We are connected like one big family. Therefore, we must love one another during peaceful times and help one another in times of disaster.” — Dharma Master Cheng Yen
Each year, during the Mid-Autumn Festival, medical volunteers from the Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) all over the world will return to the Jing Si Hall in Hualien, Taiwan, to convene at the annual TIMA Convention and to celebrate the joyous festive occasion with Dharma Master Cheng Yen. This tradition was kick-started by a senior doctor and TIMA member from the Philippines, the late Dr. Leh, in September 1996.
This year’s theme for the Convention was “Compassion Bearing Wisdom, Technology Stemming from Human Love”. The amount of love and planning put into organising this Convention was highly commendable. And the scale of the event was really impressive, with 504 participants from 24 countries and regions, together with more than 500 local volunteers, all gathered at the Jing Si Hall.
Spread over 3.5 days, the Convention featured various lectures, workshops and sharing sessions by TIMA chapters worldwide. Our day usually started off with a gentle session of Tai Chi, to help us relax and get ready for a long day of classes.
One of the highlights of the Convention was the sharing about the Dutch homecare model by Buurtzorg International. It works on the premise that people value independence, putting the patient in the centre and then building trusting relationships from within the community around the patient. This is achieved through the creation of informal networks and then linking them to professionals in their formal network. This model has been adopted in 24 countries and regions, including Taiwan, Japan, Sweden, UK, USA and Australia. If patients’ needs can be met in the community, it will definitely lessen the burden on the tertiary hospitals.
Another unique feature of the Convention was the talk about the close relation between traditional Chinese medicine and western medicine. Even though they are two different, diverse therapies, both Chinese and western medicine are still able to work complementarily with each other to bring maximum benefit to patients—this is interdisciplinary collaboration at its best!
Research is featured highly in Tzu Chi’s Mission of Medicine, and the Foundation's first stem cell and gene therapy centre was opened in the Hualien Tzu Chi Medical Centre just before a TIMA Convention. This demonstrated a continuous drive for improvement so as to reach the pinnacle of healthcare excellence.
Among the many topics covered at the Convention, the sessions which I always looked forward to the most, were those on the humanitarian aspects of Tzu Chi, and they did not disappoint me at all.
One is never lonely with love: Tzu Chi in Turkey
Having the privilege of growing up in prosperous and stable Singapore, I am guilty of taking the peaceful environment and the opportunities that I have in life for granted. Imagine having to flee your war-torn homeland, having to learn a new language in a foreign land, having an empty stomach for most of the day, being exposed to the harsh weather elements, having to work illegally under terrible conditions for meagre wages just to make ends meet and having to live with the uncertainty of the future.
Now, visualize all these through the eyes of a child – this was the life story of many Syrian refugee children in Turkey before Tzu Chi volunteer, Faisal Hu, stepped in to provide assistance and care for them.
From the Convention, I learned that Hu, together with his team, worked tirelessly to visit factories in Turkey and liberate refugee child workers, so that they could continue their education in the El Menahil School established by Tzu Chi. To increase the international recognition of the certificate awarded by the school, Hu fought for accreditation by AdvancED, an American accrediting agency. It was a feat that he managed to achieve in weeks, which would have normally taken years!
Hu shared that he sees the Menahil School as a place for Syrians to learn forgiveness and love as well as a place for Syrian children to learn about their roots and culture, to continue their education, and to keep their smiles and their innocence.
Despite being labelled as a terrorist and being banned from Turkey twice, Hu still managed to find his way back to the country, to continue to bring hope to the Syrian refugees in Turkey. That is the strength of an unwavering resolve. There was nary a dry eye in the hall as all were absorbed in Hu’s moving sharing of his experience.
Great Love in post-cyclone East Africa
I first heard about the devastation that Cyclone Idai wrought in East Africa from Brother Ken Tsai, a member of Tzu Chi’s media team who was responsible for documenting the effects of the disaster in Mozambique, when I stopped over in Johannesburg in April this year. I was shocked by how the wrath of nature could unleash such destruction, and the enormous suffering it had brought upon the people.
However, I was reminded of Dharma Master Cheng Yen’s Jing Si Aphorism that says, “One must overcome difficulties and not be overcome by them”. I knew that Tzu Chi’s offices all over the world had rallied together to actively raise funds to support the NGO’s relief operations in the aftermath of the cyclone.
Now, half a year later, I was curious about the progress of the relief efforts, and it was presented in the form of a panel discussion involving Tzu Chi’s volunteer-in-charge from Mozambique, Denise Tsai, and the superintendents of four Tzu Chi hospitals. They candidly shared about their experience participating in medical aid missions in Mozambique. It was an uplifting session.
I saw the hope in a baby who was born high up in a tree when the cyclone struck, and now she has grown into a healthy, cheerful and chubby baby girl!
I saw the tenacity and strength of the human spirit. The crop seeds the local Africans got from Tzu Chi’s relief distributions have now grown into bumper harvests that they can sell to reestablish their livelihoods.
I saw the zeal in the children, who gathered under the shade of a tree to quench their thirst for knowledge, and their determination to fully utilize that stubble of a pencil. Most importantly, I saw optimism and felt the love from around the world for East Africa.
As the Convention drew to a close, it struck me that the sharing by different representatives from various countries around the world was testimony that even though we may speak different languages and come from different backgrounds, we all share the common goal of serving humanity with the spirit of Great Love. And that is what makes us whole.
*The writer is a medical doctor and a member of the Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) chapter in Singapore.
News about Tzu Chi's relief efforts in Turkey and Mozambique:
Tzu Chi has established a school and a free medical clinic for Syrian refugees in Turkey. The facilities provide an education for refugee children and job opportunities for Syrian adults. They live their days the best they can and look forward to returning to their homeland when the civil war ends.