“Celery, squat! Celery, squat! After that, fig, squat……”
The peals of laughter coming from the Jing Si Hall heralded the beginning of the 2016 Tzu Ching camp. Absorbed in their group games, participants were there for the three-day and two-night camp. The theme was simple: “Strive and Shine!”
The programme was packed with creative and interesting activities that covered everything from experiential learning to analysis by inference. Today’s undergraduates have plenty of opportunities to obtain information off the internet, and less opportunities to interact and show concern for others; this, the organizing team took into account and planned the camp around the objectives of nurturing gratitude and instilling a sense of social responsibility in the youths.
A Complete Transformation
The old adage goes that “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” And so participants in the camp did indeed experience the simple living that is a way of life with Tzu Chi. The curriculum team were hands-on as they spoke, showing participants Tzu Chi etiquette that covered the entire spectrum of basic needs from dressing, dining, and the way that they carried themselves.
While dining, participants were shown how one’s chopsticks should rest on a chopstick holder so as not to dirty the table. In order not to waste even a morsel of food, some water could be added to the remaining remnants of rice in a bowl in order to facilitate the act of swallowing the last grains.
In the area of clothing, Tzu Chings learnt that the blue tops they wore signified how one’s heart had to be as vast and open as the blue sky, while their white bottoms reminded them to act in accordance with purity. Every little detail built upon each other resulted in the perfection of self, and hence the beauty of the organization as a whole.
Participants also visited the Tzu Chi DaAi Gallery housed in an old-style black and white bungalow of two storeys. Upon stepping in, visitors were greeted by a message at the doorway ─ “Walk gently to show our respect for Mother Earth”, in effect a gentle reminder that one should help maintain the quiet and peaceful atmosphere in the environs.
The lingering smell of a gentle wood fragrance was discernable inside the building and visitors were brought back to the pioneering days of the Tzu Chi “bamboo bank era” by the sight of the bamboo coin bank exhibit.
Gallery guides patiently explained the humble beginnings of the organization while taking visitors through the various exhibit zones dedicated to the various time frames in Tzu Chi’s history. From stories innately connected to its establishment, to its international presence in global humanitarian aid, and finally to how the local chapter took seed and became the present-day Tzu Chi Foundation (Singapore), the guides did not tire of the details.
The visiting youths also had the opportunity to engage in an interactive jigsaw puzzle game, assembling the pieces which gave them a better understanding of the organization’s four overarching missions and its ongoing campaigns, which are collectively known as the “Eight Footprints.”
The two hours they spent in the gallery was hardly enough to cover everything about Tzu Chi, but a sign prohibiting picture-taking in the building said it all: “Keep the memories in your heart and transform your inspiration into action.”
After the visit, Wang Zi Qiao from the National University of Singapore expressed being moved by the story of the bird that tried to put out a forest fire. “The little bird tried its utmost with its meagre might to extinguish the fire; though it was not successful but (at least) it tried.” That day, he learned the lesson that one should try one’s best under all circumstances.
In a sharing segment by Tzu Ching seniors Xu Cui Qin and Qiu Bing Rou, they related how the humanitarian aid rendered in the Huadong, China floods highlighted Master Cheng Yen’s compassion, courage, and the virtue of treating all people equally with the love akin to that shown by one’s parents.
Participant Zhang Shu Min, who admited to the habit of procrastination, attributed her profligacy with time as a result of a smooth-sailing life that made her feel that time was on her side. However, after learning that Master Cheng Yen, who has a tight daily schedule, does not waste even a single minute of her time, she woke up to the fact that she would have to learn how to use her time more effectively.
“My nature is such that I lack confidence and tend to mind what others think of me, thus I always lack the courage to do what I want; seeing the courageous heart the Master has, I will look up to her as an example—‘If something is right, just do it!’”
A Joyous Mid-Autumn Festival at the Nursing Home
On the third day of the camp, participants visited the Evergreen Place home for the elderly, celebrating a late mid-autumn festival with the residents. Prior to the visit, the youths busied themselves preparing handmade lanterns and planning an exciting performance for the elderly folks.
The visit brought cheer and laughter to the residents as the youths sang the song “We are the Children of the Earth.” They followed the lead of their youthful visitors and began to dance to the music. Later, they indulged in crafting some handmade lanterns, which really ramped up the festive atmosphere in the home. Each lantern had a blessing inscribed on it, so that every resident received well-wishes of health and happiness.
The Tzu Chings divided themselves into five groups and staged a series of performances for their elderly audience, such as a song and guitar recital, a sign language presentation, and a skit. An 85-year-old Malay resident was so overjoyed with the programme that he stood up and danced despite his leg ailments. He even expressed his hope that the youths would visit again.
Loving the Earth, Learning to Live Green
“If you have land, trees and a water source, and you can build houses, grow vegetables and keep farm animals, how would you utilise your plot of land?”
In the segment “Practical Green Living,” Tzu Ching senior Yang Guan Xiong gave every group a board that represented a plot of land in Singapore. Participants could build houses, develop vegetable farms and decide where to have their trees and water sources located on the limited space provided. In the event of natural disasters, development of resources and increase in family size, they were also free to make changes in their plot of “land”. At the conclusion of the game, when every group came together to assemble their individual boards back to form a map of Singapore, they were surprised to find how they had altered the original look of the land by their decisions, bringing home the message that every action we take does indeed have an impact on the environment.
Yang also discussed the movie “Wall-E,” where mankind had left to live on other planets, leaving Wall-E, a robot, to clean up the rubbish left on earth. He asked his audience where man could live if the earth was destroyed, leaving them some food for thought.
He had some suggestions for them, including recycling items in daily life, conserving water, not wasting food, and bringing along one’s own utensils instead of using disposables. In addition engaging in mentally fulfilling activities, decreasing material consumption and following a vegetarian diet too, would be beneficial.
He encouraged them to do what is right and never stop thinking of what role they can play in helping the earth.
At the close of the camp, participants shared what they had learnt with each other. Cai Jia Ying who would soon step into the working world, told her fellow participants that whereas she used to be more trusting in the past, she was now wary of the intentions of others and would hesitate to participate in activities she was invited to. Having experienced the warmth of the Tzu Ching family, she was grateful for the decision she made to come, and revealed that she would give herself another chance to regain her trusting nature.
Wang Hui Yi too, had some realizations to share. The visit to the nursing home roused deep emotions in her as she was reminded of her own father who suffers from dementia. Sometimes, he would only remember the name of the family pet and not hers, and this made her terribly sad. She exhorted everyone to cherish the time that they have with their family, as no one can foretell what will happen tomorrow.
The 2016 Tzu Chi youth camp thus came to a close with laughter, tears, and sweat as part of the package. The Tzu Ching seniors sent off their juniors, firm in their knowledge that the latter would be a force to reckon with in spreading the seeds of good far and wide.