It was a bright and sunny day on 5th January 2020, with a gentle and balmy breeze blowing across the island. Throngs of Tzu Chi Singapore’s Chinese aid beneficiaries arrived at the Jing Si Hall in Pasir Ris for an early Lunar New Year celebration with the NGO’s volunteers. Seeing many familiar faces, they greeted each other merrily as they held each other’s hands.
On this day, the Tzu Chi Foundation (Singapore) held its annual pre-Chinese New Year celebration. The event saw the participation of 443 aid beneficiaries and their family members, who came from all over the island to celebrate the festive occasion early with the volunteers.
A number of the aid recipients live far away from the Jing Si Hall or have mobility issues. Thus, the volunteers mobilised around 110 private cars and 4 buses to transport them to the venue as well as provided a shuttle service from Pasir Ris MRT station to the venue. Friends and relatives of the volunteers were also invited to serve as volunteer drivers to transport some of those from the South Zone, where there are many elderly beneficiaries with mobility issues.
As it was rather inconvenient for the wheelchair-bound aid beneficiaries to make their way up to Level 3 of the Jing Si Hall for the event, volunteers had set up 9 tables in the large, multi-functional classroom on the first floor for them. This was also the first time that performances were concurrently staged in two different areas at the festive event, and the performers had to rush between Level 1 and Level 3. Thanks to good time management, everything was well coordinated.
Tzu Chi Faith Corps members stage a rousing lion dance
The lion dance is a must-have at the annual pre-Chinese New Year celebration event. However, this year’s lion dance performance carried a greater meaning. Two months before, several Tzu Chi Faith Corps members (certified Tzu Chi commissioners who are male volunteers) spontaneously initiated a group to practise lion dance in an attempt to save the cost of hiring lion dance performers for the event.
“Thanks to Brother Leong Weng Chai for bringing everyone together to revive Tzu Chi’s Lion Dance troupe. With a simple and pure heart to serve, everybody came together after work to practise at a public square,” shared Ken Low, who was drenched in perspiration after the performance.
Local parent-child group performs festive song pieces on angklungs
The performers for this event included volunteers and Tzu Chi Great Love PreSchool’s students, and the programme also featured three pieces of festive song music performed using angklungs by Hommeet, a local parent-child group. The fusion of the unique sounds of the traditional Indonesian musical instruments with the popular Chinese New Year song, "Gong Xi Gong Xi" heated up the festive atmosphere, with everyone joyfully singing the lively song together.
Very Agung and Nisa, the couple who was responsible for teaching the members of Hommeet traditional musical instruments, were infected by the enthusiasm of everyone.
"I see a lot of smiling faces. I hope that such joy is not confined to this space, but spread to the whole of Singapore. From the joyful laughter of everyone, I learn about peace and harmony among people,” said Agung, who described the event as an unforgettable experience to him.
"I am really happy to see people from different ethnic groups celebrating Chinese New Year together. What surprises us the most is that you guys are hosting the same kind of festive celebration for other ethnic groups as well (to celebrate their respective festive events)," shared Nisa.
She was deeply moved and looked forward to more opportunities to cooperate with Tzu Chi in future to bring joy to people.
Aid beneficiaries stage performances in a show of appreciation
Several Tzu Chi aid beneficiaries came together to present song items to express their gratitude and appreciation at the event.
"I can't walk and I (don’t have much physical strength). But I still have a mouth, and I hope to repay everyone’s kindness with my voice,” shared Chai Xiu Zhu, an aid beneficiary who is aged more than 70 years old. She sang three Chinese New Year songs in a row on stage.
“Sister Lai Huay (a Tzu Chi volunteer) said that I have to practise and rehearse if I wish to perform on stage, so I started practising a month ago,” said Chai.
She has formed a deep bond and strong friendship with the volunteer during the latter’s regular visits to her home.
"She asked me how my life was when she came to visit me a few years ago. When I opened my fridge and she saw that there was no more food inside, she immediately went to buy some for me. I was really touched by her,” shared Chai.
Tzu Chi Volunteer Lee Lai Huay empathises with Chai’s plight. At the end of last year, Lee and other volunteers even helped to clean up Chai’s home.
There was also a couple who amazed everyone with their instrumental performance. The wife played the keyboard while her husband played the saxophone. The wife, Chen Mei Jing was a former Tzu Chi aid beneficiary, who was diagnosed with kidney disease last year. Prior to receiving subsidies from the National Kidney Foundation, she received Tzu Chi’s aid through its Dialysis Assistance Programme.
"Our household income merely makes ends meet. I do not wish to become a burden to my family anymore. The dialysis subsidy from Tzu Chi really eased my anxiety,” said Chen.
The couple made a living by playing music, but they felt quite different performing at the pre-Chinese New Year celebration.
"Usually, people pay me to perform, but I feel very different today. I feel very happy and hope to repay (Tzu Chi). I wish to share with everyone the loving care that I’ve received,” said one of them.
"Will you starve if you eat one fewer grain of rice at every meal? Do not underestimate the power of a grain of rice. If a thousand people donate one grain of rice each, that will amount to a bowl of rice that can feed one person," said Tzu Chi volunteer Leong Kar Tsing.
He was sharing on the stage about how Dharma Master Cheng Yen left home to become a monastic and how she established Tzu Chi from scratch in Taiwan. He also encouraged all to adopt the spirit of “doing a good deed each day” by saving a small amount in a Bamboo Coin Bank daily to donate to Tzu Chi to help others in need.
“I am a poor person myself, so I know the hardships faced by poor people. Although I cannot donate a lot of money, I can help others, too,” shared aid beneficiary Ke Rui Lian (second from the left in the photo below).
Ke, who is frugal in daily life, donated the money she managed to save in a Bamboo Coin Bank over the last two years to Tzu Chi to help the less fortunate.
Tzu Chi reaches out to the needy when they need help the most, but in fact, these aid beneficiaries have also learned to help themselves and others, too.
One of these beneficiaries, Zhang Li Ying, came to the pre-Chinese New Year celebration in her wheelchair, accompanied by her mother. She brought along with her some handmade reusable shopping bags and craft items to donate to Tzu Chi for the NGO to sell at its Festive Charity Fair.
"I made the items together with my mother. I’ve not done a very good job. Those made by my mum are more beautiful,” said Zhang.
Zhang shared that she used to have an inferiority complex in the past. After receiving the volunteers’ care and company for some time, she slowly emerged from dismay and became more cheerful.
In the process of making the items, Zhang gained a deeper realisation of some of the Jing Si Aphorisms (wise sayings by Dharma Master Cheng Yen). She would recite from memory the Jing Si Aphorism, “Do not underestimate ourselves, for everyone has boundless potential” five times after waking up each morning to lift herself up. With a change in perspective, she has managed to bring light and hope to her life.
The theme for this year’s pre-Chinese New Year celebration was “Sincerity, uprightness, faith and steadfastness are our nourishing ground, while loving-kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity are our soothing breeze”. The long-term sincere care and support from the volunteers is like a gentle breeze that comforts the aid and care recipients. Their love has sown seeds of goodness in the hearts of the needy, transforming the latter into people who can help others in need, thereby passing the love forward.