Tzu Chi Singapore Branch has been taking care of HIV patients for close to 15 years, gaining in recent years recognition and identification from many in the society. To top it all, Tzu Chi Singapore Branch is even invited participate in the 8th Singapore AIDS Conference for the first time in 2012 to showcase its achievements accumulated over the years.
The biannual conference is jointly organized by the Action for AIDS(AFA), Tan Tock Seng Hospital and the Health Promotion Board. The 8th AIDS Conference was held on the 17th of November at the Mandarin Hotel and the theme of the conference was “Getting to Zero: Zero New HIV Infections, Zero AIDS-related Deaths, Zero Discrimination”.
The conference was attended by healthcare professionals, scientists, researchers, policymakers and volunteers from Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia and other countries. The Tzu Chi contingent of eight comprised chief administrator Keng Lim, Tzu Chi’s full time doctor Dr Edwin Lim, social workers Karen Lim and Wang Yuqi, as well as volunteers Ong Wee Heng and Huang Lizhu.
Tzu Chi humanitarianism drawing attention from many
Since started handling its first HIV case referred to it by Tan Tock Seng hospital in 1998, Tzu Chi has been involved in subsidizing medical fees and conducting regular home visits for HIV patients for close to 15 years. The conference organizer took the opportunity to introduce the Buddhist charitable organization that “transcends religion and race” to the conference attendees.
The guest of honor, Dr Amy Khor, Minister of State for Ministry of Health & Ministry of Manpower, specially mentioned Tzu Chi in her opening address and extended gratitude to Tzu Chi for its long term contribution in the forms of medical fee subsidies and livelihood and moral support rendered to HIV patients.
Addressing the theme of the conference, three main areas were covered at the conference, namely, Early-testing and Linkage to Care, Biomedical Strategies for Prevention and Traditional Prevention Strategies and Human Impact of AIDS.
The Tzu Chi booth was the closest to the centre stage, and within a small space one could find magazines and publications, Jing Si book marks, Jing Si Aphorism pamphlets, etc. More importantly, there was also a bamboo bank to highlight to all the origin of Tzu Chi Foundation.
One of the chairmen of the conference organizing committee, Dr Lee Cheng Chuan from Tan Tock Seng hospital, has made good friend with Tzu Chi social worker, Karen Lim, through his many years of collaboration with Tzu Chi. He played a crucial role in Tzu Chi’s participation in the conference by nominating and promoting Tzu Chi to the organizer. He came forward to the Tzu Chi booth to extend his gratitude as soon as he had arrived at the conference venue, congratulating Tzu Chi for exhibiting much humanitarianism at the conference.
Many from other organizations and units which had collaborated with Tzu Chi before also came forward to greet the Tzu Chi people, and the Tzu Chi volunteers took the opportunity to promote Tzu Chi as well as Jing Si aphorisms to them. A Christian volunteer, Reverend Yap, who marvels at the Tzu Chi spirit and its humanitarianism, always introduces Tzu Chi and its philanthropy work to his friends. He has also on many occasions highlighted Tzu Chi’s unconditional contributions to the Minister of Health.
Reaching out wider and deeper
Many who visited the Tzu Chi booth were curious about the four missions of Tzu Chi and how Tzu Chi executes them on the global stage.
One of the exhibitors, Youth United Front, is an organization that looks after the wellbeing of the youth. After introducing to them Tzu Chi’s local voluntary work, the Tzu Chi volunteers also introduced to them how a group of black Tzu Chi volunteers in South Africa, though impoverished but highly inspired, help look after HIV patients in their own country. “On the other side of the Earth, there is a group of Tzu Chi people with a different faith making contributions in their own ways to help the HIV patients.”
Touching on how Tzu Chi people walk the talk in promoting environmentalism, chief administrator Keng Lim quickly took out the environmentally friendly meal utensil from his bag to show the two young representatives from Youth United Front the unique items from Tzu Chi. Lim then shared with them the meaningfulness and importance of environmentalism, and he didn’t forget to introduce to them the Tzu Chi recycling points, inviting them to join in the effort to protect the Earth.
A volunteer from the Health Promotion Board, Sheila Cheng, approached the Tzu Chi people and introduced herself voluntarily. She had heard of Tzu Chi before and was full of admiration for Tzu Chi. Though she would be emigrating to Australia soon, she wished to do more in Singapore before leaving. “I enjoy doing voluntary work and I like to bake cookies. How may I contribute to your philanthropy work?”
Upon learning there will be a Tzu Chi charity fair in January, 2013, Sheila expressed her generosity by indicating she would bake lots of cookies to raise funds for Tzu Chi. Knowing a little of the Chinese language, she jokingly said, “my friends call me xile [happy], I shall call my cookies the ‘xile cookies’!”
The conference concluded successfully at 5 pm. By then, Tzu Chi had reached out wider and deeper to the others, forming stronger ties with the other interest groups to help and support HIV patients.
The Singapore government modified its policies in 2010 and allows HIV patients to use the Medifund scheme to pay their medical bills, thereby relieving them of their financial burden. However, the new policy doesn’t cover prison inmates, therefore Tzu Chi will continue to provide them with subsidies. Most importantly, the key message here is “prevention is better than cure”, Tzu Chi will continue to press ahead in the direction of providing care and concern to the HIV patients, as well as promulgating HIV prevention to the public.