"This is so heartwarming," said Tzu Chi nurse Pan Han Ni with a bright smile after receiving the gift from a Tzu Chi board member. Holding the origami heart in her hand, Pan said, "I like this heart the most, I can feel the sincerity because it is handmade."
The outbreak of the novel coronavirus (known as COVID-19) in early 2020 has sent countries around the globe into panic and chaos as nations do their best to contain the spread of the virus. Pan who serves at the Lakeside Family Medical Center, said that she often encounters patients who are panic and would request for face mask from medical staff.
"Sometimes I would give them what I have as I couldn’t bear to see them this way, but now I will try to soothe them by saying that they should stay home if there is no urgent matters to handle. I also advise them to wash their hands regularly."
After the DORSCON alert level in Singapore was raised to orange, Tzu Chi Foundation (Singapore) immediately stepped up its outbreak prevention measures by setting up an epidemic relief committee and launches a number of programs to strengthen the emotional support both internally and externally during this difficult period.
The program started with sending blessings and gratitude to healthcare professionals and TIMA (Tzu Chi Medical Association) members at Tzu Chi’s Medical establishments as well as the teachers and staff at its education establishments. The blessings and gratitude were also extended to Tzu Chi volunteers who continue their volunteer duties at these establishments.
The CEO of Tzu Chi Foundation (Singapore), Low Swee Seh said that healthcare workers not only work long hours to take care of patients, they also face higher risk of infection. On the other hand, teachers have a tough time stepping up precautionary measures to prevent any chance of infection in the centre. The well-being of young children in their care as well as their own is also worrying for them. In view of that, he hopes to cheer them up and lift their spirit.
Community care spirit amidst the virus outbreak
After initiating the epidemic relief programme, Tzu Chi’s procurement staff immediately gathered goods and mobilized manpower to pack the gifts which contain a greeting card, an origami heart, Tzu Chi instant rice, soup packets, vitamin C and apples (which carries the meaning of “peace and safety").
Executive Secretary of Tzu Chi Foundation (Singapore), Khor Chooi Kim said that although we can’t fight the virus side by side with the frontline personnel, she hopes that through conveying messages of love and blessings to these frontline workers, the love will eventually reach the patients, children and also the relatives and friends around them, thus forming a cycle of kindness and love.
On the eve of Valentine’s Day, staff at Jing Si Hall made time to fold origami hearts and write words of blessings on them. Although the whole world is shrouded in the shadow of COVID-19 outbreak, that does not deter the staff and volunteers from expressing their love and care to others. However, unlike most disasters, volunteers are not able to show their care to others in close contact this time.
In order to reduce the risk of infection, the Singapore government has urged companies to strengthen the outbreak prevention measures at workplace, including postponing or canceling non-core activities. Should the event be carried out as usual, additional measures must be taken, including measuring body temperature. Therefore, Tzu Chi has also heightened its alert by complying with the guidelines laid out by the government and thus, all staff were wearing face mask when folding the origami.
At 7.30 pm on the same day, volunteers arrived one after another at Jing Si Hall to assist with the packing of the gifts. At the entrance of Jing Si Hall, everyone filled up a travel declaration form, took their body temperature, put on a mask and sanitized their hands before entering the premise. The Head of Administration, Pok Siew Chin said that in order to smoothen the process flow of packing the gifts and avoid close contact between the volunteers; the packing was carried out in different areas of the building, namely the lobby, the meeting room and classroom.
Pok revealed that despite facing a shortage of goods and manpower due to the adhoc nature of this program, staff and volunteers cooperated with each other to make the plan go smoothly.
"Everyone is full of energy and love, and there are also volunteers coming in to attend meetings to discuss about the content of the outbreak relief projects, including comforting volunteers and sharing accurate information and preventive measures to the needy."
Volunteer Yap Siew Mui (first from the left in the photo below) feels very fortunate to be able to participate and contribute to this project, she said, "During challenging time like this, everyone can do their part to support frontline staff because we are unable to serve in their position, we can only support them quietly at the back. They (frontline personnel) are defending us in front so we must support them in order to end the outbreak soon and so that everyone can stay safe and healthy."
She also said that we will win the battle against the virus as long as everyone stay united and work together.
A Special Valentine’s Gift
On the very next afternoon (Valentine’s Day), Tzu Chi's executive team and volunteer representatives set out in three groups to send these blessings gifts to the various Tzu Chi’s medicine and education establishments, as well as three partner hospitals, namely Tan Tock Seng Hospital, Khoo Teck Puat Hospital and Ng Teng Fong General Hospital.
The head of Tzu Chi Education Mission, Tai Nyeok Moi disclosed that although she knew of the visit in advance, she deliberately hid the news from the staff and volunteers on duty, because she wanted it to be a surprise for them. Tai said with a smile, "It wouldn't be fun if they knew it in advance."
The team arrived at Tzu Chi Great Love PreSchool during school recess, allowing the teachers to receive the blessings personally from the Deputy CEO of Tzu Chi Singapore, Tan Chai Hoon (first from the right below). Preschool teacher, Cai Nan Nan (middle in the photo below) received the gift with surprise and said, "I found out from Facebook that the volunteers are preparing gifts for us, but I thought we have to collect them from the office, I did not expect the CEO to send them to each of us personally."
Cai who hails from China said that during the outbreak, a small number of Chinese nationals were discriminated by the public. However, by receiving the warm wishes from the executive team on this day, she feels that there are people in the society who are still very encouraging.
"Today is Valentine's Day, this gift that I received is more meaningful than the gift I get from my husband," said Cai while wiping her tears.
In order to protect the children during the outbreak, the teachers at Tzu Chi Great Love Preschool took the initiative to source for colorful picture books on epidemic prevention. Cai also said, "The children are conscious of the virus and they are now more serious in washing their hands.”
Having been through the SARS epidemic in Singapore, Willy Ang said that the local community needs positivity and not fear. Willy does not stop himself from moving around although his wife is currently undergoing chemotherapy for cancer.
"Each of us needs to have the right understanding and right view. Do not listen to hearsay, we must only accept news and information from correct channels, such as the government websites or mainstream media," said Willy.
"Actually, I find the Valentine's Day this year to be exceptionally meaningful because Valentine's Day is meant to be a day we give love to those who need it," shared Lim who had planned to celebrate Valentine's Day with his wife.
“May the spirit of great love spreads to every corner of the society. I hope that everyone can live life as usual and pass on the love to people around them. May this love reaches out to the entire country and even to the whole world. May everyone pull through this outbreak safely," said Lim.