When the public entered the exhibition from the car park, what greeted them was a huge and eye-catching poster titled “Coexist with the Earth” and three mannequins sporting Da Ai Technology's eco-friendly garments.
The exhibition began at 8am with all participating stalls set up around a long fountain and housed under a white tent. Among them were stalls promoting environmentalism, organic products and vegetarian food as well as exhibiting ornaments made of recycled material. The array of exhibits not only conveyed a strong message about environmentalism, but also provided the attendees a wider choice of eco-friendly products.
Mr Lorne Chew, the managing director of Greentree Packaging, a social enterprise that makes biodegradable packaging products and also the organizer of the exhibition, had actually visited Tzu Chi Singapore branch a month ago and was very impressed with the environmental, humanitarian, and cultural items developed by these Tzu Chi-inspired entities.
They include Da Ai Technology's recycled products, vegetarian instant noodles and instant rice developed by Tzu Chi's International Humanitarian Aid Association (TIHAA), eco-friendly cutlery, and a long line of Jing Si Publication's inspirational books.
Recognizing that such creations, especially that of Da Ai Technology which process post-consumer PET bottles into raw materials for making blankets and clothes with excellent insulation and stain resistant, should be made known to all Singaporeans, Mr Chew then made arrangements for Tzu Chi to participate in the inaugural Heal the Earth exhibition.
Mr Chew explained that the main objective of his company organizing the exhibition was to inspire the public to adopt lifestyle changes which include changing one's dietary habits—to eat less meat and more vegetables, quit buying PET products, and say 'No' to excessive product packaging.
Having been in the petrochemical industry for 10 years, Mr Chew knows well of the process of making polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles and how they can cause great harm to the human body and the environment. Hence, despite a hefty salary, he decided to quit his job and switch to his present career.
Mr Chew was very kind to offer three stalls free of charge for Tzu Chi Singapore knowing that Tzu Chi is a charitable organization. To make sure that no one would miss out on it, he even arranged the stalls to be at the prominent spot near to the entrance.
On the beautiful Sunday of 23 Jan, Tzu Chi volunteers arrived at the scenic Marina Barrage at 7am to start setting up. Altogether 43 morning and afternoon shifts were arranged for the 9-hour exhibition.
People who saw the PET-bottle-turned-eco-friendly garments for the first time were very surprised. Many were seen touching the garments in disbelief while Tzu Chi volunteers explained to them every step involved in the recycling process, from segregation of the PET bottles from rubbish to the cleaning and classification, as well as the disintegration of the bottles in factory for further processing into garments.
Apart from the technology, the public also learnt from the volunteers how to practice environmentalism in their daily lives and at home.
Many showed their support for Da Ai Technology by purchasing its eco-garments after the briefing by the volunteers. The 12-year old son of Zhang Li Li was spotted urging his mother to buy one. When asked why he must have one, “I want to save the Earth” was all from this young kid.
Mdm Zhang educates her children to make them understand that every single action of theirs can have an impact on the world. "What will become of this world depends on what you do now," she'd tell them. The mother also leads by example by bringing her own shopping bag as well as stainless steel chopsticks and spoon when she shops or eats out.
Besides inviting organizations and companies to showcase their eco-friendly products, Greentree Packaging also set up a website to engage young volunteers to participate in this meaningful event. Two young college students who were deployed to help out at our stalls, Shitu Yu Ting and Yu Mei Ling, seemed to enjoy the experience.
The two had been new to Tzu Chi, but with the briefing and instructions given by the Tzu Chi volunteers, they learned about environmentalism and some ideas about Tzu Chi's charitable activities. “We are very happy that we are assigned to work at your stalls. We have learnt many new things and we get to know for the first time that PET bottles can be used to make garments,” said the two young ladies.
Yuting, a Singaporean, had not been too concerned about environment protection like most of her friends. However, when she saw for herself one after another natural disasters hit countries worldwide, she started to realize the importance of protecting the environment. Mei Ling, on the other hand, comes from the Batam Island of Indonesia and she had seen Tzu Chi volunteers in their uniforms in her hometown before. She was very happy to meet with Tzu Chi volunteers again at the exhibition.
The volunteers were delighted to learn that both of them wished to join Tzu Chi's youth association in future so as to participate in more charitable activities and to influence their friends to do voluntary work together at Tzu Chi's community recycling points.
This was the first time Tzu Chi showcased the eco-products outside its own events. For the volunteers, the event presented them a great opportunity to learn to better create awareness among the public and even with other exhibitors.