“I want to save $80, and use $20 to buy stationery and other school essentials. This way, my dad wouldn’t need to give me allowances,” said student aid recipient, Rachel, at the welcome party for the revamped Tzu Chi Seeds of Hope Programme held at the Jing Si Hall on 18th March 2017.
Rachel’s mum has unfortunately been diagnosed with cancer. Even though her illness is temporarily under control, she is wheelchair-bound, is gradually losing sight in both eyes, currently unemployed, and even needs her husband and children’s help with household chores.
Rachel, a Primary 6 student, and her older sister, Angela, a Secondary 4 student, are both aid recipients of the revamped Seeds of Hope Programme this year. In light of their mother’s illness, the financial burden for the entire household falls solely on their father’s shoulder. The affectionate siblings are generally well-behaved, and in order to make their father feel at ease, they often help with the household chores.
“I can wash the dishes and clean the house. Mum is suffering, so I want to take care of her and be filial to her,” said Rachel.
Recognizing and Affirming Different Talents
Rachel’s mother became a Tzu Chi long-term aid recipient in November 2016, and Tzu Chi volunteers have since been making monthly visits to her family to provide financial assistance and emotional support. In 2017, the Seeds of Hope Programme is revamped, and includes the “Seeds of Hope Nurturing Programme” and “Seeds of Hope Meritorious Award Programme”. Their intended beneficiaries are primary and secondary school students in families receiving Tzu Chi’s care and/or aid. A key criterion of the “Seeds of Hope Nurturing Programme” is that the student aid recipient must demonstrate an attendance rate of over 90% in the school year, and Angela and Rachel are the first batch of students receiving aid under this Programme.
“The Seeds of Hope Nurturing Programme” is aimed at nurturing a love for learning. Besides enhancing the quality of education for students from disadvantaged families, it also encourages parents to pay more attention to their children’s studies. After the completion of case assessments in March this year, the funds will be disbursed monthly from April to October. Primary school students are given $100 per month while Secondary students receive $150 per month; the money is personally handed over by visiting volunteers to each student as a sign of support and encouragement.
In addition, under the encouragement of volunteers, Angela and Rachel had also applied for the awards in the “Seeds of Hope Meritorious Award Programme”. Angela, a tall, lanky youth, is the netball team captain in her school. With her good sports genes and sterling performance in netball, she had applied for the “Special Talent Award”. Rachel, who is preparing for the PSLE this year, diligently helps out with housework despite her heavy school workload. Thus, she had applied for the “Filial Piety Award”. There are six types of award in the “Seeds of Hope Meritorious Award Programme”, including “Filial Piety Award”, “Good Progress Award”, “Academic Excellence Award”, “Special Talent Award”, “Diligence Award”, and “Good Conduct Award”.
Applicants for the awards are observed and guided by volunteers during monthly home visits for half a year, and then evaluated by the latter in November. The feedback from schools and parents also serves as a reference for evaluation. Candidates who successfully pass the reviews, will be affirmed in an awards ceremony in December. Through formal recognition, the awards, and the blessings from volunteers, the students are spurred on to do their best.
Encouraging Learning; Inducing Confidence
“Children are the ‘seeds of hope’ within the family. Every seed needs sunlight, water, and fertilizer to grow; however, volunteers’ monthly visits to the homes of the students can only serve as an occasional “fertilizer”. What is even more important is the care and support from their families. Therefore, children, do remember to show gratitude to your parents and family!”
These encouraging words rang through the Jing Si Hall at the welcome party for the beneficiaries of the Seeds of Hope Programme. Besides introducing Tzu Chi’s missions, volunteers also explained the significance behind the Programme, who it is aimed for, the types of awards, evaluation process, other operational concerns, etc.
“We hope that parents can plan together with their children how to make use of the financial aid they’ve received. (For example, they can) use the money to purchase stationery, offset their school fees, or to learn an artistic skill,” said volunteer Ma Qing Hua, to encourage the students.
Appreciating Blessings and Bravely Forging Ahead
“My son loves sports, but sports shoes are very expensive. We can (use the aid money) to buy him a new pair next month, and also pay for his tuition fees,” said parent Mdm Sim, with much gratitude.
Mdm Sim’s mother is a long-term aid recipient of Tzu Chi. The family recently fell into dire financial straits after Mdm Sim lost her job, and Tzu Chi volunteers helped her school-going son to apply for monthly grants under the “Seeds of Hope Nurturing Programme”. Mdm Sim added that although her mother is a Tzu Chi aid recipient, it was only after attending the welcome party that she realized that countless people in many countries have been blessed by Tzu Chi’s aid.
Her momentary troubles have given her little choice but to temporarily seek help from others; this made her feel frustrated initially.
“At the session today, after witnessing the suffering of the Syrian refugees and people who are in greater need of help than me, I have changed my perspective and can see that my situation is not as bad as I had originally thought,” shared Mdm Sim.
Witnessing the suffering of others has helped her appreciate her blessings, and she hoped that she could quickly emerge from her gloom and be a blessing unto others one day.
Behind every applicant under the Seeds of Hope Programme, there is an untold story of family hardship. Some children are raised by grandparents after their parents’ divorce; some of the families experienced a sudden change of fortunes and fell into hardships, or in some cases, one of the parents suffers from a critical illness, leaving one parent to carry the financial burden for the entire family, and thus neglecting the children. In spite of the multitude of challenges, many of these students continue to strive forward courageously.
The newly revamped Seeds of Hope Programme has benefitted a total of 69 students. Tzu Chi hopes that every student who receives help under the programme will grow up with a heart full of love. Even though these seeds may have grown out of the barren soil of poverty, they will grow into strong trees, and become talented individuals who can contribute to society with love and compassion.