On 23rd September 2017, Tzu Chi Foundation (Singapore) celebrated its 24th anniversary. The Jing Si Hall was jam-packed with people during the two rounds of celebrations, with over 600 volunteers present as joyful witnesses of the strong growth of the organisation over the past 24 years.
Thankful for the past and hopeful for the future, Tzu Chi officially launched the “One Dollar Challenge” campaign on this joyful occasion. The campaign aims to “recruit” one million kind souls (i.e. donors for Tzu Chi), with the goal of deepening the roots of Great Love in the Lion City. It draws its inspiration from the spirit of the “Bamboo Bank Era”, which signifies Tzu Chi’s indomitable spirit in its early beginnings in the rural and impoverished east coast of Taiwan, and is a testimony to the pure hearts of the predecessors over half a century ago.
Compared to many other countries, modern-day Singapore is blessed with relatively peace and safety where people are generally wealthy and not affected by serious calamities. However, the government does not cease to remind people to be mindful of potential dangers and challenges, and of the importance in building an inclusive society, especially in the light of hidden crises and impact wrought by global events. Residents are continually reminded to adopt a vigilant attitude at all times.
Harmony in society comes from the goodness in people’ hearts. Tzu Chi Singapore strives to revive the spirit of the “Bamboo Bank Era”, with the aim of inspiring kindness and love among the multitudes. During the organisation’s anniversary celebrations, the auspicious mascots of “Teck” (bamboo) and “Soon” (shoot) made their official debut to promote the “One Dollar Challenge” campaign. Staff took the lead by forming a long queue on stage, taking turns to pour their savings in their bamboo coin banks into a large rice jar, to donate to Tzu Chi to help those in need.
Passing on Love and Charity
Volunteers put up a skit onstage presenting the diligence of the Tzu Chi people in the early days, leading everyone on a journey through time. With an indomitable spirit of frugality and hard work, a group of 30 housewives in Taiwan started their charity efforts with simple giving from the heart under the leadership and guidance of Dharma Master Cheng Yen. During the impoverished era of the 1960s, the simple housewives saved 50 NT cents from their daily grocery money into their bamboo coin banks to raise funds for Tzu Chi’s charity work. A sick and poor widow, Mdm Lin Zeng, was Tzu Chi Taiwan’s first long-term beneficiary. Besides engaging a caregiver to take care of her daily needs, the volunteers even arranged for doctors to make house calls to treat her till she passed on.
The second skit featured how Tzu Chi helped a beneficiary, Mdm Lu Dan Gui, who nearly gone blind from glaucoma, by fully funding her medical expenses of over NT$5,000. Shortly after, Mdm Lu unfortunately took her own life after being told off by her husband for cooking two cabbages in one meal without saving some for their next meal. This sad case caught the attention of Master Cheng Yen and instilled in her a pressing need to provide ongoing care for people in need, which led to the formation of the current case review system in Tzu Chi’s Mission of Charity.
Seasoned Tzu Chi volunteers Lim Ah Kee and Loh Sam Maiu have been with Tzu Chi for over 20 years. On this anniversary date, the couple, who joyfully witnessed the year on year growth in the number of volunteers, felt that each gathering of volunteers was like a grand family reunion, which brought them unspeakable joy. Lim, who was even overjoyed to the point of tears, shared, “Times have changed. In the past, there were fewer volunteers, and each person had to bear multiple responsibilities. Today, everything is more efficient and organised with division of labour. But we can’t be complacent with the present situation, and really need to recruit one million kind hearted persons by inspiring more people to join us.”
Singapore is a land of many blessings. This year, Master Cheng Yen hopes that Tzu Chi volunteers here will strengthen their sense of mission and work to deepen the roots of humanistic values in society, by recruiting one million kind-hearted persons, thereby reinforcing the social safety net.
Loh said, “Recruiting one million kind souls in Singapore is the hope of Master Cheng Yen. Motivation comes from the pressure to do well, and is also a source of growth for us. Nothing is impossible with the right will.”
The work of transforming the impossibilities into possibilities requires both the right will and right method. On this day, a Tzu Chi team from Muar, Malaysia, specially came to share their invaluable fundraising experiences. Tzu Chi commissioners Liu Yi Yun and Huang Zhan Zhan gave a lively account of how the volunteers in Muar overcame many difficulties and challenges to raise funds for building their Jing Si Hall.
In order to raise the MYR50 million for the building fund, Muar volunteers took to the streets to hold fundraisers, and organised large-scale charity fairs and other fundraising activities.
Liu Yi Yun said that the bamboo coin bank campaign has the butterfly effect. For example, a bamboo coin bank placed within a shop could stoke the curiosity of the shop’s customers, and more people would get to know about Tzu Chi in this manner. She hoped that such a butterfly effect would also spread around Singapore.
Charity work is not the exclusive right of the rich. Kidney patient Chen Hui Lan, who received medical subsidies from Tzu Chi Muar, began caring for other beneficiaries and even serving as a volunteer in the hospital under the encouragement and guidance of fellow volunteers. Through voluntary work, she learned to count her blessings after witnessing the suffering of others, and also realised that Tzu Chi’s charity funds are obtained through much difficulties.
Once, she watched a video and heard Master Cheng Yen say, “I hope that everyone can be someone who can give help to others in need”, and was deeply touched and inspired. After evaluating her own financial situation and discussing with her husband, she took the initiative to stop receiving Tzu Chi’s aid. Presently, as a Tzu Chi commissioner herself, she said that as long as she was frugal with daily expenses, she could use the money saved for charity. In 2015, she donated her savings accumulated over four years to the building fund for the Jing Si Hall in Muar.
Inspiring a Continuous Flow of Love
The insightful sharing by the team from Muar greatly lifted the morale of the volunteers present. A Tzu Chi commissioner in Singapore, Leong Yoke Leng, offered these words of affirmation to the team from Muar: “The volunteers from Muar have a simple faith in the words of Master Cheng Yen, and steadfastly work to produce remarkable results. They have truly convinced us.”
Leong has served as a volunteer team leader for 10 years, and being a part of Tzu Chi has become almost second nature to her. However, she felt considerable stress after hearing about the campaign to recruit one million kind-hearted people. A fellow volunteer shared with her that the recruitment drive is simply about finding one million persons who share a karmic affinity with Master Cheng Yen. These words of encouragement temporarily allayed her worries and lifted her sense of mission.
After listening to the sharing by the Muar team, trainee commissioner Toh Yong Nai’s heart was not only filled with admiration, but also felt that it was important to have role models who could lead the masses. He felt that many people in Singapore lead materially-rich but spiritually-poor lives.
“When we go out for fundraising, we can share ‘spiritual food’ with the masses at the same time. Through sharing right beliefs, good etiquette, and humanistic values, we can not only help people refine their inner character but also promote harmony within families,” he shared.
Toh, who has known Tzu Chi for 20 years, used to think that life must be lived one step at a time: to first establish a career and take care of the family, before getting involved in Tzu Chi’s Missions. Unexpectedly, the recent death of a loved one heightened his awareness of life’s impermanence, and prompted him to realise that charity is not something to be delayed.
He has already started recruiting donors for Tzu Chi three months before, and has to date recruited about 108 persons. He shared that in the past, most of his worries and concerns were due to self-imposed limitations. Today, Tzu Chi has become a way of life to him, and he realised that it is not difficult at all to introduce Tzu Chi to others, nor does it require much effort. Bearing a warm and sincere smile, sharing life-touching good works of Tzu Chi, and explaining how the charity funds are used — these are the important tips that have helped him to draw people in.
The one million kind souls recruitment drive is a long-term exercise. Tzu Chi Singapore has kick-started the initial phase with the “One Dollar Challenge” campaign. The organisation leverages on the power of information technology and the Internet by establishing a website and a Facebook fan page, to exponentially spread the word about the good cause to the masses.
“The One Dollar Challenge” campaign encourages everyone to give rise to a kind thought each day and save a dollar into their coin banks daily for a period of 100 days. After that, they will donate the money to Tzu Chi to help the needy with their daily expenses, medical costs, etc. and to provide assistance to local vulnerable groups of people, so as to help them put their lives back on track.
Tzu Chi collegiate volunteer Chen Shao Hong had originally thought that the one million kind souls recruitment exercise had nothing to do with him. “There are many intellectuals in Singapore, and it is not easy to mix with them,” he commented.
But after listening to the talks on the recruitment drive, he finally understood the importance of inspiring kind hearts, and even agreed with the butterfly effect shared by the Muar volunteers. He said that Facebook and other social media provided Tzu Chi collegiate youths a good platform to learn about the campaign and to share their ideas and experiences in recruiting donors.
“Let us diligently spread the Jing Si Dharma Lineage, make great vows to pass on the essence of the Dharma, live out the Tzu Chi Path, and help living beings with infinite compassion and wisdom…...”
As Tzu Chi Singapore moved towards its 25th year, volunteers struck bells and drums to the heart-stirring music of “Song of Diligence”, boosting the confidence and morale of the volunteers and lifting the hearts of everyone present.
Before the end of the event, the CEO of Tzu Chi Foundation (Singapore), Mr Low Swee Seh, thanked everyone present for their continued support and efforts, and encouraged each one present to serve as a “lamp bearer” to light up the path ahead.
He highlighted in his closing speech: “Master Cheng Yen opens the path while we pave the path. We hope to invite more people to walk along this broad Bodhisattva Path with us.”