"Proactively approaching people who are suffering, understanding their needs and helping them accordingly. Uphold the spirit of Bodhisattva to help the needy without being asked in order to enable them to settle down in life and have a peace of mind.”
These are the guidelines set by Master Cheng Yen on what Tzu Chi volunteers should do when they see sufferings in life. Tzu Chi volunteers are also reminded to be grateful and respectful when serving others.
After COVID-19 spread to Singapore, Tzu Chi Foundation (Singapore) launched its Epidemic Relief Programme for Tzu Chi Care Recipients on 11 February to care for its long-term care recipients who were affected by the pandemic. This was done through phone calls, dissemination of positive and accurate information followed by distribution of relief materials.
In the early days of the pandemic, Tzu Chi had frequently contacted its care recipients who live alone and those with poor mental condition. Meanwhile, whenever there was an urgent need to visit any care recipients, home visit volunteers had to adhere to precautionary measures such as keeping the visits to not more than 15 minutes, maintaining a social distancing of at least one meter, and also, the volunteer must not be more than 60 years of age.
After calling the care recipients to find out about their individual needs amid the pandemic, Tzu Chi discovered that some of them were still lacking essential items such as face masks. Therefore, volunteers were mobilized to visit these care recipients at their residence to distribute care packages that include masks, hand sanitizers, vitamin C tablets and Tzu Chi instant rice. To prevent the spread of the virus among people, each volunteer had to put on a mask before visiting these care recipients in pairs. Besides sending timely relief materials to the care recipients, volunteers also shared accurate information pertaining to the pandemic and personal hygiene knowledge with these care recipients to enhance their awareness to get through the pandemic period safely.
However, more were needed to deal with the ongoing pandemic. The increasing number of imported cases and local transmissions with unknown source had prompted the government to actively implement a series of corresponding measures.
Relief are adjusted depending on the situation and individual needs
The Epidemic Relief Programme for Tzu Chi Care Recipients had been timely adjusted according to factors such as the evolving pandemic situation, the tightening of pandemic prevention measures, relief measures by government and the individual needs of the care recipients etc. The programme that was intended to be carried out in different phases then progressed into its subsequent phases after ending its phase 1.
About a month after the Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (DORSCON) was upgraded from yellow to orange on 7 February 2020, home visit volunteers begin to contact care recipients through phone calls to find out how their livelihood had been affected by the pandemic.
Hence, in the second phase of the programme, a call survey was conducted on these households in order to provide customized relief to different individuals or households. Goh Leay Ying, the deputy manager of Tzu Chi Charity Development Department said that April is the month of its quarterly review, however, unlike the previous reviews, this review was only done for care recipients who are affected by the pandemic and whose income has been greatly affected. This group of care recipients are mostly taxi drivers and those who work in the food and beverage industry and other service sectors. Care recipients with family members who had to serve 14 days of Leave of Absence (LOA) were contacted via phone for assessment. She gave an example of a family of four who had their living allowance subsidy being adjusted from SGD200 to SGD400 after the assessment.
She also said that although the outcome of the survey had shown that a substantial amount of care recipients were affected by the pandemic, but the number of cases requiring subsidy adjustment was lower than expected due to the various financial supports launched by the government had benefitted most of these families.
Support for vulnerable groups enhanced during Circuit Breaker
A month-long of Circuit Breaker measures was announced on 7 April 2020 to curb the rapid spread of COVID-19 that was to be extended to 1 June later. The implementation of the Circuit Breaker had made it tough for charity work as volunteers were constrained by various restrictions including not being able to visit care recipients and not permitted to participate in packing aid materials due to the social distancing requirement.
A couple of days after the Circuit Breaker was put in place, Tzu Chi was notified of a care recipient who stayed alone and had passed away without anyone knowing. Goh revealed that the relative of the deceased found out that the emergency contact person for the deceased was Tzu Chi.
"This incident has saddened us, but it has also given us great inspiration. To many care recipients, Tzu Chi is probably one of the most important organization for them to rely on, so it is necessary to strengthen our care for these vulnerable care recipients during this period of time," said Goh.
Responding to the impact of the pandemic and government pandemic initiatives, Tzu Chi requested its community volunteers to compile a list of vulnerable care recipients and to call them at least once a week beginning 14 April. Therefore, the direction for the third phase of the programme was to prioritize the safety of the care recipients. When face to face visits are not allowed, the safety of these care recipients was ensured through regular phone calls to monitor their condition. By doing so, assistance can be rendered timely especially in urgent cases.
During phase 3.0, several sub-programmes such as “To-gather Vegetarian, Loving Kindness Meals Delivery Programme”, “Pay It Forward – Empowering Education” and online tuition for children of care recipients etc. were launched. When asked about the conceptualization of the idea behind these sub-programmes, Goh said that items like “clothing, food, housing, transportation, leisure and education” were the reference point given to the home visit volunteers when the digital survey form was created. Therefore, the "birth" of all these sub-programmes were developed to meet the diverse needs of the care recipients.
She gave an example of a care recipient who only had very few medical masks at home. Each time after using the disposable medical mask, the care recipient would wash and dry the mask and reuse it later. After the practice was made known to volunteers, they discussed the situation with other senior volunteers and Charity Development Department, which later decided to post a reusable fabric mask to the care recipient. At the same time, a community replenish station was also set up at 8 different locations in various communities to help with the distribution of the safety products. Whenever any care recipients were discovered to be lacking any safety products, the station master will deliver the much-needed items by post or by hand.
During the Circuit Breaker period, Tzu Chi had also found that some care recipients were either having trouble preparing their meals at home or going out for takeaways. Therefore, “To-gather Vegetarian, Loving Kindness Meals Delivery Programme” was launched on 7 May to deliver vegetarian lunch and dinner to these care recipients on weekdays and lunches on weekends. To solve the logistical problem that arose during Circuit Breaker, volunteers and care recipients who work as taxi drivers or private car drivers were engaged to form a caring car fleet to deliver these meals to care recipients.
"Thanks to the brothers and sisters (Tzu Chi volunteers) who prepared the meals! Thank you for your companionship along the way. A hearty meal is more than just a delicious meal to me, I can also feel the love, care and kind interactions from brothers and sisters, all that has warmed my heart and given me a lot of positivity!” exclaimed a care recipient gratefully through WhatsApp.
The Circuit Breaker that lasted for nearly two months had finally ended on 1 June, which also marked the gradual ending of the Epidemic Relief Programme for Tzu Chi Care Recipients. However, the battle against the pandemic is far from over, these charitable efforts amid the pandemic will still carry on. Coming up next, Tzu Chi aims to strengthen its support and care for seniors who are living alone by conducting survey through phone calls to understand the social support status of these care recipients.
Khoo Jyh Hao, Head of Tzu Chi Singapore Charity Development Department said, “There is one Jing Si Aphorism that reads “When those who are suffering cannot come out, people who are blessed will have to go to help them”. At moments like these, we all know that this is a global catastrophe, there is no such thing as who is suffering and who are blessed, because everyone is affected by this pandemic, therefore, we should just do whatever we can to help.”
The pandemic may have disrupted everyone's life, however, it did not hinder charitable efforts and cannot shatter the will of Tzu Chi volunteers to keep serving others.