"We come here today not to collect (used) cups, but to help educate people to throw the rubbish in their hands into the correct recycling bins." Before the start of the 6th Yellow Ribbon Prison Run, Tzu Chi Foundation (Singapore) Deputy Executive Director Khoo Kean Yee briefed 43 Tzu Chi volunteers at the Changi Prison Complex. "If they made a mistake, it's ok. We can pick it up and help them have the correct understanding of recycling. That's the goal for Tzu Chi in being here today."
On the 14th September 2014, during the 6th Yellow Ribbon Prison Run Project, Tzu Chi used the opportunity to introduce environmental protection as a form of charity. The ending location of the run was at the Changi Prison Complex Square. There were the stage area, education area, activities area, souvenirs area, water dispenser area and others. Under the hot blazing sun, Tzu Chi volunteers wore gloves and stationed themselves at three fixed locations to promote environmental protection and impart knowledge on the sorting of recyclables. As a result, members of the public were made aware and they ensured that the plastics and aluminum cans were placed into the correct recycling bins instead of indiscriminately ending up in the wrong bins.
There was a small booth set up as well in the education area, where aside from promoting environmental protection, it showed how people can start protecting the environment from home, for example by saving resources, not wasting food, and by following the philosophy to "Consume 80%, save 20% to help others". The theme for the exhibition was "Giving Life to Your Recyclables" and this was in line with the objective of the Yellow Ribbon Project, which is to give ex-inmates a chance at a new life.
The Yellow Ribbon Project was started in 2004 by the Singapore CARE Network, to encourage the public to support and assist the reintegration of rehabilitated people. With a series of projects, they hope to eliminate the discrimination and misconception of the public towards ex-offenders, helping them to escape from the "mental prison," and thus allow them to successfully reintegrate into society. The Yellow Ribbon Prison Run was started in 2009 and now in 2014, it is into its sixth year and has the enthusiastic support of about 9,000 participants.
As prison volunteers partners, Tzu Chi joined the Yellow Ribbon Prison Run in 2013. Volunteer Karen Lim saw that there was a lot of rubbish left after the event. There were plastic bags everywhere. "It's a shame that there was no waste segregation, so we hope to use the name of charity to promote Tzu Chi's environmental protection philosophy during the activity." She was very grateful for the support of the prison in helping to actualize this idea.
In 2009, Tzu Chi started to provide medical fees assistance to the prison inmates. Volunteers would regularly enter into the prison grounds to provide care and counseling to inmates, sharing Tzu Chi ideals and Master Cheng Yen's Jing Si aphorisms. The volunteers also take the chance to share about environmental protection, discouraging the use of disposable utensils. Today, there are ceramic cups in certain waiting areas which are handmade by the inmates themselves and provided for the use of volunteers.
During that day’s activity, at the educational “Rehabilitation Fair,”Tzu Chi also set up a small booth. Deputy CEO Yu Xue You, social worker Karen Lim and volunteers Hong De Qian and Huang Li Zhu shared about their work in caring for the inmates and the results they saw in order to encourage more people to join them. Lim said, "Caring for prison inmates is a long journey, it requires a long time to see the results. Being by their side and providing a listening ear, together with love and patience, are the prerequisites of a volunteer for inmate care."
"Why is there a group of people in uniforms busy collecting plastics and aluminum cans from everyone? There are also recycling bins behind them, are they a newly set up 'cleaning company'?" Third time participant and outdoor activities instructor Abd Khalique walked into the Tzu Chi environmental booth and found out the whole story after listening to the explanation by volunteers. "I feel that this is a very good activity to promote environmental protection, as it can inspire more awareness in others. We not only have to take care of ourselves but also Mother Earth. I hope that in other charity runs in Singapore, we can also see the presence of Tzu Chi volunteers."
Event committee chairman and chief prison officer Yu Guo Qiang uttered with surprise, "When I got out of my office, there was no rubbish on the floor at all. Everything was clean and in order." Yu is thankful for Tzu Chi volunteers’ mindful attitude and praised them as being very organized in protecting the environment. In the past, the venue would be full of rubbish after the event and even recyclables were treated as worthless trash and thrown away. What happened that day was thus a turning point, and Yu hoped that Tzu Chi would continue to promote environmental protection in future Yellow Ribbon Prison Runs.