“What does it mean to be ‘This-Connected’?”
“Are you connected?”
The emcees of a youth event posed these questions to the participants at the start of the day’s programme.
The event, the first Volunteer Experiential Day organised by the Tzu Chi Collegiate Youth Association, a.k.a. Tzu Ching, was held at the Tzu Chi Humanistic Youth Centre (HYC) on 29th September 2019, the same day as the soft launch of the Centre.
On this day, 51 youths from various tertiary institutions and working backgrounds came together for a common cause: to understand the meaning of volunteerism and its importance to society, and also how it can be applied to their daily lives.
At around 9.30am on this day, the participants arrived in busloads at the HYC. They were warmly welcomed by enthusiastic Tzu Chi volunteers at the main entrance. Then, the youths proceeded to the “Great Hall” (multipurpose hall) of the centre, where they warmed up and bonded with one another through various exciting ice-breaking games, such as the scissors-paper-stone “dragon” game and “Bingo”. After that, they were given a tour of the HYC in their pre-assigned groups.
Equipped with a range of comprehensive facilities, the newly established Youth Centre serves as a platform for young people to realise wholesome values, get connected with each other, and contribute towards a sustainable community.
There, the participants were introduced to the various community partners of the HYC, including Circular Asia and 3Pumpkins Art Lab, and they also learnt about the latter’s work and causes. With a focus on building a sustainable future, the goals and objectives of these two organisations align with those of Tzu Chi.
When giving becomes a way of living
“What I have in my bowl is exactly what victims of disaster are eating. ‘Our planet does not need more successful people. We desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kinds’ - Dalai Lama,” shared Brother Alex Chen, a Tzu Ching senior, during his talk at the event.
Chen (speaker in a grey polo shirt in the picture below) reminded the participants of why the world desperately needs acts of volunteerism in his sharing of the plight of Syrian refugees in Turkey. He spoke of Tzu Chi volunteers’ efforts in relieving the suffering of the refugees through long- and short-term aid programmes, which were made possible by the help and love that came from different parts of the world.
The youths also realised the significance of planting seeds of hope in the hearts of the displaced Syrians. They learnt that many of these refugees, who had received Tzu Chi’s aid and found hope in life, had made small donations to Taiwan when it was hit with disasters. Then, they learnt about the story of the “Tzu Chi Bamboo Bank”, where small acts of kindness can accumulate to become a “mountain of kindness”.
“When is the right time to volunteer?” asked the next speaker, Brother Ong Wee Heng.
Many would have given excuses, such as “wait till I graduate” or “when my job is stable and then I will volunteer”. However, Brother Ong Wee Heng said, “Volunteering can be done at any time, anywhere, any situation and to help anyone! There is no better time than now!”
Brother Ong shared practical advice on why and when one should volunteer, and the youths learnt how volunteering could help them achieve a more fulfilling work-life balance. Through volunteering, one can also widen one’s perspectives of the society and, at the same time, understand and challenge oneself to be humble and to give with an unconditional heart.
One of the highlights from the sharing session was a surprise face-time recording from Brother Faisal Hu, a Tzu Chi volunteer whose tireless efforts to help Syrian refugees in Turkey had earned him great respect from the Tzu Chi global community.
“My only hope is that one day, these children would remember that a group of people clad in blue and white (Tzu Chi) uniforms have helped them before, and that they might in turn become doctors or engineers who could rebuild Syria (their homeland). I also hope that the seeds of love we plant today will come to fruition twenty years from now,” shared Hu.
He also encouraged the youth participants to start serving their communities in Singapore using the facilities and resources available to them.
After a morning of inspiring talks, it was now time for the participants to experience volunteerism in action. After their lunch, a group of them went to the SASCO Senior Citizens’ Home, while another went to the Tzu Chi Eco-Awareness Centre.
Bringing festive cheer to the elderly
“An individual’s efforts may be limited, but when many individuals come together, their collective efforts can create an atmosphere brimming with enthusiasm,” shared Lee Zhen Hui, a Tzu Ching senior. And indeed, the enthusiasm of the group of 36 youths and Tzu Chi volunteers led to a memorable volunteering session at the SASCO Senior Citizens’ Home.
After watching a heart-warming sign language and song performance and being led through a simple hand exercise, the elderly at SASCO were entertained with an exciting game of “lantern riddles” in the spirit of Mid-Autumn Festival. The youthful energy of the volunteers uplifted the spirits of the seniors, as they participated in the game with an enthusiasm not unmatched by the youths.
As the session drew to a close, the volunteers took pictures with the elderly to capture some precious moments they spent together. A strong connection had been forged between the elderly and the volunteers, as smiles lit up the room, and some of the elderly hugged the volunteers in an unexpected show of affection and appreciation.
Chua Shu Fen, a final year student at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), shared about her experience: “There was this particular elderly lady that I interacted with. Initially, she wasn't that open to talking with me. As the activities went on, she started to slowly open up. Then, I actually initiated a hug to her, and she accepted it. And then, she actually wanted to kiss me! So it's quite heartwarming to see that. As long as you're willing to put in some effort, you can actually bring smiles to the elderly.”
Kang Chern Lynn was one of the volunteers who felt that the volunteering experience left a deep impression on her. She shared why this experience had inspired her to learn Tzu Chi sign-language: “I encountered an old uncle who has hearing loss and he only knows sign language. It’s a shame that I don’t know sign language, so it felt like my efforts to communicate (with him) were futile. Hence, I want to learn sign language so that I can put across what I want to express the next time I meet people with hearing difficulties, and also understand what they need.”
Youths pave the way to a greener future
At the Tzu Chi Eco-Awareness Centre, the other group of youths were fervently engaging in group discussions designed to prepare them for the looming task ahead—a presentation to the other groups on the theme of their respective station. Some of these stations’ themes were “Fast Fashion”, “Sea Pollution”, “Carbon Footprints of Our Diet”, etc. There was also an information extravaganza on a comparison between the increasing number of natural disasters and the seemingly low number of green solutions humanity has come out with so far.
This activity aimed to not only increase the environmental awareness of the youths, but also to nurture them into “eco-advocates” who could spread the message of living an eco-friendly lifestyle to their peers.
“It is important for people to focus on ‘Refusing’ and ‘Reusing’. In order to influence those around us, we have to first do our part and believe in the power of the individual, staying positive as much as possible so that we are not easily discouraged,” said Dipasukha Edbert, a participant and presenter at the “Sea Pollution” station.
The participants were also introduced to the 6Rs, a more detailed framework of sustainability, and they are: “Rethink, Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repair, and Recycle”. With these guidelines, we can begin doing our own small acts to protect the environment anytime, anywhere.
Although many people understand that recycling is beneficial for our environment, most do not follow through with their actions. However, one of the youths, Ruby Nguyen Thi Bich Ngoc, decided to make a difference by making conscious decisions and not falling into the pit of fast fashion. She said, “The next time I want to buy new clothes, I will rethink whether or not I really need them.”
At the end of the activity, Tzu Chi’s senior recycling volunteer leader, Susan Tan, shared with the youths the “Ten-Finger Mnemonic” (a formula for remembering different types of recyclables) and her insights on Tzu Chi’s concept of recycling. She urged everyone to be a role model so as to influence those around them to play a part in protecting the environment.
Igniting the spirit of volunteerism
As the event drew to an end, the youths returned to the HYC to share their experiences and takeaways of the day with one another. Chua Shu Fen, a final year student at NTU, said, “It is interesting to see how this concept (‘This-Connected’) bridges people together, and how it brings the real idea of volunteerism to people. It is not just about helping others, but also about passing on what you have received and carrying it forward.”
Another participant, Michelle Wijaya, shared what she planned to do for the environment: “I hope to impact my peers to do recycling. I don’t want to do it by nagging at them, but through leading by example to show them that recycling is beneficial for everyone. I feel that youths today need to develop more empathy (on environmental issues) and awareness about recycling.”
The Tzu Ching Volunteer Experiential Day not only stirred the initial aspirations of the youths, but also enabled them to discover that volunteerism comes from the heart. Volunteerism is not only an altruistic means, but also something that humanity desperately needs.
“If something is right, we should just do it.”
This is a Jing Si Aphorism by Dharma Master Cheng Yen familiar to all. Everyone needs to start from themselves and seize every moment to do what is right. With a strong motivation, the youths will be able to work together to make this world a better place for all.