“From the first time I came to Tzu Chi Jing Si Hall, I felt like I was among family, especially due to the volunteers’ warm greetings, smiles, and the selflessness attitude.” Pazilah was accompanying her children to the Seeds of Hope (SOH) Financial Assistance Scheme Presentation Ceremony for the third time, and the uniform-clad figures of Tzu Chi volunteers were a familiar sight to her. She could not help but tear up, touched by the message of “Practicing Charity and Filial Piety Cannot Wait” that was evident throughout the day’s program and gifts, as well as in the warm atmosphere.
Unlike previous ceremonies which were held in school halls, the ceremony for the 2015 batch was held at Tzu Chi Singapore’s Jing Si Hall in six sessions over 13 and 14 December 2014. Fifty-six recipient schools from across the island comprising a total of 2,584 teachers, parents and students were invited to attend.
Educators: The Driving Force in Education
“Selamat pagi para hadirin sekalian! Good morning, everyone! Da Jia Zao Shang Hao (大家早上好)!” The emcee greeted everyone present in Singapore’s three official languages, instantly creating rapport with the audience. Throughout the program, the Malay audience members expressed their surprise and admiration whenever the emcee spoke in fluent Malay, smiling; any racial barrier immediately evaporated.
Principal of Bishan Park Secondary School Mdm Valerie Goh, who was introduced to Tzu Chi through the Seeds of Hope Financial Assistance Scheme, stepped into Jing Si Hall for the first time for the ceremony. She said, “The attentiveness of all the Tzu Chi volunteers during the whole session really warmed my heart. The students are here today not just to receive financial assistance, but also to take the opportunity to learn many meaningful things, namely, that there are two things in life that cannot wait: practicing charity and filial piety. In today’s society, many of the younger generation have already forgotten these two important concepts, and today’s programme has given the students a clearer direction in life.”
Apart from playing Tzu Chi Singapore’s video “Spreading Great Love in the Lion City” and scenes from the Tzu Chi Collegiate Youth Association’s (Tzu Ching) musical presentation on filial piety, “The Profound Parental Love,” students from the Tzu Chi Teenagers’ Class (Tzu Shao) also presented a song, “The Kneeling Lamb”, in sign language. During each of the sessions, teachers from various schools were invited to say a few words and to give the students encouragement.
Principal Abdul Harris Bin Sumardi was first introduced to Tzu Chi in 2009 when his students first participated in the “Seeds of Hope Financial Assistance Scheme”. Since transferring from Juying Secondary School to Balestier Hill Secondary School, he had shared with the educators there about the “Seeds of Hope (SOH)” program and how it had benefitted many students and their families.
Principal Abdul Harris Bin Sumardi expressed that many students’ studies and attendance in school were affected because they could not afford the bus fare to school or a proper meal at lunch, and the SOH program greatly helped their families’ financial situation. He felt extremely honoured to be able to attend such a meaningful presentation ceremony, and praised Tzu Chi for simultaneously helping the needy and imparting the right values to the more wealthy, enabling them to lead fuller lives.
Warm Hugs Born of the Foremost Value: Filial Piety
“Mum, I love you! I will work hard at my studies and make you proud!” Nur Sabrina Bte Suhaimi exclaimed to her mother, Fauziah, conveying the words she most wanted to say, as mother and daughter tearfully held each other.
Sabrina’s mother first noticed some anomalies when her daughter was learning to walk at the age of two, and that was when the doctor diagnosed her with flat-footedness and she began physiotherapy. At the ceremony as they watched a video on SOH aid recipient, Hazman from Malacca, Malaysia, Fauziah was deeply touched and tears filled her eyes.
“I saw Hazman’s handicap, and felt that I was so much luckier than her mother, because at least my daughter can walk and stand on her own. Hazman gave me the courage to face up to life and its challenges,” shared Fauziah with gratitude. She believes that she has the ability to help others and plant the first seed of charity that will eventually grow to spread kindness far and wide.
Some students could not help but thank their parents there with words and hugs. When Haroon heard his son, Shafiq’s “Thank you, dad!”, he was extremely touched and they embraced, eyes shining.
Currently employed as a technician, Haroon has to raise his four children, among whom, two daughters who have now already graduated from secondary school, had received financial assistance from the program before. Elder son Shafiq attends Si Ling Secondary School, and dreams of becoming a successful businessman when he grows up. To fulfil his aspirations, he works hard at his studies and also treats his peers with gratitude and understanding.
Haroon is his family’s sole breadwinner, but due to business losses several years ago his family’s finances were greatly affected. The electricity at home occasionally got cut off and they thus had to use candles. In addition, his children were not always able to have three meals a day. Living through tough times, Haroon is proud that his children are mature and can understand the family’s situation, taking up their father’s suggestion to ask for help when needed from schoolteachers, as they have no opportunity to receive tuition out of school. Haroon is also grateful for help from their teachers, who have given his children additional classes.
Lacking in Years and Wealth, but Never in Fortitude
“Before receiving the financial assistance, I would often hide myself in the library, reading to while away my lunchtime, and often feel really tired during class because of hunger, and I could not really concentrate,” said Li Lin Zhi shyly. Ever since Tzu Chi helped her with her lunch pocket money, she could not only enjoy meals with her friends, her grades in school had also improved. She even received a scholarship from the school.
At home, Lin Zhi would collect any recyclables. In school, she would also carry out recycling, sorting out the recyclables with her fellow schoolmates and even attending Tzu Chi’s recycling activities. Her ambition? To become a teacher and give back to society for all the help she has received. She feels that a teacher can also help many students who are struggling with their studies.
Li Zhi’s younger sister Cai Ping was also among the SOH recipients. In the past, the sisters had to find ways to spread the 10 dollars of pocket money from their mother over a week’s worth of lunches, but now they never have to settle for bread or instant noodles anymore.
Even though they were receiving financial help from Tzu Chi, the sisters would still save up any leftover pocket money into their Tzu Chi coin bank to help others in need, learning how to give from receiving. “We don’t want to keep relying on society, we should also help in any way we can and give back,” said the young Lin Zhi.
The Seeds of Hope Financial Assistance Scheme, which provides needy students with lunch and transport allowances, was first enacted in 2009 in response to the global financial crisis in 2008. Since then, the Scheme has benefitted more than 14,000 cases over the past six years. In recent years, as society recovered and grew wealthier, Singapore residents’ quality of life has also been improving.
In their speech, Tzu Chi representatives Ong Wee Heng and Boh Shu Hui expressed: “While carrying out home visits these few years, our volunteers have discovered that besides needing financial help, many students are in greater need of moral support and independent skills. Therefore next year, in 2015, the Seeds of Hope Financial Assistance Scheme will undergo a change. Instead of providing meal coupons for students and topping up their Ez-link cards, the allowances will be remitted to the beneficiary students’ bank accounts monthly. We hope that this will encourage students to learn to manage their money and develop independent skills.”
The 1,714 applications for the SOH Financial Assistance Scheme saw Tzu Chi volunteers spend nearly a month’s time visiting over a thousand potential aid recipients around Singapore. The afternoon before the first day of the presentation ceremony, Tzu Chi volunteers were busy preparing 1,250 bags of gifts for the attendees. The gifts included an eco-friendly bowl and a pair of chopsticks, as well as two books ─ “Jing Si Aphorisms for Youths” and “The Essence of Filial Piety” by Master Cheng Yen. These gifts were not simply to forge bonds with the recipients, but also to encourage them to adopt an eco-friendly lifestyle and to inculcate in them the belief that “practicing charity and filial piety cannot wait”.