Changi Village was awash with the colour yellow on the morning of 4 September 2016. More than 9,000 members of the public wore yellow to take part in the Yellow Ribbon Prison Run. When the signal for flag off pierced through the air, participants commenced the run; the scene symbolically reflected the theme of the event, “The Road to Acceptance.”
They were cheered on by another group of people who were in wheelchairs or using walking sticks to get around. The 5- to 10-km run would pass through the Changi Prison compound, which was only open that once in a year, and end at the Changi Prison Complex.
Since 2009, Tzu Chi volunteers have stepped into the prison to give incarcerated AIDS patients medical assistance and regular counselling. They also provide financial help to those who have been released and reintegrated into society, but currently face difficulties in life. Tzu Chi has won the trust of not only inmates but that of the Singapore prison authorities, and this is the third year that it has been invited to take part in the efforts to promote recycling and environmental conservation at the Yellow Ribbon Run. A team of volunteers from the organization manned an educational booth and also carried out resource recycling on site.
Directly Helping the Environment with Resource Recycling
The Tzu Chi recycling booth was situated beside the tent erected for the event and attracted much attention with its display of green and blue PET bottles arranged into a “map” of Singapore showing the 30 plus locations for its recycling points scattered around the island. Volunteers also took the opportunity to encourage members of the public to visit the recycling points and help with the sorting of the recyclables.
“Every time after the run, the entire venue would be very clean‒this is the most direct way in which Tzu Chi helps us. Our helpers have been similarly influenced and no longer throw plastic bottles away as they know how to sort them out for recycling,” said Liu Zhi Qiang, the coordinator of the event’s volunteer team.
This year, Tzu Chi volunteers helped to hand out drinks at the refreshment zone and cheerfully reminded everyone to discard the plastic, paper and aluminium drink containers separately into the specific recycling bins at four designated areas within the venue.
Gratitude for a New Beginning
A themed exhibition zone had been set up at the venue, exhorting people to give a second chance to ex-convicts that they may integrate back into society. A message board was available for members of the public to leave messages of encouragement and good wishes for ex-convicts.
Hu Zhu Biao, a former inmate who now has a stable job as a driver, expressed how the Yellow Ribbon campaign allowed him to reintegrate back into society. He now leads a life free of vices such as smoking, drinking, gambling and fights. His participation in the run is a form of giving back to a society that has given people like himself a second chance.
Chen Zi Cheng, a first-time runner in the Yellow Ribbon event, said, “As I ran past the prison walls, I could feel the loneliness of the inmates.” He felt that the event was a meaningful one, and in addition, it also promoted the earth-friendly philosophy of recycling. Chen also sorts out the recyclables at home, and after finding out that Tzu Chi operates a recycling point under his block, he was happy to accept volunteers’ invitation to participate in their community recycling activities.
Recycling Together, Walking the Talk
“People tend to follow suit when they see others place their used paper cups or aluminium cans into the appropriate recycling bin. See! This is how Tzu Chi teaches by example,” said Liu Li Da, who is from a waste collection company and a member of the external committee of the event. He recalled that back in 2012, the first year that he took on the project, the rubbish collected was as much as 20 tons. Since Tzu Chi was invited, this has dropped to 6 tons and last year, it was just 3 tons.
He noted that the number of participants taking part in the event was twice that of last year, yet the rubbish collected for recycling did not exceed 2 tons. He was glad that less rubbish being carted away for incineration was akin to saving the earth. Liu even said that if he was not successful in bidding for the project next year, he would volunteer with Tzu Chi and turn up all the same to support the recycling efforts.
Xie Hui Bing, a runner in the event and Tzu Chi donating member, was seen taking the initiative to help volunteers in resource recycling efforts. She too, did not fail to notice the cleanliness of the venue when the event ended. “Five years ago when I took part in the run, the ground was all littered with rubbish. This year is my second time participating and the grounds are so clean!” said Xie who got to know the organization during a blood donation drive it held a few years ago.
Volunteers also set up two temporary resource recycling points along the way out of the venue so that those who had not finished with their drinks could deposit their PET bottles, paper cups, cans and non-recyclable trash in the appropriate bins before boarding the bus home.
In total, 950kg of paper waste, 140kg of PET bottles and 110kg of aluminium cans were collected in the 2016 Yellow Ribbon Run. With the cooperation between event organizers and Tzu Chi as well as three years of promoting recycling awareness, it was indeed obvious that the cleanliness of the venue remained the same before and after the event!