30 Aug 2011 was a public holiday where Singapore celebrates Hari Raya Aidilfitri. However, 396 Tzu Chi volunteers inclusive of 47 working staff chose to assemble at Jing Si Hall as a charity volunteer training session was organized for them to share, learn from each other and enrich themselves.
The training session started with a skit illustrating the journey of a newly enrolled volunteer involving in Tzu Chi's home visit work, showing how she had grown to be to be empathetic, non-judgmental and compassionate during the process. The support given to her by the team as well as her diligence in learning and taking on responsibilities had led to her spiritual growth and transformed her to a better person. The skit was a great manifestation of the saying that “when we give, we also gain at the same time.”
Transformation – Spiritual growth of Tzu Chi volunteers
This transformation commonly experienced by volunteers involved in Tzu Chi's charity works were further enforced by volunteers sharing their personal experience. Participating in Tzu Chi's charity activities since her undergraduate days in Sabah, Malaysia, Sister Chin Wan Chin not only broadened her horizon and realized that "it is a blessing to be able to love and be loved", the exposure and experience also drove her to join Tzu Chi Singapore as a social work officer after graduation.
Overseeing the "Seeds of Hope" Bursary Programme where the Foundation subsidies more than 3700 needy students’ meal and transportation allowances monthly, Sister Chin shared that “my small effort in giving the students a peace of mind while they attend school is what keeps me going”.
In addition, Brother Ang Leck Kang's personal experience also left a deep impression on the trainees. Brother Ang shared that the two lessons he gained from the home visits were "Letting Go" and "Being Filial".
For the past 30 years, due to some misunderstanding, Brother Ang was not in good term with her elder sister and treated her coldly like a stranger. However, after being involved in visitation cases where he was friendly and nice to the families, Brother Ang reflected on himself and felt that something was not right. It struck him that he was not treating his own sister as nice as he did to the families he visited, whom were not even related to him.
Feeling bad and remorseful, Brother Ang decided to mend the relationship with his sister and take the first step by putting his pride aside. It was tough but with the help of his mother, Brother Ang started by giving his sister a red packet before he went for his overseas trip. His sister was surprised. When they met later, Brother Ang approached her and the two siblings started talking again. It was a joyous and relieved experience for Brother Ang for he was finally able to let go of the hatred buried in his heart for many years.
On filial piety, Brother Ang always thought that he was a devoted son since he looked after his 87-year-old mother, providing her with all the materials things as well as employing maids to ensure her a comfortable life. Yet in one of the cases he visited, his perspective of being truly filial changed. The son of the family, who despite his own disease, took pain to look after, clean and feed his elderly and bedridden mother every day. Brother Ang once asked the son curiously, "Did you ever consider sending your mother to the old folk's home?" The reply was that the son preferred to take care of his mother personally as "those people in old folk’s home were strangers and not related to us". Brother Ang was deeply touched by this great filial piety.
Brother Ang closed his sharing by emphasizing that he was indeed humbled by the experiences he encountered during the home visits and urged the fellow trainees to "let go of any hatred, if any; make friends not enemy, cherish the relationship with people and be filial to our parents".
Where Help is Available
Other than volunteers' sharing, several policies and knowledge that the trainees need to know were further explained during the second half of the training.
Through the "Seeds of Hope" (SOH) Bursary Programme, volunteers increasingly encounter families that were driven into distress with the passing of the breadwinner. During such circumstances, other than care and concern, are there any help that Tzu Chi volunteers can offer?
Indeed, there are concrete steps that the charity volunteers can take, as shared by Charity cadre of the East District, Sister Goh Eng Eng. Although Tzu Chi volunteers are not professional social worker, with a basic understanding of various schemes like the Central Provident Fund (CPF), Dependent Protection Scheme (DPS) and Home Protection Scheme (HPS), volunteers can share with the bereaved families of the possible ways to bring normalcy back to the family.
Other than needy families referred through the SOH bursary programme that are placed under Tzu Chi charity cases for further assistance, shelter homes is another aspect that Tzu Chi volunteers discovered through interactions with the partnering schools.
As pointed out by East District's Charity cadre, Sister Wu Yu Chin, children from broken or dysfunctional families are often placed under shelter homes after Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS)'s or court intervention. Although their stay is subsidized by the government, some shelter homes do not have further financial capacity to provide transportation and meal allowances for the children's schooling, and so this is where Tzu Chi comes in to help. The Foundation currently partners with six shelter homes of different religion to provide subsidies to the children under their care.
Another area that is commonly shy from the public eye is prison care. Tzu Chi has been caring for HIV-positive inmates since March 2009 and till date has assisted 49 individuals. Other than assisting with their medication expenses, charity volunteers of the Foundation visit these inmates every fortnightly to offer mental support and comfort to their souls.
The genuine care and sincere effort of the volunteer team has recently won the recognition of the prison which Tzu Chi collaborates with, in which the management has suggested the Foundation to set up a Family Resource Centre (FRC) in the prison to assist in family-related cases for the inmates.
Brother Ong Wee Heng, who is the volunteer cadre of the prison care programme, closed his sharing by quoting a compliment over Tzu Chi by an inmate's family member, “Uncommon kindness of strangers, a kindness at times more gentle than a kin”. He also urged the trainees to join the prison care team to bring hope and warmth to the inmates.
“When we see pain and suffering, then we know how blessed we are”. The session ended with a heightened awareness of people in need, where help is available and how we can make a difference in their lives. The Great Love, compassion and willpower demonstrated by Tzu Chi volunteers serve as an inspiration for everyone to continue their diligence in spreading their love. With Tzu Chi volunteers around, Love and Hope fills the air.