In the Chinese tradition, the “Spring Festival” or the Chinese New Year, represents a time of joyful reunion of the whole family. On 4th February 2018, Tzu Chi Foundation (Singapore) held the annual pre-CNY celebration for its aid and care beneficiaries at the Jing Si Hall. Volunteers were in full force to help the needy fully experience the feeling of “Homecoming and Reunion” and the warmth of being cared for in the midst of festivities.
Just before the celebration commenced, the incoming stream of people increased steadily. Some came by public transport, while some came by chartered bus services arranged by volunteers. Physically immobile beneficiaries were personally driven from their homes to the Jing Si Hall by volunteers, before being pushed into the venue in their wheelchairs. Every logistical detail, from the warm reception by volunteers, to the smooth transport arrangements, all helped to make the beneficiaries feel truly welcomed and loved.
“Luckily, a volunteer came to pick me up in his car, otherwise, I would never have stepped out of my home, except to see a doctor!” exclaimed aid beneficiary Mdm Gao, joyfully.
Mdm Gao has been wheelchair-bound since she was 28 years old, as a result of a degenerative disease of the nerves in her legs. Due to her debilitating medical condition, she is unable to go out and work, and has to survive solely on government benefits. Living with such difficult conditions gradually drained all colours from her life and caused her to slip into prolonged bouts of unhappiness.
Finding Joy Serving in the Golden Years
The resounding beat of heart-pounding percussions signaled the arrival of the boisterous Lion Dance and Big-Headed Doll performance, filling the venue with festive cheer.
This year’s energetic lion dance performance featured the CEO of Tzu Chi Singapore, Mr Low Swee Seh, and Deputy CEO Kenny Khoo. It was a commendable performance considering that both of them are already in their fifties. Although both were drenched in perspiration after the performance, their hearts were overfilled with the love and joy they had brought to everyone present.
Tzu Chi also invited local veteran singer Lin Xiao, to bring familiar Chinese oldies to the ears of the beneficiaries. The entire venue seemed to be momentarily “transported” to the live venue of MediaCorp’s “Golden Age” variety programme, as the elderly folks began singing along to the familiar tunes from their younger days.
Lin Xiao shared with the audience that he was invited to perform at Tzu Chi more than 10 years ago, and today was his second guest appearance with the organisation. Even though he is already 70 years of age, Lin Xiao remains passionate about charity events and activities. He encouraged the elderly to get out more often, so as to keep themselves physically fit and active.
The emcee, Liu Xiao Qian, a Tzu Chi commissioner and a professional singer, who is of the same age as him, added this exhortation to everyone present: “Tzu Chi has many recycling points. We welcome everyone to stay healthy by taking part in our recycling activities!”
Materially Poor Yet Spiritually Rich
“I did too much bad stuff in the past, like fighting and getting involved in gangs, until I had a wake-up call five years ago after an illness. But my hands and feet no longer have the strength to do much anymore,” said aid beneficiary Mr Lin, with a tinge of remorse over his misspent youth.
Mr Lin revealed that although he is a Buddhist and has been a vegetarian for many years, he was not able to grasp the truth in the Dharma. This was the state of his belief until last year, when he first encountered Tzu Chi volunteers, and subsequently experienced a transformation in his life.
“When I first heard a volunteer urge me to do recycling, my initial thought was: What? You want me to pick up rubbish?! And a strong revulsion arose within me,” Mr Lin said with a laugh.
“I love listening to Master Cheng Yen’s teachings, and I would listen repeatedly to each of her talks. The Master said that the key to learning the Dharma lies in its application. The volunteers said that doing recycling not only helps to protect the earth, the money made from recycling could also be put into good use in saving people. As such, I started collecting recyclables in my neighbourhood and sending them to Tzu Chi’s recycling point,” he added.
As news of Mr Lin’s involvement in recycling and charity started to spread, his friends and neighbours began to send recyclables to his doorstep. Thus, his house was often filled with used items, such as cardboard, metal cans, old appliances, etc.
Volunteer Chay Swee Meng shared that there was a period of time when Mr Lin fell into financial difficulties, so the volunteers suggested that he sell away some of the recyclables to sustain his living expenses. However, Mr Lin was adamant about donating all the proceeds from the collected items to Tzu Chi, and even scrimped and saved every cent in his Bamboo Coin Bank to donate to the Foundation. His magnanimous spirit in spite of his humble situation truly deserves our utmost respect.
Bringing the Bamboo Coin Banks “Home”
The love and care of volunteers have never failed to touch the hearts of the aid beneficiaries, and they have inspired many of them to bring back their heavily laden Bamboo Coin Banks, in which the savings had accumulated over a long period of time. The beneficiaries took turns to pour their savings into a large urn; the loud metallic sounds of coins being poured out represented precious drops of love from their hearts.
Aid recipient Mdm Wu had brought four Bamboo Coin Banks with her to the Jing Si Hall this day. She said, “Some belong to the children, while some belong to other family members. As for myself, I set aside a bit of my daily grocery money, with the hope that my husband will quickly get well, so that I can find time to volunteer with Tzu Chi.”
Mdm Wu and her family used to enjoy relative stability and harmonious relationships with each other. Unexpectedly, her husband suddenly had a ruptured aneurysm, with his brain functions severely impaired after surgery, and almost total blindness in his eyes. As a result, he lost the ability to work, and had to depend on the care of his loved ones, a highly distressing situation that brought much hardship and despair to his family.
Mdm Wu added with gratitude that it was during the lowest period in her life that she encountered Tzu Chi. Tzu Chi not only provided her husband with subsidies for adult diapers and milk, but also arranged for TCM doctors to administer acupuncture treatments to him. Volunteers were present to offer their comforting presence and encouragements, and the teachings of Dharma Master Cheng Yen also served as an important spiritual support that strengthened her to face an unknown future.
Presently, Mdm Wu’s husband’s health has improved and her children have also started working. At the beginning of this year, she took the initiative to request Tzu Chi to stop its assistance for the family. Every month, she would even bring her children to a Tzu Chi recycling point to take part in recycling activities, in the hope of contributing to a good cause.
“In the midst of my hardships in the past, I received much help from the people of Tzu Chi, and they provided me with whatever I needed to tide through the difficulties. So now, I hope to be able to do my part for Tzu Chi,” Mdm Wu said through eyes reddened with tears.
Sibling Love Leaves No Regrets
“I hope to bring my younger sister home to live together with me one day, but I imagine this is something quite impossible,” aid beneficiary Mr Hu said with a tinge of wistful sadness. The volunteer beside him could not help but be moved by the depth of love shared by this pair of siblings.
Mr Hu’s sister suffers from down syndrome and has an IQ that is lower than the average person. Hence, she needs someone to take care of her daily needs. Forty years ago, Mr Hu was deeply moved after his sister poured a cup of water for him when he fell sick. As such, he made a vow to remain single, to look after his younger sibling for life.
Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with kidney and heart failure in the previous year, and is thus no longer able to provide adequate care for his sister in his weakened state. Through the arrangements of social workers, his sister was eventually sent to a nursing home.
“We have been separated for 8 months since she was admitted on 20th May last year,” said Mr Hu.
He really missed his sister and even remembered the date of their separation as clearly as if it were only yesterday. Tzu Chi volunteers understood his wishes, and thus made weekly transport arrangements for him to go to the nursing home to visit his sister. On the day before the pre-CNY celebration, the volunteers even took him to the nursing home to see his sister, and they celebrated his 66th birthday together, a thoughtful act that deeply touched him.
Since their separation eight months earlier, the siblings had their first meal together at the celebration, a fact deeply treasured by Mr Hu. Their wheelchairs were placed side by side. When his sister was dozing off, Mr Hu stretched out his arm as a support for his tired sibling. He even helped to cover her with a blanket and feed her like a father feeding his own child. It was a truly heart-melting moment to witness the deep bond of love between the two siblings.
“I am grateful to the Tzu Chi volunteers. If it were not for them, we would not have had the opportunity to meet so frequently,” said Mr Hu.
His health has been deteriorating day by day, and his doctor told him that he has little time left. This was his first participation in Tzu Chi’s pre-CNY celebration, and could very well be his last, too. However, Tzu Chi volunteers are like his own family, and will continue to accompany this pair of siblings with care and love.