On 27th January 2019, Tzu Chi Singapore held its third pre-Chinese New Year celebration for its Chinese aid beneficiaries with the theme, “Let us nurture a love for life, be grateful, and respect one another. May we gain continued blessings and wisdom as we usher in the Lunar New Year”.
The festive event was graced by the participation of 445 beneficiaries, who joyfully gathered at the Jing Si Hall for the celebration. Due to an overwhelming response, two sessions of the event were held on the same day―one at 11am and the other at 3.30pm.
At 11am sharp, loud drum beats and the clanging of cymbals filled the main hall as a lion dance was staged. Right after the lion dance, two emcees dressed in red came onto the stage and warmly extended early Chinese New Year greetings to the invited guests. Then, they hosted the remaining programme, which included a drum performance, festive song performances, sign language and songs, and a dance performance.
How it all started
The annual pre-Chinese New Year celebration for Tzu Chi’s beneficiaries is actually a modified version of the winter aid distribution held by Tzu Chi in Taiwan. The first winter aid distribution was carried out in 1969 at a Chinese temple in Hualien, Taiwan, where the NGO was first established. During the event, the local needy and sick came together for an early celebration of the Lunar New Year festive season over a sumptuous vegetarian meal. After the meal, each person was given NTD50 (est. SGD2.20) and each family received a blanket, clothing and some food items.
Feeling for the hardship and loneliness endured by the poor, especially during the festive season, Tzu Chi’s founder Dharma Master Cheng Yen decided to hold a winter aid distribution annually at the Jing Si Abode, the early premises of the NGO. The aid supplies distributed consisted of daily necessities, which were all thoughtfully selected and neatly packed in a bag as a gesture of love and respect for the aid recipients.
Today, charity aid distributions are held by Tzu Chi volunteers in many countries around the world. In Singapore, since 2017, Tzu Chi has been holding an aid distribution event three times a year, to celebrate the festive occasions of Chinese New Year, Hari Raya Puasa and Deepavali, with its Chinese, Malay, and Indian beneficiaries respectively.
Grateful to Tzu Chi for helping to transform their lives
The first dish was served after the drum performance, and the table leader at each table helped place a portion of the food onto each plate for every guest. While the guests enjoyed their meal, Mr. Tan, an aid beneficiary under the care of Tzu Chi Singapore’s CEO, Low Swee Seh, was invited to the stage to share his life story.
Tan was injured in a workplace accident and suffered multiple fractures in his left arm as a result. Later, he contracted colon cancer and could no longer work anymore. He became increasingly ill-tempered and would often smash things at home whenever he was triggered or agitated. His bad temper eventually forced his wife to leave him and move out with their children many years ago, and his family remained broken till this day.
He repented for his past misdeeds and admitted that the sad incident would not have happened if not because of his temper. There were times when he was so depressed that he was tempted to end his life.
Tan’s life turn took a turn after Tzu Chi volunteers started visiting him and he began watching Master Cheng Yen’s Dharma talk programmes. He gradually changed his temper and no longer reacts negatively to comments from other people. He has also quit smoking, drinking and gambling and now saves the money he used to spend on these bad habits into a Tzu Chi Bamboo Coin Bank to help others in need (by donating his savings to Tzu Chi).
Tan is very grateful for what Tzu Chi has done for him. His greatest wish now is to get better so that he can serve as a Tzu Chi volunteer, despite suffering from cancer. As he made his way down the stage after his speech, his heartfelt sharing received loud applause from the audience.
The stage was then taken over by a group of adult students from the Tzu Chi Continuing Education Centre, who put up a lively Chinese dance performance.
Mdm. Ko, who was seated near the stage, enjoyed a Chinese New Year song performance so much that she sang along with the singer. The elderly aid beneficiary, who is turning 66 this year, has been wheelchair bound since she was 28 years old due to a nerve degeneration disease in her legs. She learned from her doctor that there is no cure for the disease yet, and she could only visit the hospital regularly to keep her condition in check. Due to her condition, she is unable to work and lives on government welfare.
Despite having siblings of her own, Mdm. Ko hardly gets in touch with her family, so she is basically living all alone. However, after getting connected with Tzu Chi, she started receiving the care and company of volunteers every month, and that gradually transformed her life. Besides providing her with emotional support and financial assistance, the volunteers also arranged for Tzu Chi’s Traditional Chinese Medicine team to administer treatments for her every Friday at her home.
“I am very happy to be here today. I like the people here and the ambience, too. I also like listening to the Dharma talks by Master Cheng Yen and feel more energetic each time I visit the Jing Si Hall,” said Mdm. Ko with a grateful and cheerful smile.
Mdm. Ko is very grateful for what Tzu Chi has done for her. Even the haircut service she received from a volunteer in the morning meant a lot to her as it is quite troublesome for her to travel around on her wheelchair.
Selfless dedication that stems from love and respect
This festive celebration, which had brought much joy and cheer to the aid beneficiaries, could not have been made possible without the selfless efforts and contributions of a large team of volunteers, with a total of 431 volunteer shifts covering the two sessions. And it took those in the planning committee 1.5 months to prepare for the event.
Teoh Ai Ping, the chief coordinator of the event, shared that this was the first time she coordinated the entire programme for a Tzu Chi activity.
“Serving as a Tzu Chi volunteer has broadened my mind and helped me develop a more forgiving heart,” shared Teoh, who has joined Tzu Chi for 10 years.
Apart from those who have volunteered to prepare for the event, the long-term dedication of the volunteers who make regular, monthly care visits to the aid recipients is commendable, too.
Choo Pui Voon was one of the volunteers who accompanied the aid recipients under their care to the event. For three years, she has been visiting Tzu Chi beneficiary, Peter, every month to bring care to him and his family. Peter is an Australian residing in Singapore, and he had one of his legs amputated due to an accident.
Choo said, “I mainly give him emotional and spiritual support. The support and assistance from Tzu Chi allow him and his family to feel that they are not alone, and the care we show them has given them the positivity and strength to carry on with life.”
Keeping the love going by giving back
Despite being recipients of aid, many of the Tzu Chi beneficiaries paid their love forward. They brought along the Bamboo Coin Banks they had adopted and poured their savings into a big urn situated at the entrance of the Jing Si Hall. Their donations would be used to help others in need.
Before they headed home, every guest was given a red packet and a Chinese New Year goodie bag. The values of gratitude, respect and love were at the core of the festive celebration, as the programmes and gifts were prepared with much love and respect.
As the aid beneficiaries made their way out of the Jing Si Hall, the smiles on their faces were the best affirmation for the volunteers’ painstaking efforts!