Palms clasped and with a bow, Tzu Chi volunteer Stanley Neo greeted his "brothers and sisters" from the Grasio Association who surprisingly greeted him back in the same way. The smiles on their faces were so radiant that it immediately dissolved whatever anxiety there might have been. The jolly mood exuded by the guests simply echoed with the title of the project, 'Project Harmony'.
The project was actually the result of a conversation between Brother Stanley, who teaches the Malay martial art of Pencak Silat in the association, and his Grandmaster and founder of Grasio, Sheik Alau'ddin Yacoob Marican PBM.
Mr Sheik, who is also the Chief Executive Director of Singapore Silat Federation, has been pondering on ways to encourage his coaches and athletes to "not only know how to punch and kick but also to serve society". Hence, when Brother Stanley mentioned his involvement with Tzu Chi, it roused his interest to visit the local branch to learn more about the NGO.
Impressed with what he saw during a visit with his wife (who is also Chief Instructor of the association and serves on the Singapore Silat Federation Management Committee) on 30 October 2010, Mr Sheik decided that his instructors and students should come and learn from Tzu Chi. A tea reception was therefore proposed and scheduled during the first Sunday of the school holidays with Brother Stanley as the event coordinator.
Great Love knows no boundary
On 13 Mar, the English Group volunteers arrived after the monthly recycling activity around noontime to prepare for the reception. It was heartwarming to note that several students, coaches and their family members turned up at Jing Si Hall more than half an hour before the event, with some coming despite having Silat lessons in the morning.
When all of the 33 guests were seated, Brother Stanley, who was the emcee for the tea reception, showed power point slides of Grasio students and athletes in Silat demo performances during recent Tzu Chi events to show them that Grasio is already a familiar name in Tzu Chi and vice versa .
After the video introduction to Tzu Chi Singapore, recycling volunteer Ainon Bte Mohamed was invited to share her experience.
Speaking in Malay, the Islamic school educator recounted how she discovered Tzu Chi in last year's Braddell Heights Emergency Preparedness Day where the Foundation had put up an eco-exhibition. While she was browsing the Tzu Chi Singapore magazine, she read about how Tzu Chi Kuala Lumpur had helped a child of a Burmese refugee family in getting her cleft lip treated. As the volunteer on duty shared about the care that Tzu Chi volunteers showered upon the girl and her family, tears flowed freely on Mdm Ainon's face and her heart whispered: "This is the charity organization I have been looking for."
The Serangoon resident, who's also a member of the Braddell Heights Inter-Racial Confidence Circle (IRCC), since made it a point to take time to volunteer at Tzu Chi's monthly recycling activity at Block 241, Serangoon Ave 3, which she fondly related to as a big family gathering with brothers and sisters working side by side. She also regularly attends the Tzu Chi English Sharing Session hoping to learn more about Tzu Chi and its works around the world.
"I think Islam and Buddhism share similar philosophy, and we are all equal despite our racial and religious differences. I really hope all Muslims in Singapore would come to know of Tzu Chi's ideals," said Mdm Ainon, who was still teary from relating the Burmese girl’s story to the guests.
"I'm happy to be able to volunteer with Tzu Chi because here, I'm seeing the realization of 'Humanity as One'," added the avid recycling volunteer.
Equality and equanimity
Looking back, Sister Susi, the second volunteer to share with the guests, said she used to be very self-centered while pursuing her ideal life and that volunteering with Tzu Chi had helped change her perspective and life forever.
With fluent Bahasa Indonesia, the Chinese Indonesian who now resides in Singapore shared with the guests about a helpless mother she encountered during a free clinic organized by Tzu Chi Singapore in Batam Island, Indonesia in 2002.
The mother was crying with worry while the doctor examined her child who was suffering from hydrocepalus (excessive cerebrospinal fluid in the brain). Upon seeing her helplessness, Sister Susi immediately went forward to comfort her.
The mother poured out to Sister Susi that because she had no money to treat her child, she had sought medical help from many government hospitals but none were willing to lend a helping hand. She did not expect a Buddhist organization to reach out to her in her hour of need because she had never liked Buddhists and Chinese in her entire life. The mother was both surprised with and grateful for the help extended to her.
That remark struck a deep chord with Sister Susi, to which she began to appreciate more of Master Cheng Yen's teachings that "only love can overcome religious and racial animosity".
Sis Susi further cited her family's example: "Although my siblings are of different religions – I am a Buddhist and they are either Muslim or Christian –we would do our respective prayers before eating in our family gathering and it doesn't affect our relationship at all. Mutual respect and gratitude is definitely the key to closer family bond."
After the sharing session, the guests were split into groups to tour around Jing Si Hall's poster corridor, educational recycling station and Jing Si Book Hut. A Q&A session then followed with volunteers answering the Grasio members' queries about Tzu Chi.
Mdm Mazelah Bte Masiuhin, the association's volunteer manager, said that the visit had opened her "eyes and heart" and she hoped to pass on the ideas and concepts to the young athletes in the association.
Grasio's manager, Mohamed Faizul Bin Othman, related particularly to Tzu Chi's continuous effort in promoting environmentalism. Speaking of Tzu Chi's present global outreach and its humble beginning where members saved 50 Taiwan cents (S$0.02) daily for charity, Mr Mohamed said of what he learned that day: "Donating is not the privilege of the rich; every donor are equal, the important thing is to have a good heart."
Mr Mohamed is also a volunteer with a local mosque and looks forward to bringing his Muslim friends to come and learn from Tzu Chi.
Before the reception ended, the Grasio audience danced and signed to the bubbly "Happy Face" song led by a group of youthful volunteers who animatedly demonstrated the actions. The laughter and vibe in the room marked the end of the day's visit, but also the beginning of a much welcomed "Project Harmony".