A smiling grandpa replied to care volunteers who told him that they would visit him every first Sunday of the month.
On 5 June 2016, the day began for Singapore Tzu Chi volunteers with a drizzle of rain and cool skies. It was “Charity Day” and volunteers put aside their other volunteering activities so as to knock on the doors of beneficiaries in the care visits which had been scheduled on the first Sunday morning of every month. A total of 446 volunteers distributed necessities and financial aid to 311 beneficiary families that day. In July itself, volunteers continued their good work and with manpower equivalent to 546 people, visited 414 households in all.
Charitable Activities are Everyone’s Undertaking
“It feels good to have everyone set off together (for the activity). Just like how it was five or six years ago when I was in Suzhou, when we visited the villages together and learnt from each other,” said Tzu Chi volunteer Liu Ming Gang who used to work in China.
On Charity Day, volunteers gathered in the morning at 11 venues, including HDB void decks, MRT stations, the Tzu Chi free clinics, recycling points and the Jing Si Hall, before they headed to their planned destinations.
Volunteers in groups paid attention to every word of advice or instruction from their leaders as they conducted themselves in an orderly manner.
“Charity is at the very core of Tzu Chi, care visits inspire the compassion in us, so that we may have the inspiration to carry on,” said Chen Zhao Yun, the head of Tzu Chi Singapore’s Mission of Education.
Setting a Fixed Day for Home Visits
Since August last year, the Singapore branch had been discussing how to go about implementing the new plan for the Mission of Charity established by Tzu Chi’s headquarters in Taiwan. After numerous discussions and referencing the manner in which it was rolled out in Taiwan, it was decided that the plan would be adapted for local conditions in Singapore. “Charity Day” was thus one of the events planned for.
In the past, the schedule for home visits to beneficiaries was not fixed and it was usually on a weekday night. Volunteers had to coordinate with each other to nail down a convenient timing and thus, it was not every volunteer who could take part in every visit.
Cai Mei Hua is one such example. She has been with Tzu Chi for more than 20 years and though she wished to be part of the home visit team, the opportunity to do so eluded her due to incompatibility in schedule.
“In the past, there wasn’t a fixed time for home visits and I could not be part of the evening visits as I was still working. The team too, would invite the more familiar faces to participate, and thus I lost out on the opportunity to be a part of the activity,” said Cai. However, with the opportunity provided by the planned monthly Charity Day, she decided to keep those mornings free for this reason.
Morning Visits Bring Good Cheer
This idea had struck volunteers of some zones earlier, who had decided to fix their Charity Day home visits on the weekends. However, this would also clash with the other volunteer activities held on weekends. The North Zone*, for example, used to fix their home visit day on the second Thursday of every month. However, a small proportion of volunteers who were busy with work still could not attend.
“Normally after I get off from work, time is very tight and I usually go hungry if I take part in the home visits,“ explained Wu Shui Hua from the North Zone. For fellow volunteer Ma Mei Ping, too, the fixed monthly visits were a boon as she this meant she could be in a better frame physically and mentally on the planned Sunday visits instead of feeling drained with the evening visits that used to be held every Thursday for her team.
The new arrangement benefitted beneficiaries, too, as some had to turn in early at night and volunteers who visited then could only interact with their family members.
“Grandma looks much more alert today, maybe because it’s in the morning,” said Ma cheerily as she stroked an elderly beneficiary’s hand.
Gathering Support Amongst Volunteers
How does one gather others to participate in the Charity Day activity?
Instead of just invitations from the home visit team leaders, this time, zone leaders have been out in full force over the last two months, and many volunteers who had not been participating in home visits alsogave their support.
A day before Charity Day, Wang Ming Zong and fellow volunteers discussed the logistical concerns and planned the route. As transportation was discovered to be insufficient, a few phone calls were made and some volunteers graciously decided to lend their vehicles towards fulfilling the aims of the event. Because of the generosity of these people, the few teams of volunteers in the other community zones who were planning to walk to beneficiaries’ homes benefitted.
The southern part of Singapore close to the city centre is an expensive plot of real estate; it was one of the first areas to have undergone development, yet there are elements of our society that have not kept pace, existing in a largely-forgotten corner under that shining veneer of prosperity.
Tzu Chi home visit volunteers in this community cluster number just 20, but the number of beneficiaries that require care is currently 139 households. This is 30% of the figure for the whole of Singapore. Hence, the help of volunteers in the neighbouring communities was a welcome addition to lighten their load.
The demographical profile in the Punggol area is made up of mostly young families, so there are not many Tzu Chi aid recipients there. However, as the area does not have many home visit volunteers, there are insufficient participants during the normal scheduled home visits. 5 June 2016 was thus an opportunity for Tampines and Pasir Ris volunteers to lend their support to Punggol volunteers for the very first time.
Giving Back in a Timely Manner
Apart from benefitting the deployment needs of the volunteer pool, the island-wide Charity Day also provided a chance for volunteers to share and learn from each other how they could improve the quality of home visits for beneficiaries.
At noon, volunteers gathered at their designated meeting point, such as the multipurpose room at the condos or the HDB void decks after visiting two to three households. Some gathered at the hawker centres, discussing as they ate.
Lin Hui Zhen explained that in the past, after the evening care visits, they would head home immediately to rest and had no time to sit down and discuss their findings freely with each other. Ma, too, believed that the Charity Day format would be beneficial to improving the quality of home visits if continued in the long run, as they could share their learning in a timely manner.
One of the changes made was that two lead volunteers would be tasked with follow-up on a beneficiary’s case instead of just one. Volunteer Cai Shu Ping who has been tasked with such follow-up agrees with the new approach, saying that by following up from the start to the end, it would facilitate the building of trust and friendship between volunteers and beneficiaries.
To care visit leaders, seeing new volunteers aspire to join the team is a great encouragement. Thus the implementation of Charity Day island-wide for Tzu Chi has turned around the situation of a dearth of volunteers with the increase in cases handled. With more people participating in Charity Day, the forgotten corners of our society can only benefit with the love that volunteers spread.
*In 2005, Tzu Chi Singapore launched its 4-in-1 volunteer structure, where volunteers are grouped according to their place of residence. Singapore is demarcated into four zones, twelve community clusters and 36 communities.