mohann, a volunteer from Australia, was curious about how used PET bottles, usually buried in landfills, could be recycled into clean usable fabrics. He was so passionate about sharing this incredible technology that he immediately bought an eco-shirt on the spot so that he could bring it home and show it to his family and friends.
Another volunteer, Akino Tahir, was equally inspired by the work of Da Ai Technology as she stood in front of Tzu Chi's booth for nearly half an hour despite the buzz of the band performance. Currently pursuing her Ph.D. in Japan, she spoke highly of Da Ai Technology which she thinks is playing a vital role in reducing waste produced by the growing population. She remarked that all aspiring entrepreneur-to-be should follow the example of Da Ai Technology in making a positive impact to the world, and not just on the sole consideration of profit-making.
Risye Dwiyani grew excited as she saw Master Cheng Yen's image on the bimonthly magazine that a Tzu Chi youth presented her. Currently pursuing studies in Japan, she once came across Master Cheng Yen's teaching through Da Ai TV Station in Indonesia. “My mind always calms down as I listen to her teachings,” said Risye.
The Indonesian youth was deeply inspired by how thermal blankets made from recycled PET could later be delivered to disaster-struck victims during Tzu Chi's relief mission – a beautiful merger of recycling work and charity mission. In her heart, she made a vow to join as Tzu Chi volunteer upon her return to Indonesia.
It has been over 20 years since Tzu Chi first initiated its environmental protection campaign. Today's younger generation must aspire to be more proactive in exercising determination and creativity to engage with the greater world in protecting Planet Earth. This is not an empty slogan, and is certainly achievable if we make conscious effort to transform our habits in our everyday life, such as adopting a vegetarian diet and sorting out our garbage at home.
So, what are you still waiting for? GO GREEN, BE BOLD!!