Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Tzu Chi Foundation traditionally celebrates Lunar New Year with its Chinese aid beneficiaries at the Jing Si Hall in Pasir Ris. The usual scene of aid beneficiaries living island-wide coming together for a joyful celebration filled with gratitude, respect and love is now prohibited due to the ongoing safe management measures in place that do not allow large gatherings as the battle with the invisible enemy continues.
According to the lunar calendar, the Spring Festival marks the start of a new year. It is an important occasion to Chinese people as this is the time when people meet up with family and friends, share blessings and enjoy their time together. The COVID-19 situation is generally well managed in Singapore and the nation has since moved into Phase 3 of reopening on 28 Dec 2020. With this progress, there is more room for social gathering as 8 becomes the new 5. Nevertheless, it is still vital for everyone to remain vigilant and not rest on one’s laurels as the enemy may attack silently. It is necessary to adhere to the safe management measure to keep everyone safe.
Getting Ready for the Online Reunion
The turbulent 2020 has changed the usual way of life; wearing masks when we are out of our house and keeping a social distance have become the new normal in our daily lives. Gatherings are required to be kept to the minimum and this resulted in a reduction in face-to-face interactions among people. There is a Jing Si Aphorism that goes, “The most beautiful thing in the sky are the stars, the most beautiful thing on Earth is warmth and love.” Although it is not feasible to gather everyone at Jing Si Hall like what was done in the past, Tzu Chi volunteers are determined to carry out a Spring Festival celebration that do not compromise on the safety measures and at the same time, let the aid beneficiaries feel the warmth and love.
After careful considerations of the current circumstances, the volunteers decided to carry out the celebration via Zoom over 2 sessions (morning and afternoon) on 31 Jan 2021. Volunteers gathered in small group to visit the aid beneficiaries at their home while performances put up by volunteers are done at Jing Si Hall and Humanistic Youth Centre. As everyone cannot gather like what was done in previous years, this approach came closest to what it was like in the past as the aid beneficiaries and volunteers gather virtually to connect and celebrate the Spring Festival together. Besides that, the aid beneficiaries could also enjoy the celebration safely from the comfort of their home.
An online briefing session was conducted on 20 Jan 2021 by the organizing committee to update on the advanced preparation before the actual visit on 31 Jan 2021. Volunteers that were visiting the aid beneficiaries would bring notebooks/tablets with camera function and speaker. As not all aid beneficiaries had home broadband, volunteers also made sure that they have enough mobile data for the Zoom session. To ensure that the technical requirements were fulfilled, volunteers were also briefed on how to position the camera and how to operate Zoom functions. Arrangements were also made for volunteers to collect the gift packs for aid beneficiaries on 29 Jan 2021 at the Tzu Chi Free Clinic (located in Redhill) and Jing Si Hall.
Physically Apart but Together at Heart
Madam Cai was happy to be able to participate in the celebration, “I am grateful for the blessings sent over. Although there was more festive atmosphere and I was able to meet different people at Jing Si Hall, I am very grateful and happy that Tzu Chi volunteers come to my home.”
An online gathering was conducted on 31 Jan 2021 where Tzu Chi Singapore carried out the Lunar New Year celebration via Zoom with volunteers gathering in small groups at 147 households of Chinese aid beneficiaries located Island-wide. During the visits, the financial grants and aid materials for Feb 2021 were also distributed to the aid beneficiaries.
As an optimistic person, Madam Cai has always regarded the volunteers who are visiting her as her friends, especially Sister Zhuo Ya Lian. “It has been 3 years and Sister Ya Lian always smiles at me and we have so much to talk about. She is like an elder sister to me and I feel very close to her.” During Circuit Breaker, volunteers were unable to conduct home visits as it was forbidden during that period. Nevertheless, Sister Ya Lian continued to bring warmth to Madam Cai by calling her to care for her. Madam Cai was deeply touched that there were people that cared for her so much and through the actions of the volunteers, she learnt to be grateful.
The format of the programme may have changed, but the intention of bringing festive joy to the participants remained the same. Activities like giving out gift packs and providing free haircut services were included, very much like how things were done in pre-COVID-19 time.
Free Haircut for Aid Beneficiaries
Sister Wang Yun Ping who helped out with the haircut services, attentively asked the aid beneficiary “How short do you want your hair to be? Do you want to tie up your hair?”
In conjunction with the Lunar New Year celebration, special arrangements were made to provide haircut services for 22 aid beneficiaries at their home. On 12 Jan 2021, Sister Wang visited the Phua siblings who suffered from a rare disease that affects their central nervous system. As a professional hairstylist, Sister Wang was invited by home visit volunteer, Sister Peng Li Ling, to help trim their hair. Since the beginning of the Circuit Breaker, Sister Wang had already been visiting the siblings for a few times to trim their hair. Due to the restriction that limits the number of people allowed in a hair salon, the implementation of the 1-metre safe distancing and their wheelchairs occupying a larger space, they had caused much inconvenience to the Phua Siblings. Their mother Wang Gui Yun revealed that sometimes when there were too many people at the salon, her children would have to wait under a hotter condition outside the salon. Madam Wang was appreciative of the volunteers who came to her home to provide the haircut service for her children. She said, “Greatly appreciate the arrangements done by Tzu Chi, it has made things a lot more convenient for us.”
“I feel if there is a need, I should help as much as I can,” said Sister Wang, who usually visits the elderly home with her hairstylist friends every 1.5 month to provide haircut services to the elderly. She is happy that she can make good use of her off-days to contribute to the society in a meaningful way.
Effort to Promote Vegetarianism Continues During the Spring Festival
The programs lined up for the celebration included lion dance performance, singing Lunar New Year songs and interactive sessions such as guessing song titles. With the festive atmosphere flowing, volunteers also shared with the participants on the benefits of vegetarianism and encouraged more people to take up vegetarianism to protect lives. Sister Li Yi Xian shared that many participants had moved near to the screens to actively take part in the interactive session, which created a strong sense of joyous atmosphere at the participants’ homes.
Aid beneficiary Mr. Huang is a cerebral palsy patient who enjoys the lively atmosphere. He was disappointed to learn that he could not go to Jing Si Hall for the celebration. Nevertheless, he could still feel the warmth from the visit by volunteers. He might not be able to keep looking at the screen, but he listened attentively to the program and would laugh heartily at the jokes. During the segment for guessing song titles, he would try his best to lift his head to participate in the game seriously. After the outbreak of COVID-19, Sister Foo Cai Jun tried to encourage him to go vegetarian, but her attempts were futile. After watching the program, Mr. Huang slowly lifted his head up and said “I……will……eat…...more…...vegetarian…...food”. And after finished saying that, he managed to give a smile. This surprised and touched the volunteers as their sharing from time to time had already planted a seed of kindness in Mr. Huang.
Aid beneficiary Mr. Cai went through an unsuccessful operation many years ago which caused him to become paralyzed from waist down. He gradually regained confidence in life and started selling tissue papers for a living. As his financial situation slowly stabilises, Mr. Cai would drop some coins from his daily earnings into the bamboo coin bank. Though his earning is meager, he persisted in doing this good deed every day.
“Contributing to the bamboo coin bank is a good thing. I received help from Tzu Chi and I also want to contribute a little back to the society.” Mr. Cai has persisted with this daily practice for 7-8 years as he becomes someone with his palm facing down to help other people.
Tzu Chi volunteers could not visit Grandma Wang during the pandemic period. Unfortunately, she fell down several times when she was alone at home and was admitted to hospital for treatment. Since July 2020, Tzu Chi volunteers visited her weekly to provide her with Traditional Chinese Medicine treatment. Finally, Grandma Wang’s condition improved after 4 months of acupuncture treatment. For that, she is grateful for the help provided by Tzu Chi. She has also developed the habit of contributing to the bamboo coin bank.
In previous years, Tzu Chi volunteers would arrange for transport to fetch her to Jing Si Hall for the Lunar New Year celebration. Although the celebration has gone online this year, Grandma Wang could still clap her hands and follow the beat “I know how to sing the Lunar New Year song "Gong xi gong xi".” At the end of the session, Grandma Wang handed her bamboo coin bank to the volunteers for donation back to Tzu Chi.
Nothing can stop a joyful festive celebration with the care recipients
Majority of Tzu Chi’s aid beneficiaries live in small units without enough chairs and good air ventilation etc. The event co-coordinator Sister Yao Hui Xin saw from the screen that volunteers had to conform to the social distancing measure, with some standing or sitting on the floor through the program. She was deeply touched to see how “everyone shrank themselves so as to be able to celebrate the Lunar New Year with the aid beneficiaries. I am touched by their spirit.”
The theme for this year’s Lunar New Year celebration is "Learn the Great Lessons of Our Time and Benefit All Beings, Be Kind and Do Good to Bring Harmony to the World". Though the new normal has resulted in a change to our way of life, the resolution to do good and bring warmth and love to all remain steadfast, let us stay strong and continue to care for one another.