Pre-Symposium Agency Visits

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Introduction of Route 4 / Community Service in Hualien

Inspiring Great Love Around the World
Dharma Master Cheng Yen and Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation

The founding of Tzu Chi
Tzu Chi was founded in 1966 by Dharma Master Cheng Yen, who was then but a young Buddhist monastic of age 29. At the time, the east coast of Taiwan, where the Master first settled, was undeveloped and impoverished. The Master and her monastic disciples supported themselves by sewing baby shoes, making concrete sacks into smaller animal feed bags, knitting sweaters, and raising their own vegetables.

One day in 1966, while the Master was visiting a patient at a small local clinic, she saw a pool of blood on the floor. The Master was told that the blood was from an indigenous woman suffering from labor complications. Her family had carried her from their mountain village. They had been walking for eight hours, but when they arrived at the hospital, they did not have the NT$8,000 (then US$200) required fee. They could only carry her back untreated. Hearing this, the Master was overwhelmed with sorrow. She thought to herself: As an impoverished monastic barely supporting herself, what could she do to help these poor people?

Categories of charitable work
Long-term assistance: Regular financial assistance for the poor and ill, after assessment of need. Tzu Chi volunteers regularly visit poor and ill people and their families. Besides financial assistance, volunteers offer personal care, and help with everyday tasks, like spring cleaning for the elderly with restricted mobility. As of December 2013, Tzu Chi has provided long-term assistance to a total of 43,296 households in Taiwan.

Regular support and care: Care to those who do not need financial assistance but require encouragement, support, or guidance. These cases include elderly people living alone who have no surviving family, families with a disabled or ill family member, and people mourning the death of a close relative or friend. Tzu Chi volunteers make periodic visits to offer emotional support. If professional counseling is needed, Tzu Chi will help the family find a trained professional.

Care for people living in institutions: Periodic visits to institutions serving people with special needs (e.g., nursing homes and schools for the disabled) as well as prisons and juvenile correctional centers. Volunteers offer love and friendship, and organize activities and programs on inspirational topics.

Short-term crisis aid: Short-term assistance to people temporarily in hardship due to a natural disaster, accident, or sudden misfortune. Volunteers help these people overcome their immediate difficulties. Depending on the nature of the need, aid may include money for basic needs, tuition assistance for children, medical care, home repairs, or help with funeral arrangements. Sometimes these cases become candidates for long-term aid, and are transferred to Tzu Chi’s long-term assistance program. As of December 2013, Tzu Chi has handled a total of 222,821 cases of short-term crisis aid in Taiwan.

Large-scale disaster relief: Disaster prevention and relief efforts in times of disaster. Example: When a typhoon warning is issued during Taiwan’s typhoon season, Tzu Chi volunteers go around the community to promote disaster preparedness and visit underprivileged families to help them with preparations including roof repairs. When the typhoon creates a disaster, volunteers go into the affected areas to provide comfort and offer hot meals, emergency cash, material supplies, and medical treatments. In the aftermath of a flood or mudslide, volunteers help with the cleanup efforts. Volunteers also survey those affected by the disaster to determine if there is any need for further mid- or long-term assistance.

Recycling station of Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation

In August 1990, Dharma Master Cheng Yen was invited by the T.H. Wu Foundation to give a public lecture in Taichung, Taiwan. As she walked to the venue of the lecture early in the morning, she saw piles of trash lining the streets in a night market; she was deeply saddened. When the audience was applauding her at the end of the lecture, she urged them to protect the beautiful environment of Taiwan by using their “clapping hands” to sort trash for recycling. The Master hoped that everyone could take action to protect Mother Earth and mitigate the impact of global warming.

Since Master Cheng Yen started appealing to the public to reduce waste and start recycling, Tzu Chi volunteers from all walks of life have become actively involved in collecting and sorting trash for recycling.

In 1994, Taiwan was hit by Typhoon Doug, which caused severe floods and mudslides. After the disaster, Tzu Chi tirelessly promoted waste reduction to the public; it urged everyone not to use disposable eating utensils. To lead by example, Tzu Chi volunteers themselves started to bring reusable utensils. In 2001, Typhoon Nari inundated 19 counties and cities around Taiwan. In its aftermath, the volunteers supplied 660,000 hot meals to the disaster victims with non-disposable bowls, in an effort to protect the environment.

The Tzu Chi environmental protection movement has flourished not only in Taiwan, but globally as well. The foundation’s offices overseas have expanded their environmental efforts at the community level. Volunteers in Malaysia hold monthly recycling activities; those in the United States sort trash for recycling in their home garages and those in South Africa make rice sacks into reusable carrier bags. All these practices came from Tzu Chi’s environmental efforts in Taiwan.

In 2004, the NGO started making blankets from PET bottles collected by its volunteers across Taiwan; it distributes them as aid supplies during disaster relief. Proceeds from the sale of recyclables island-wide are used to fund its Da Ai (Great Love) TV; this is a network that produces programs which spread the message of environmental protection and share inspiring real life stories of human compassion and goodness. In this way, the foundation aims to create a “pure stream” that serves to cleanse human minds around the world.

After much active campaigning by the Foundation, there are now over 100,000 recycling volunteers in 16 countries and regions who have responded to the call; they have set up more than 10,000 recycling points and stations. Tzu Chi’s ongoing environmental efforts have been recognized by the United Nations. In 2005, during World Environment Day, Tzu Chi was invited to share its experience in environmental protection with delegates from around the world.

The small actions of each individual can significantly impact the world, like The Butterfly Effect. Master Cheng Yen said: “To save the world, we must first save the hearts and minds of people. If we wish to influence the world, we must first transform people’s minds.” Everyone hopes for good health and a world free of disasters. To achieve that, we must start by cultivating the right mindset in ourselves and translate it into prompt actions that conserve the environment. Then we will be able to transform Taiwan and the rest of the world into a Pure Land where humanity coexists in harmony with Nature.