Launched in 2009 by the Singapore branch of the Tzu Chi Foundation, the Seeds of Hope Financial Assistance Scheme is an initiative organized in partnership with local primary, secondary, and vocational training schools to provide more than 14,000 students with meal coupons and transport fees. In order to encourage students to have a more well-rounded development, Tzu Chi introduced the “Seeds of Hope Meritorious Awards” for the first time, affirming students who are steadfast in learning, who excel both morally and academically, via the “Academic Progress Award” and “Moral Character Award.”
On 4 May 2014, Tzu Chi invited teachers from 19 primary and secondary schools to attend a briefing, to help them understand the objectives behind the initiative. The schools were happy to follow the selection criteria in identifying students with potential, in addition to accompanying them in their development. From the list of selected students, Tzu Chi volunteers conducted home visits once or twice a month, seeking to understand their growth environment. They also provided encouragement and care, and accompanied their parents to supervise their progress in morality and academics. After three months of home visits and evaluations by Tzu Chi, the recipients of the wards received $300 and $400 for the primary and secondary school categories respectively. They also received $150 worth of book vouchers and a certificate of recognition each.
The Tea Offering that Builds Closer Bonds
Forty-five students from 19 primary and secondary schools passed the evaluation, with 24 receiving the “Academic Progress Award”and 21 receiving the “Moral Character Award.” On 8 Aug 2014 the selected students and their parents who altogether made up 108 people, were invited to the Jing Si Hall to attend the Seeds of Hope Meritorious Awards Ceremony.
As Tzu Chi volunteers and teachers looked on, the students offered tea to their parents. Seeing their children kneel down respectfully and offering them tea with both hands, many parents were moved to tears and unable to speak. They expressed that as long as their children work hard, as parents, they will be satisfied. Parents often have very simple hopes for their children. Just like how a new shoot develops into a big tree, they hope that their children will eventually grow up to be filial and be able to contribute to society.
“He was left at the child care centre from the age of 2 to 11 years old, and I was unable to educate him much. For this, I feel apologetic towards him……”Parent Lin Qiong Yu was unable to spend much time with her son Deng Rui Yi during his growing years due to her work commitments, resulting in occasional conflicts surfacing in their relationship. After Deng entered secondary school, he became much more calm and composed. Benefitting from the aid given by the Seeds of Hope Financial Assistance Scheme for two years, and now after receiving the “Moral Character Award,”Lin said that her son voluntarily does the housework now, which helped in bonding them closer together. Deng said shyly: “She is the best mother!” This statement made Lin very pleased.
The “Seeds of Hope Meritorious Awards” not only encourages (students to) strive academically, it also encourages students to be well-rounded and to seek their own breakthroughs, with an emphasis on character education. It is hoped that the concern displayed by Tzu Chi volunteers’ during the home visits will drive the interactions between the teachers, parents and children from underprivileged families, and the students will realize that they have the ability to create a bright future for themselves.
Since the launch of the project, 405 Tzu Chi volunteers have been involved in the home visits. Witnessing the sincerity and diligence displayed by the volunteers who run between the schools and students’ homes, Northland Secondary School principle Xu Yi Qing was touched. In his speech, Mr Xu expressed that the first school visit from the volunteers left a deep impression on him.
Even though Tzu Chi took the initiative to help the students, the volunteers actually expressed gratitude to the schools. This spirit of “giving without expecting anything in return, and feeling gratitude in the process” touched Mr Xu, thus, he is very supportive of Tzu Chi’s charity works. Mr Xu believes that studying can help one rise above poverty, and he encourages the students to study hard and not allow their family circumstances to get in the way of their studies.
“Practicing charity and filial piety cannot wait”was the theme of the award ceremony and a video of the song “The kneeling lamb”and the promotional video of the upcoming musical “The Profound Parental Love” were screened to advocate the concept of filial piety as the core of human morality; participants were thus also invited to watch the musical.
Learning from Peer Role Models
“Moral Character Award” recipient, Zhang Ting Hao’s father works as a delivery man while his mother is a seamstress. Despite his humble background, Zhang is an enthusiastic learner and helpful student in both his teachers’ and seniors’ eyes. In the past, because his financially strained parents were unable to give him sufficient pocket money, he used to walk to school and plain water was his means to suppress hunger pangs.
Thankfully, with Tzu Chi’s support, Zhang is able to attend school with peace of mind. He received financial aid in the form of transport fees and meal coupons from Tzu Chi for three consecutive years, for which he expressed much gratitude. From his interactions with the volunteers, he gradually understood the hardship that his parents had to face. Now, he will voluntarily assist his mother with the household chores. Zhang shared cheerily: “Only after doing housework did I realize how tough my mother’s life is.” Zhang and his mother, Xu Ru Mei, have been keeping a sense of gratitude in their hearts. After learning about the story of the“bamboo coin banks”whereby by “saving 5 cents a day, small money can do great charity” from the volunteers, both of them now make a donation to their Bamboo coin banks every day.
Apart from doing an act of charity a day and helping his mother with housework, Zhang also participated in Tzu Chi’s recycling activities. Through recycling, he realized that humans have been too wasteful of our resources and he believes deeply that one man’s strength in environmental conservation is limited. Therefore, he hopes that everyone can come together to recycle and protect the Earth. Zhang’s mother is comforted seeing how sensible he is. She hopes that he will become a contributing member of the society in the future, just like Tzu Chi volunteers!
Mohammad Aidil grew up in a single parent family and he relies on his mother Madam Sereah’s modest income to make ends meet. Upon learning that he had received the “Academic Progress Award,”other than feeling happy, he also remembered that the monetary award could help to ease his mother’s financial burden. Offering tea to his mother for the first time, Mohammad Aidil made use of this gesture to express his thanks and love to his mother. This act touched his mother deeply and she felt the many years of hardship melt away.
The assessment criteria for the “Academic Progress Award” and “Moral Character Award” include helping out with household chores, social etiquette, dressing and hygiene, prudent use of water and electricity, being organized in daily activities, submitting assignments on time, academic results etc. For three months, these students who have been recommended by their schools detailed their actions in their progress booklets. Through the process of self-reflection and receiving feedback given by their parents and teachers, they learnt about self-discipline and gradually improved upon themselves.
Tzu Chi Foundation (Singapore)’s CEO Low Swee Seh feels that these two awards are very meaningful, and he hopes that this can help to inspire a sense of gratitude in the students’hearts. The“Academic Progress Award”is to encourage students to be steadfast in their studies while the “Moral Character Award” is established in the hope that through excellent moral values, students can experience the urgent need to practice charity and filial piety. Finally, he also strongly believes that inspiring a sense of gratitude in children will have an immensely positive impact on their lives.