True Care Comes from the Heart

By Ye Zi-hao (葉子豪)
Photos by Yan Lin-zhao (顏霖沼)
Abridged and translated by George Chen (陳纘強)

True Care Comes from the Heart

By Ye Zi-hao (葉子豪)
Photos by Yan Lin-zhao (顏霖沼)
Abridged and translated by George Chen (陳纘強)

As low-income families anguish over basic living expenses, medical costs, tuition fees, among others, regular support, material and emotional alike, from a charity group goes a long way.

Tzu Chi volunteers have been visiting music student Wu Su (吳驌) (middle in black attire) and his mother (right) regularly since Wu’s father’s sudden death.

Dharma Master Cheng Yen (證嚴上人) has always advised, “When a family loses its main source of income, oftentimes children’s education may be compromised. This family issue may evolve into a much bigger societal issue if no welfare intervention is provided. Therefore, since the establishment of Tzu Chi Foundation, Master has been advocating total sustainable care to families in need.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Tzu Chi volunteers focused on helping low income families to meet basic living conditions. Children of those families were provided with high quality school uniforms so they could wear quality attire when in school, which was very effective in boosting their self-esteem and motivation

Living conditions in Taiwan have since significantly improved. However, “Every family has its difficult sutra to chant,” remains valid today. Even with improved financial situations, every family still has its own problems, and low income families still struggle to meet living expenses.

When Tzu Chi chapters or offices are informed about families in need of support, volunteers are promptly scheduled to pay them a visit to ascertain the emotional, financial, material and social welfare assistance needed. These volunteers not only help to alleviate the parents’ financial and emotional concerns, they also focus on aiding the children continue their education.

Completing Educational Pursuit

Wu is an exemplar of how genuine sustainable care enables a child to excel in his education despite a challenging familial circumstance. His father earned a meager income from servicing audio equipment at home. His mother suffered from retinopathy and is visually impaired. Their household has been classified as low-income.

Even though his parents could not afford to let Wu study in a music class, he still gained admission into the music department of his university due to his talent, sheer hard work and determination. His high academic performance and many music competition awards were recognized by his teachers.

When Wu’s father passed away from a car accident in June 2018, Wu’s high school teacher approached Tzu Chi volunteers on their behalf as he knew they needed care and support. Sun Mei-qing (孫美琴) and Zhang Yu-huan (張玉環), together with a team of Tzu Chi volunteers reached out to Wu family promptly.

Tzu Chi volunteers were touched and impressed by Wu’s maturity despite his young age. After his father's death, he took on his father’s audio repair business and gave music lessons to financially support his mother, younger sister, and himself. When the volunteers visited them, they saw him quietly assuming the role of his father to attend and comfort his visually impaired mother.

Wu Su performed the African Djembe Drum at an awards ceremony for recipients of Tzu Chi’s tuition aid programs in Sanchong Jing Si Hall.

Wu received tuition aid from Tzu Chi in 2018. On the day of the award ceremony, he performed the African Djembe drum and gave a touching speech on stage about how he overcame adversity to continue his education and support his family.

Volunteer Zhang told Wu that while his family would be able to get by with government subsidy and his scholarship, she would still contact him and his family regularly. She would like to see him graduate and contribute positively to the society.

For tertiary and senior high school students of low-income families, school fees and expenses remain a significant challenge. Many may choose or involuntarily force to discontinue their education and work to support the family instead. Therefore, Tzu Chi volunteers are especially alert to this issue when they assess the family needs during the home care visit.

During the 2008 global financial crisis, Tzu Chi established an Education Relief Plan to provide comprehensive funds for low income children. Volunteer Zhang was delighted to share that a university student has been fully funded by this plan since high school. Without the fund, he would not have been able to continue his education.

In Taidong, Tzu Chi volunteers collaborate Tzu Chi Teachers' Association and Tzu Chi Collegiate Association to plan and run tuition classes for children of low income families who have limited access to education resources.

Free Weekend Tuition Classes

Tzu Chi volunteers have also been helping children of low income families in the junior and elementary school. Issues for these juveniles in need of aid may be quite different and less direct from the older senior high school and tertiary level children. Therefore, different approaches are needed to render meaningful and efficacious outcomes for the children, their families, and the society.

In Taiwan, the government fully subsidizes school fees for elementary school and junior high students. In addition, employers are less willing to employ children who are 16 years or younger. Therefore, juveniles of low income families are less likely to discontinue their education for work compared to their more senior cohorts.

The critical concern for the juveniles lies in after school care support. For those who are cared for by illiterate grandparents during the day or new migrant mothers who have yet to grasp their children’s education curriculum, these children are likely to be left on their vices. Even if they do not play truant, they are still likely to roam the streets or spend inordinate time surfing their mobile phones after school. Children at such impressionable age are therefore more prone to mixing with the wrong crowd, identifying and adopting wrong values.

To address this issue, Tzu Chi has established 27 free tuition centers across Taiwan for these children. Fully run by volunteers with support from tertiary students affiliated with Tzu Chi Collegiate Association and volunteer teachers from Tzu Chi Teachers' Association, the classes offer these children an opportunity to be tutored on their schoolwork, learn the right values through Jing Si aphorism classes, and receive emotional support from the volunteers.

In Taidong, volunteers prepare free nutritious lunches for children who attend classes on Saturday. Volunteer Li Yue-qing (李岳青) of Tzu Chi Teachers' Association said, "The idea of providing free meals on Saturdays stems from the knowledge that while the schools provide lunch on weekdays, children are often left with inadequate meals on weekends as the working adults or aged relatives cannot find time nor have the resources to care for them. The free meals have been well received by the children and their families."

“While the tuition classes may not be long in duration, preparation for each session requires detailed planning, resources, and coordination,” volunteer teacher coordinator Zhang Fu-song (張福松) said. “Preparation for each Saturday class starts the week before recruiting and confirming tutor volunteer participation from Taitung University Tzu Chi Collegiate Association. In addition, we need to ascertain how many children from elementary schools and junior high schools will be attending, who requires transportation to and from the center, and how many lunch boxes need to be prepared. We need to coordinate with the Tzu Chi volunteers to ensure everything is smoothly executed for the children to have a meaningful Saturday in the center.”

One of the tutors, volunteer Fu Ci-yuan (傅詞源) from Taidong University Tzu Chi Collegiate Association said, "Instead of idling hours away surfing the internet in my dorm room, I'd rather spend time on something more meaningful.” For the past three years, apart from the weekends that he returns home, Fu has been waking up at 7 a.m. on Saturdays to volunteer as a tutor till 2 p.m. While just one free lesson a week will not markedly improve the children’s academic performance, he believes what the children receive is more long term physical, emotional and spiritual nourishment. All the hard work, Fu concedes, is well worth the effort.

Teacher volunteer Li Yue-qing (李岳青) feels that the aim for offering free tuition classes is to let the children have faith that the adults and the society have not forsaken them. Through interaction, they will learn to trust more.

Li says, “As long as the children willingly attend these classes and learn altruism, this is the best gift to me.” Indeed, many children under care have reciprocated with more willingness to serve others.

Assured Parents, Happy Children

Besides offering tuition classes, Tzu Chi volunteers also initiates 18 Tzu Chi Youth Basketball friendship teams across Taiwan. Banqiao team currently has 93 student members. They come from diverse family backgrounds, all assimilated with unified identity when they adorn their basketball attire.

Tzu Chi Youth Basketball Team welcomes everyone to join, regardless of family background. The children learn from professional coaches, instilling team spirit and a sense of belonging, and also improving their physical health.

“There are Tzu Chi brothers and sisters here to take care of my child. I know he will receive the right positive influence here.” A-peng (阿朋), father of a basketball member, expressed his trust in the basketball friendship team. Wheelchair bound A-peng was stricken with polio when he was young. While he declines financial assistance from Tzu Chi, he welcomes regular visits from the Tzu Chi volunteers to offer emotional support to him and his family. His senior high school son who has been with the basketball team since elementary school enthused about the coach’s professional guidance in basketball game techniques.

Banqiao Tzu Chi Basketball Friendship team volunteer coordinator Lui Fu-yao said, “The team practices every Sunday under the guidance of a retired national girls' team basketball coach, as well as a number of professional basketball players. In addition, the Tzu Chi Medical Association volunteers will also be present onsite to care and help alleviate any major injury resulting from the game.” Lui expresses his gratitude that all volunteers demonstrate unconditional support to the children’s development through basketball training, and they willingly turn up on Sundays to support this initiative.

"When these children practice basketball, they improve their physical and emotional health. To be able to support these children and see them grow, that is already happiness!" Lui happily recounts his reason for volunteering.

In the 21st century, where the trend of declining birthrate and population aging is obvious, the responsibility of each child in the future is bound to be much more than that of the current middle-aged people.

Tzu Chi's educational assistance to low income families, from kindergarten to research institutes, various educational assistance, tuition and miscellaneous expenses and after-school activities, are all aimed at reducing the gap between urban and rural areas, supplementing educational resources, helping children to complete their studies and develop their self-reliance as well as altruism. These children will be a positive asset to the society and country.

With years of unconditional support to these children, there have been gratifying results. Tzu Chi volunteers will continue seize all opportunities to support and ensure all donation received are put to meaningful use. The volunteers will spare no effort to assist, counsel, and protect more children, helping them to overcome their challenges.

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