“This is the first time I am accompanying my grandchild here to receive the financial assistance!” said a grandmother whose grandchild is a SOH beneficiary.
For many student recipients who had turned up with parents in tow that day, it was the first time they had stepped into Tzu Chi’s Jing Si Hall. Volunteers had stationed themselves along the route from the nearest bus-stop leading up to the building in order to show visitors the way. Seeing that the weather was uncomfortably hot, the grandmother expressed her concern as to how long volunteers had been standing at their stations.
Tzu Chi had 113 volunteers on duty that day to help out with the Seeds of Hope (SOH) Financial Assistance presentation ceremony, in which 261 students and 7 school representatives were attending. The event was the second such ceremony this year and was held for needy recipients who were attending secondary one classes.
Helping Single-Parent Families
This year, the SOH scheme will benefit 1,342 students from 58 secondary schools. This shows that there still exists families who have difficulty making ends meet in the dark corners of prosperous Singapore.
Sarni Kamis is a single mother with three school-going children. The burden of supporting the family lies heavy upon her shoulders and she often does not earn enough to get by, making additional part-time jobs a necessity. The SOH programme goes some way in providing aid and her eldest child has received the financial assistance for a few years already.
This year, Firdaus, her second son, is also a beneficiary, and the financial assistance is timely aid for the straitened circumstances of her family. Seeing how his mother has to work so hard to support the family while caring for them, he is grateful to her for all that she has done.
Choking back tears, Sarni expressed gratitude for Tzu Chi’s help, saying that while the family survives on little, she always encourages her children and those around her to donate to the organization so as to benefit more of the needy.
Since April 2015, students who qualify under the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) Financial Assistance Scheme will receive $120 a month, but even so, there are poor families who still struggle with other school expenses.
Zuhaina, mother of Dannish from Assumption English School, thanked Tzu Chi with sincerity as she revealed that she is a single mother with four school-going children. She holds a part-time job as a tutor and though she receives help from MOE, the heavy expenses means that she has to accept aid from Tzu Chi. This is already the third year that Dannish is receiving the SOH Financial Assistance.
Aiming for Higher Ground
Queensway Secondary School has been participating in the SOH programme since 2009, and this time, the school’s principal, Mr Ong Kah Hui, shared a story about five small caterpillars at the presentation ceremony to encourage the recipients. He told them that in the process of metamorphosing into beautiful butterflies, caterpillars have to put in a lot of effort. Among them, there are those who will not be willing to search for leaves to feed on or crawl to higher ground, and when they finally emerge from the chrysalis, some are not willing to pump their wings in preparation for flight. In his story, only two caterpillars persisted till the end and successfully transformed into butterflies.
Mr Ong likened this to the different challenges we meet with in our different phases of life; only with perseverance can we succeed. After hearing his words, SOH beneficiary Aishah expressed that she was motivated to save up for her education as her dream was to be a doctor and save lives.
A parent Anwar, told his son Shahmirul that if he wanted to get out of the poverty cycle, he had to study hard and prove to himself that he could succeed. Anwar has 10 children and his oldest is 16 years old while the youngest is just 3 years old. Four of his children are beneficiaries of the SOH programme. Two years ago, Anwar lost his job due to a heart ailment and though he has recovered, he still needs to take regular medication. He said that the monthly financial assistance of $200 has helped to ease his burden. Currently, he runs a small business together with his wife.
The Tireless Efforts of Volunteers
Tzu Chi volunteers played a crucial role in the success of the event. They worked tirelessly to decorate the venue till late the day before, yet did not forget their smiles when they welcomed the attendees the next morning. Though they were not professional actors, they put their hearts into preparing for the skit, “Count Your Blessings and Create More Blessings”, and also presented two song items. These same volunteers were the ones who conducted home visits to the recipients and their faces brought a sense of familiarity to the attendees.
Volunteer Zhang Li Ping joined Tzu Chi four years ago through participating in the SOH home visits. Seeing children who had to go hungry because of poverty, she felt pained. Zhang has never missed any of the opportunities to participate in the home visits conducted twice yearly. These visits give her a better understanding of the students’ family background.
“Seeing how these children need help, and how their parents worry about their children’s education, I feel really pained. We should not give up on any child and I hope that they can be guided onto the right path and face the challenges ahead.” Zhang noticed that the families needing help not only face financial difficulties, but they also need spiritual encouragement and care, and Tzu Chi volunteers are well-placed to offer timely comfort.
There is a saying that goes “Even in poverty, education should not be wanting; even as we suffer, the children should be spared.” Master Cheng Yen once remarked that education is the hope of humanity. If a country is to be strong and prosperous, society peaceful, and families harmonious, education cannot be neglected.
At the close of the ceremony, volunteers sang the heartwarming Tzu Chi song, “One Family”, and led everyone in the sign language accompanying the song. They hoped that people could treat one another like members of one big family and together, meet the challenges of a new day. Aishah, a parent, was deeply moved, and she was the first one who stood up and joined in the sign language presentation on stage. She commented that although it was the first time she was attending the SOH ceremony, Tzu Chi’s efforts had made her feel very touched.