At nine in the morning of 31 October 2015, two rows of a welcome team joyfully welcomed 83 youths who had arrived for the Tzu Chi Collegiate Youth camp organised by the Tzu Chi Foundation (Singapore). For many of the youths, it was the first contact they had with the organisation.
The year before, the Tzu Chings (members of the Tzu Chi Collegiate Youth Association) had been busy with the “Profound Parental Love” musical production and recruitment took a backseat; coupled with the arrival of graduation, the numbers of local Tzu Chings had dwindled. Therefore, on this occasion, it was decided that the Tzu Chings would hold the first overnight camp for new members after a hiatus of six years. With the help of 98 pairs of hands, the constraints of space limitations were overcome. Many former Tzu Chings who had already graduated lent their efforts to this event, together with volunteer parent-facilitators.
Since the beginning of September, when the local Tzu Ching leadership camp concluded, the collegiate volunteers had been hard at work sending out invitations for the activity via telephone calls and seizing opportunities presented by face to face meetings at various events.
Positive Thinking Wins the Day
The camp started off with a sharing by the Wu Xiao Hong, a senior volunteer from Tzu Chi Malacca and the planning editor of Tzu Chi’s Da Ai TV programme, “Tzu Chi in Malaysia”. The former member of the documentation team in Singapore told her audience: “Perseverance brings success”. She recalled how she had embarked on the project bereft of experience and related knowledge, encountering numerous criticisms and challenges along the way. She gritted her teeth and shed tears, and turned to online sources for her research, refusing to give up till the project was completed. She credits the stories of human kindness she came across in the course of the project as the driving inspiration behind her perseverance.
Employing the power of positive thinking, Wu chose to believe that “impossible, ” could be “I’m possible”, and thus completed series after series of the programme. In the course of filming, she came across many inspirational stories among the numerous cases she worked on, and even encouraged many of the sick to become givers of help to others.
Wu’s sharing moved first-year Nanyang Polytechnic student Chen Jia Qu to tears and she now aspires to follow her example. Chen Jia Qu was deeply encouraged by Wu’s message that one perseveres not because of one’s ideals, but rather that in the course of persevering, hope is seen. Chen is enrolled in the nursing course which is not her area of interest, but after listening to Wu’s talk, she recalled the joy she obtained in helping patients and this brought on the realisation that she could actualise a meaningful life.
An Ideal World Imbued With a Humanistic Culture
Before lunch on the first day, participants were given the opportunity to understand and experience the beauty of Tzu Chi’s etiquette which expresses the spirit of zen. This spirit should pervade every action, including walking, sitting, standing, lying down, as well as eating and paying respects to the Buddha.
The first speaker after lunch was Tzu Ching senior Chen Dian Zhong, who delivered an inspiring talk about the world of Tzu Chi.
“Every one of us have our own dreams, and an image of an ideal world inside our hearts. But how does one realise these dreams?” asked Chen.
He proceeded to explain to them how Tzu Chi turned ideals into reality in the real world. He described it as an organisation that engages in practical action. With its “Four Missions and Eight Footprints” in the areas of charity, medicine, culture, education, international disaster relief, bone marrow donation, recycling, and community volunteerism, the NGO has provided aid in over 85 countries and regions and has demonstrated the concept of Great Love across borders and equality in the treatment of all beings. He summed it up by saying “a person should not just have dreams; actions are important”.
Nanyang Polytechnic nursing student Chen Qi is a first-time visitor to the Jing Si Hall and had even invited a few of her friends to sign up with her for the camp. Describing Tzu Chi etiquette as a form of character cultivation, she felt that with such harmony in the physical outward expression and mental spirit, a positive impression would be made on others. In addition, it brought out the beauty in a group of people working together.
Harmonious Co-Existence With the Earth
The young are the pillars that shape the future of our world. The environmental crisis the world faces today brings forth the urgency of recycling and environmentalism. Through a video, Tzu Ching senior Yu Cheng Han introduced the concept of mankind’s co-existence with Mother Earth and provided much food for thought for his audience.
Yu asked if his listeners had noticed the various environmental issues such as climate anomalies, as well as crises that had affected our food and water sources which have occurred in different parts of the world.
“We may not be the ones suffering, but as we consume the earth’s resources, every one of us has a responsibility towards it,” he said as he urged them to each do their bit for the environment.
He recounted that during his school days, his professor once said that technology can solve every problem. However, Yu could not but wonder: even if science could save the day, would the solution be obtained in a timely fashion? In the meantime, he encouraged everyone to cut down on their usage of resources and to follow a vegetarian diet. He concluded by sharing his favourite Jing Si Aphorism with them: “When the karma of suffering is depleted, bliss naturally follows; when good fortune is depleted, what follows is suffering,” and reminded them that though our current environment is comfortable, if we do not use our resources with wisdom, the day will come when we will be all the poorer for it.
Participant Jin Xin confessed that though she possessed some understanding of environmental issues, she lacked a sense of urgency. After the sharing, she was determined that this would change; in the past she had thought that the objective of vegetarianism was to protect life, upon learning that it was beneficial to the earth, her resolve to abstain from meat was strengthened.
Every Effort Counts
After learning about environmentalism concepts, up next was a lively session of “green station games”, where participants experienced for themselves the panic of animals trying to escape butchering. For game penalties, they even had their ears pegged to simulate the pain of farm animals being electrocuted to death. In addition, a video of livestock being killed was screened, and the facilitator urged everyone to have respect for life as we have many other food choices besides meat. There was also a Q&A session on the topic of “Recycling is good, but eschewing use is even better”, during which reducing the usage of electronic waste was addressed.
During the “vegetarian cooking session”, participants had to do star jumps and sit-ups in exchange for ingredients. A panel of judges made up of camp facilitators then sternly criticised the dishes whipped up by the participants.
“Sorry for being frank, but this wasn’t what I was expecting.”
“Looks good, but it’s not practical.”
Originally expecting praise, they were crushed by the harsh and undeserved fault finding, and some even shed a tear or two.
At this point, the facilitators quickly stepped in to explain that the objective of the exercise was to bring across how a person who had spent much effort in preparing food would feel when others criticised or wasted the food. The distance that food travels from where it is originally grown, to where it is ultimately consumed by the end user, is the definition of “food miles”. Hence it also includes the efforts of the farmer, cook, delivery man, and the worker at the retail outlet.
Participant Li Yu Hui reflected on how she had taken for granted the soup that her mother had prepared daily. She recalled of how she had thought it too salty for her liking and now realised that she had not only wasted food but also her mother’s efforts. The exercise made a deep impression on her and henceforth, she promised that she would consume her soup with a heart of gratitude.
Words to Express Parental Gratitude
The theme of the evening’s programme was expressing gratitude to one’s parents, and this evoked much emotion in participants.
“(Our) parents will grow old, and the day will come when they will leave us; do not wait till it is too late, use the opportunity now to write down what you feel……”
The soothing voice of the facilitator encouraged participants to express the feelings which they were too shy to express in person to their parents, on paper.
Thinking about their parents whom they held dear, some participants shed tears as they wrote out their thoughts. After they were done, the letters were inserted into envelopes with the appropriate addresses written down; these would be duly sent to every parent. Some of the participants even reread their letters carefully, for the letters would not only be sent out, the same words would be said out loud to their parents.
Tang Sha Wen commented that in the past, she had heard of Tzu Chi but had never attended any of its activities. However, she met her senior during one of the organisation’s recruitment sessions and decided to sign up for the camp. The camp greatly exceeded her expectations; not only was environmental protection part of the Tzu Chi philosophy, the parental gratitude segment had also made an impact on her.
She reflected on her less than perfect attitude towards her parents, and apart from feeling ashamed, she also wished to express gratitude to her parents in person. Tang revealed, too, that she hoped to take part in more of Tzu Chi’s activities and to continue to be part of the Tzu Ching family and also help recruit members for the association.
Filial Piety and Good Deeds Cannot Wait
On the second day of the camp, Ding Wan Wei and Lin Wen Xin showed participants a video clip, and through a group activity, sought to let participants understand the power of kindness and the effect of its influence as a prelude to visiting the Lee Ah Mooi Old Age Home. The residents of the home spoke only dialects while some could not communicate verbally at all. During their interactions, camp participants took the initiative to use gestures, sing and also to patiently repeat what they had said in their communications with residents.
They also presented each resident with a handmade “Jing Si Aphorism fan”, which the latter tightly clutched upon receiving. Lian Yao Cheng expressed that he could deeply appreciate the Jing Si Aphorism “filial piety and doing good deeds cannot wait” when he was working on the fan.
In his concluding speech at the close of the event, CEO of Tzu Chi Foundation (Singapore) Loh Swee Seh said that the current educational system emphasises too much on the acquisition of knowledge and technical skills while neglecting the development of moral character. He expressed his hopes that the youths would join the NGO, find their life direction, and through helping others, benefit society and live meaningful lives.