When Nancy invited me and Nic to join her and the rest of the Adventist Hospital staff to visit Tzu Chi Society building in Macalister Road, she had warned me.
“Bring lots of tissues.” It would be emotional.
I just didn’t know how emotional it would turn out to be.
In the end, I came home pretty humbled and yet inspired. I have written about Master Cheng Yen, the founder of this non-profit organisation, sometime before. I have friends who are volunteers in Tzu Chi. I myself contribute monthly towards Tzu Chi.
Master Cheng Yen embodies a woman with absolute strength of character, infused with a resilience that’s awe-inspiring. All this through the one video I saw of her. I can imagine seeing her in the flesh in Taiwan, if I am that fortunate to visit her country (she does not travel out of Taiwan for health reasons I believe).
4 Hours, 3 Times A Week
The first stop of our visit was the Tzu Chi Dialysis Centre on Gottlieb Road. Being a Sunday, we didn’t expect that many people around. The nurses had especially come in earlier at morning to prepare for our visit. The dialysis patients turned volunteers were also there to greet us!
Mr Lee, the centre manager, showed us around and explained about the dialysis machines. Every kidney patient would be hooked up to the machine for 4 hours each time, 3 times a week.
And Tzu Chi does not charge for these sessions – they are FREE.
(Under normal circumstances, each session would cost approximately RM150 to RM250 at private hospitals. In the Government hospital/general hospital, it would be cheaper but there is a long wait list.) Added to that, there are medications. So each kidney patient would need to spend at least RM2500 every month for dialysis and medicines.
For the first time, it dawned on me how magnificent our bodies really are. How each organ works to give us good health; when it breaks down, it becomes tedious, even exhausting. What our kidneys do naturally, the machine takes a good 4 hours each time.
The one thing I noticed is that the nurses were upbeat and cheerful (despite having to come in as early as 7 am on a Sunday so they could rehearse their performance for us, their guests). They beamed when they performed a song for us together with the dialysis patients/volunteers.
They were all smiles when they presented their gifts to us – white hankies folded to resemble cute rabbits with red eyes!
Mr Lee explained that these young nurses would also go beyond their call of duty – they’d drop in to visit dialysis patients after their work hours. All this without extra OT pay. And it is not a secret that they’re not paid as highly as private nurses either. But they do it with grace and cheerfulness.
What was the secret in Tzu Chi which motivated these nurses (who could work in any hospital given their dedication) to be more than they were? It was inspiring to know that there’s a deeper sense of purpose in these young nurses’ lives. It shone in their eyes. It shone in their heart. That word comes back to me – it was like staring at pure joy.
Stories of Hope and Humility
We were then whisked back to the main grey-coloured Tzu Chi building on Macalister Road. It was mid-morning but we were served a mini snack in the form of ‘ang koo kuih’ and jelly, to be downed by fragrant Chinese tea.
Before we drank our tea, we were taught the proper method of appreciating tea. When we sipped the tea, we had to be mindful and remember the 3 Goodness (a sip for good thoughts, a sip for good words and a sip for good deeds). The Tzu Chi staff mentioned that they were going to start their tea appreciation class soon. This class is held once a year and for free. You can call up and ask them when the next class is beginning.
I couldn’t help but admire the humility, tenacity and inherent mindfulness of these Tzu Chi volunteers, from the ladies dressed in demure dark blue cheongsams (very elegant!) to the men dressed in grey t-shirts or white t-shirts. When we were on the first floor watching a presentation of Tzu Chi, Sunday school for children was in session on the ground floor. In a way, this was a Sunday school with a difference because parents are enrolled with their children with the belief that good values must be taught from young but also with the direct support of the parents.
I was touched by so many things I saw that day in Tzu Chi. They believed in doing things with passion, loving-kindness and mindfulness. As a 10 million strong organisation worldwide, they are always the first to attend to any disaster area and the last to leave. Due to their strong belief in helping people, they have also come up with their own innovation such as instant rice which does not need to be cooked. In disaster areas, fuel is hard to come by so instant rice (which is now part of a range of products they sell in their Tzu Chi shop) with the addition of hot water for 20 minutes makes a nutritious and quick meal. This is also a good product for campers!
They also showed us a short video which made all of us weep once more (we wept when Mr Muck, a dialysis patient recounted his story of how he went from being a patient to actively volunteering with Tzu Chi).
The video was of an 80-year old woman who still holds onto her job as an office cleaner because she is the sole breadwinner in her family of four – her husband is blind and cannot work while her 2 grown-up children are disabled and cannot take care of themselves. She has in total 7 children but the other 5 children were also disabled and had passed away.
And yet, this old woman who rides her motorbike to work daily never once complained about her lot in life. The hunched up little old lady cheerfully goes to work, riding her old little Honda motorbike. Incredibly, after she heard how Tzu Chi gets money to help dialysis patients from recycling household wastes, she started collecting newspapers, tins and plastics to do her bit for Tzu Chi!
I was absolutely floored by this story.
Mr Lee then took over to show us via some slides about Tzu Chi’s work in Indonesia. Tzu Chi volunteers helped to clean up one of Jakarta’s dirtiest rivers and squatter areas. Together with the Indonesian Government, they built flats for the squatter families. They also helped rebuilt tsunami-hit Acheh – rebuilding schools, mosque and houses for the Achehnese.
The local religious leader of the town was so touched by the generosity of Tzu Chi that he asked for 60 pieces of Master Cheng Yen’s photo to be place in every classroom. He wanted the Muslim school children to give thanks and remember the woman who started Tzu Chi, the organisation which helped them.
This contrasts so strongly with what we know and perceive about religions. Would this happen in Malaysia? Would a Muslim religious leader ask for photos of his benefactor to be put in every classroom so that the children do not forget to be grateful each day to the woman and the organisation which helped them? While watching the video of the Muslim children sing a Bahasa Indonesian version of the Mandarin Tzu Chi song, I was terribly moved by the Indonesians’ ability to be all encompassing in their thankfulness.
All I can say is, Tzu Chi is an amazing organisation just like many of the amazing organisations out there who are helping people in their own ways.
Life is sometimes about the lessons we learn and also about the lessons we re-learn.
** You can read more about the inspiring life journey of Master Cheng Yen.
** If you want to help, you can contribute money on a monthly basis with a minimum of RM1 per month. Please contact the nearest Tzu Chi in your town/city.