Huang Gong Hua lives in Jurong East and is the coordinator of the Tzu Chi Eco-Awareness Centre. From Monday to Saturday, he takes an hour to travel to his workplace in Woodlands by MRT.
He gets to work by first riding a bicycle, then the train, and finally transfers to a bus. Upon reaching, the first thing he does is to open the doors, then he switches the TV on to the Da Ai channel. He further cleans the toilet, does a stock-take of items and turns on the fan. These are all his daily tasks. Singapore’s weather is pretty hot, so when dealing with the vast quantities of recyclables, he must first handle the ones that would start to smell under the heat.
In each bag of unsorted items collected for recycling, there usually will be paper, plastic, glass bottles, metal and aluminum cans etc.; these are the typical recyclables from people’s homes.
“Currently, plastic makes up the biggest volume (of recyclables) and is the least valuable item. The plastic recyclables are sorted according to the requirements of the recycling companies,” said Huang, sharing his daily observations.
He added that the prices of one kilogram of plastic range from a few cents to S$0.30. “(However,) we will still collect (the plastic recyclables). If even Tzu Chi refuses to do so, the damage to the environment will be great.” Huang hopes that everyone can reduce and refuse the usage of plastic products, thereby keeping the environment clean by reducing waste from the start.
As the Eco-Awareness Centre is located in an industrial area, it also receives some specific types of industrial waste or leftover materials. Huang said that for these materials, a more efficient approach would be to directly transport them to the place of sale, thus saving on manpower, time and petrol.
Lan Ji Shen, an employee of a seafood restaurant chain, regularly comes to the Centre, bringing piles of discarded invoices and receipts. “Because I don’t want to waste (paper)! I know that Tzu Chi has this recycling centre, and my boss is also a Tzu Chi volunteer.”
Due to Singapore’s strict regulations, it is unlikely that a large-scale recycling station, such as the Eco-Awareness Centre, can be set up in a residential area. Tzu Chi managed to rent the first floor of Nylect Engineering Pte Ltd (owned by a Tzu Chi volunteer) at a special rate, and set up the Centre there. It has an area of 6591.5 sq ft and started operation in August 2014.
Currently, there are 34 Tzu Chi recycling points around Singapore, of which 33 opens for 3 hours on every second Sunday of the month. Only the Bukit Ho Swee Recycling point operates two and a half hours each week. The Eco-Awareness Centre, however, opens six days a week.
“Here, we not only collect items, but store them temporarily as well. There is no need to clear the recyclables within a short time. We can also do more educational activities, invite more people to come and visit, and also recruit more volunteers,” Huang elaborated.
Inspired to Join in the Recycling Work
Huang’s home is located opposite Tzu Chi’s very first recycling point situated at Ivory Height. For many years, he had caught sight of Tzu Chi volunteers busily engaged in recycling work. At that time, he and his wife, Lin Ai Luan did not know about Tzu Chi. Only when he encountered Master Cheng Yen’s book in a library did he begin to understand more about the organization.
On a Tzu Chi Recycling Day in 2012, the couple brought recyclables to the recycling point. Subsequently, Lin became a Tzu Chi volunteer. On the 46th Anniversary of Tzu Chi Taiwan, Huang was invited to join a session of the Morning Volunteer Assembly at the Jing Si Abode (Tzu Chi HQ). He recalled, “It was raining that day and Master Cheng Yen could not bear to see the volunteers get wet, so she immediately asked all of them to return (to the sheltered area). I felt the sincere compassion of the Master and since then, I have been joining the Dharma study sessions, volunteer sharing and training sessions, etc.”
From then on, the couple actively participated in recycling activities and even became recycling team leaders. Lin also took the opening of the Eco-Awareness Centre as an opportunity to invite her mother to join in the recycling work every week.
79-year-old Aunty Wu (Lin’s mother) has a very sturdy body; she regularly rides a bicycle when going out and joins the local community club activities. “Not being active is unbearable,” remarked the elderly woman, who used to work in a farm. “There is nothing to do at home, happiness is about coming here to contribute.”
As Lin was teaching her mother to sort recyclables, she said, “Getting my mom to interact with other elderly people here allows her to realize that even at her age, she can still contribute to make the world a better place for our next generation.”
A Cultivation Ground of Great Love
The Eco-Awareness centre has a small corner for reading. The books placed there are the works of Master Cheng Yen and other books by Jing Si Publications. Some of them are personal contributions from Huang, while others are contributed by other volunteers. “This is a community training ground; when we are tired after sorting recyclables, we can retire to one corner and rest, calm our mind and listen to the Dharma.”
At 8am every morning, Tzu Chi commissioner Chen Su Juan starts sweeping and mopping the floor at the Eco-Awareness Centre. As a regular volunteer, she is also responsible for preparing lunch for the volunteers. She is preparing some mugwort and sweet potato leaves, grown by the volunteers in an empty space next to the Eco-Awareness Centre.
Originally an empty patch of ground, after the efforts of Huang and volunteers, it was transformed into a small garden planted with sweet potato, beans, melons, moringa, etc. At 8.00am, 80-year-old Yu Li Li starts to water the plants with a hose. At the other end of the garden, Huang Lu Si and 70-year-old Hong Xiu Qin are busily planting some kailan.
Every Friday at 9:30am, Tzu Chi commissioner Pan Xin Jing reports punctually to volunteer at the Eco-Awareness Centre. Since after she became a commissioner in 2010, Pan hoped to spend more time in contributing to society. She got a part-time job and had Fridays to Sundays to join Tzu Chi’s activities. Every Friday morning, she would head to Jing Si Hall in Pasir Ris, where she helped at the reception counter, and this continued until the Eco-Awareness Centre opened.
After some fellow Tzu Chi volunteers requested her to help support the Eco-Awareness Centre, Pan thought that if she could offer her services at a place as far as Jing Si Hall, why not at the Eco-Awareness Centre, which is near her home? Observing that the ones coming in to volunteer are mostly new faces, and believing that Tzu Chi commissioners should treat all volunteers equally, she took pains to spend time with the new volunteers.
At 11:45am, dozens of volunteers sit together in front of the TV, respectfully listening to Master Cheng Yen’s teachings on Life Wisdom, a Da Ai TV programme. After that, Huang leads everyone in the sharing of Master Cheng Yen’s teachings and volunteers also share what they have learned in doing recycling work. Pan, who seldom speaks to a group, will render her support by helping to facilitate the sharing session.
Guiding Others With Care and Mindfulness
Having been the coordinator of the Eco-Awareness Centre for almost half a year, Huang frankly revealed that initially, he had to battle with his negative habitual tendencies. He often felt troubled as he tended to use the old methods which he adopted during his days of running a business to demand efficiency and progress.
“Gradually, I started thinking of Master’s words: ‘Those who enter my Path but do not practise my teachings are sure to be vexed.’ I began to realize that the Eco-Awareness Centre is a place for practicing spiritual cultivation, and that we should apply the Master’s teachings right there.” Thus, Huang tried hard to practise the Tzu Chi values of contentment, gratitude, understanding and tolerance in his interactions with the volunteers.
Huang also started to be more appreciative of the efforts of the volunteers, many of whom are aged between 60 to 80-plus. Elderly volunteer Ye Dong Lian said, “He is very attentive towards us older volunteers. He will ask us to wear gloves if we are handling metals or wires which could hurt our hands. He is very caring and will constantly remind us not to forget our meals and drinks.”
Huang believes that as the coordinator of the Eco-Awareness Centre, he has to personally try his hand at something before asking the volunteers to undertake the task. “After finding out which method is most suitable, I will then think of who is most suited for the job. Then the job can be done more satisfactorily.”
Since inception, volunteers at the Centre have increased from just a few to about 20 currently. Huang stated his wish for the future: “I want to support Tzu Chi’s missions and this spiritual cultivation ground. Taking care of the volunteers here, recruiting more volunteers…. (I want to) propagate Tzu Chi’s concept of environmental protection and to promote recycling.”
During lunch break, chatter and laughter filled the air; some volunteers were giving massages to each other, while a few were making tea or coffee for all. It was not hard to see the strong bonds the volunteers share with one another, and the Eco-Awareness Centre is just like their second home!