“We must first give of ourselves before expecting others to reciprocate; (in this way) love can abound in our society,” commented 82-year-old Zhang Zhuang Ju. The elderly uncle was sitting on a bench in a hawker centre observing Tzu Chi volunteers soliciting donations from passers-by, and decided to make a contribution, too. Uncle Zhang shared that his wife suffers from poliomyelitis, and he especially feels the suffering of handicapped people. He was happy to donate, saying that one should offer help if one is still capable of doing so.
Tzu Chi Foundation (Singapore) had applied to the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) to hold its very own flag day on 26 September, 2015, in order to raise funds for its local charity programmes. Early on that Saturday morning, volunteers fanned out into the various community venues and tirelessly got the street fundraiser going. Just four days before, on 22 September, the organisation marked its 22nd anniversary, and it decided to commemorate the occasion by holding the fundraising event to inspire acts of kindness around the island.
The activity itself also reminded all volunteers of the spirit of mutual cooperation and equal compassion for all fellow beings. CEO of Tzu Chi Singapore Low Swee Seh expressed that apart from being a testament of the Singapore government’s recognition of the organisation, more importantly, it also served as a platform to introduce the organisation to more people. Through inspiring the goodness in their hearts, he hoped that they may one day join the ranks of Tzu Chi volunteers.
Loving Words Lift the Gloom of Hazy Skies
Since mid-September, forest fires in Sumatra, Indonesia, have been the cause of Singapore’s hazy skies. The acrid smell of burning constantly lingered in the air and the government even announced the closure of schools for a day (on 25 September) when the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) readings breached the hazardous 300 mark. Tzu Chi was concerned about the air quality and fortunately, the situation improved, resulting in the flag day activity being able to proceed on the following day as planned.
Apart from preparing 200 donation boxes and 20,000 donation stickers, volunteers also brought along N95 face masks with 95% air filtering efficacy to give out to members of the public who needed them.
“Good morning uncle, do you need a face mask?”
“You are holding so many things, granny. Please be careful when you ride your bike!”
From 7am to 5pm, across 54 varied locations including the wet markets, supermarkets, MRT stations etc., 524 Tzu Chi volunteers could be heard calling out greetings such as these as they solicited for donations and expressed their gratitude with their trademark 90-degree bow.
“Can I have a face mask?” asked Jessy Phua, a curious passer-by. After receiving one from volunteers, she spoke further with them and found out that it was Tzu Chi’s flag day. Though she confessed with embarrassment that she did not bring any money with her, volunteers assured her it was fine and took the opportunity to tell her more about the organisation. When her husband returned from buying groceries, she took some cash from him and made a donation with a satisfied grin on her face.
“Every person who walks by has a ‘karmic connection’ with us; even if they do not make a donation, we must treat them with equal respect. Just a simple word of blessing from us can sow the seeds of kindness, and inspire compassion and goodness in their hearts,” explained Tzu Chi volunteer Ge Yun Xia. She had previously missed out on two opportunities to take part in Tzu Chi street fund raising activities and this time, she had spent the night before thinking of the appropriate words to say to those whom she would meet during the flag day.
Wearing a cheery smile and clutching donation stickers in her hand, Ge stood among the crowd of pedestrians and dispensed her carefully thought out blessings in Mandarin: “慈悲无量, 快乐健康, 感恩您!” (“I wish you boundless compassion, happiness and good health. Thank you!”) Seeing the many passers-by who stopped by to give to help the less fortunate, she felt only happiness.
Another volunteer, Zeng Yu Mei, recalled that the first time she took part in a Tzu Chi street fundraiser, she felt very fortunate to be able to do something to help the disaster victims and was also moved to tears a few times by the love shown by members of the public who cared. On this flag day fund raising activity, she did not have to carry the burden of worry for disaster victims, yet Zeng declared that this did not diminish her enthusiasm as every such opportunity was a chance to inspire goodness in others.
As Dharma Master Cheng Yen (Tzu Chi’s founder) often says, “During times of peace, we must prepare for turbulent times”; hence, people in society should foster the existing peace and harmony by doing good to sow seeds of blessings that would help mitigate disasters and conflicts.
A Little Kindness Inspires
While some passers-by would stop to make a donation, others would make enquires out of curiosity; yet others would hurriedly decline. And then there were the parents who would guide their children in making a donation, and those who turned back just to make a contribution.
Without the help of eye-catching posters and flyers for distribution, volunteers took pains to introduce Tzu Chi to those who would stop to listen, sharing the philosophy and missions of the organisation with them. They used their smartphones to display the website of Tzu Chi and leafed through an introductory booklet on the organisation to illustrate what they had to say and to bring their message across.
Observing them through the glass doors of the restaurant he was in, Hougang resident Yan Deng Wang was moved to step out and make a donation too. He confessed that he rarely responded to flag day donations but was touched by the sincerity of volunteers this time round. He had never heard of Tzu Chi before, but was interested to find out more about its activities.
Seeing that many people would hastily leave after making their donations, volunteer Yang Zhong Rong decided to facilitate their understanding of the organisation by calling out: “(Tzu Chi) solicits your kindness; by contributing to our charitable foundation, you help needy families and students.”
“We don’t do (charity work); but seeing you doing so, we want to support you,” said 76- year-old Bai Hua Yan, who was leafing through the introductory publication on Tzu Chi Singapore. He made his donation and even encouraged his friend to do likewise. Hearing him comment that one should not criticize the good work that others engage in, volunteer Wu De Hong shared the contents of a book of Jing Si Aphorisms with him. Coincidentally, they came across the Aphorism: “Before criticizing others, consider firstly if we ourselves are perfect”, and this earned the hearty agreement of Bai who concluded that one should not be afraid of criticism when engaging in good deeds.
Also helping in the flag day activity was Oh Shi Guo, a former beneficiary of Tzu Chi, who arrived in a wheelchair accompanied by two others. He shared that having the opportunity to help others who were even more needy than himself was indeed a joyous thing.
Though he was a little disheartened to be on the receiving end of stares and whispers from strangers who pitied his condition, he drew strength from the memory of how Tzu Chi had helped him out in his darkest days, and how he had learnt so much from the teachings of Master Cheng Yen and from watching the organisation’s Da Ai Television programmes. This made him feel that he should treasure the opportunity to help others.
One gains wisdom from living amongst others and in a similar vein, one creates one’s own blessings from the environment that one lives in. From its beginnings in Hualien, Taiwan, Tzu Chi spread to the shores of Singapore in 1993; its history has already spanned more than 20 years. Its four main missions of charity, medicine, education, and humanistic culture have gradually blossomed, and it is the wish of the organisation’s members that it will continue on its good work, that the familiar sight of Tzu Chi’s many volunteers will continue to walk along the dark corners of society, bringing warmth to those who need it most.