In the Footsteps of Change

Compiled by Nick Chen (陳鼎棋)
                        Connie Chen (陳慷妮)

In the Footsteps of Change

Compiled by Nick Chen (陳鼎棋)
                       Connie Chen (陳慷妮)

At over 90 years old, Zhang Lin Jiao actively recycles cardboard. (Photo by Yan Lin-zhao)

After watching a Da Ai TV drama, Story of a Great Woman (背影), Zhou Yang Jiao (周楊焦) felt deeply moved by the protagonist and decided to devote herself to recycling. She has been doing this as a calling for over 20 years now.

Based on a true story, this drama portrays the life of Zhang Lin Jiao (張林蕉), who started recycling in her eighties. Despite being old and petite, she always woke up early to collect cardboard from her neighbors for more than ten years. She could even stack cardboard higher than a man's height. Her relentless spirit set an example for the entire neighborhood and encouraged many villagers to join her efforts. Today, her community in Jiaosi is the most active in recycling in Yilan County.

From Monday to Friday, Zhou Yang Jiao (left) helps sort recyclables at a recycling station. (Photo by Lin Hong-mou)

After seeing how Zhang kept recycling at such an old age, Zhou thought to herself, "I'm only in my fifties. If she can do it, so can I." Therefore, she began picking up recyclables all over her neighborhood day and night. Even after moving a few times, she continued recycling wherever it was needed. After Tzu Chi set up a recycling station in her neck of the woods, she no longer had to bike around and had a regular place to carry on this cause. Currently 75 years old, she has been a recycling volunteer for over two decades.

For Zhou, volunteering in recycling has brought many benefits. Before she started, she used to battle scoliosis and osteoarthritis, relying on supportive gear like a waist brace or knee braces. But now she can move around freely without those aids. Beyond personal well-being, this gig has given her a sense of independence without having to depend on her children. She shared that her kids were thrilled to see her getting healthier and happier through recycling. Moreover, it's her way of contributing to the protection of the planet, cutting down on greenhouse emissions, and reducing the use of disposable containers.

Zhou Yang Jiao guides students on proper recyclable sorting. (Photo by Lai Hui-juan)

The inspirations from Tzu Chi extend beyond the physical realm. In addition to doing recycling work, she actively seeks to enrich her mental well-being. A daily ritual for her involves tuning in to Da Ai TV to listen to the teachings of Dharma Master Cheng Yen (證嚴法師) and enjoying programs like Guardian of the Land and Healthy Living. The Master's philosophy of "recycling with your applauding hands" deeply resonates with her, motivating her to make a difference in the world. She is also grateful to the Master for giving everyone the opportunity to exercise their faith and promoting recycling as a means to protect the Earth.

Come rain or shine, Zhou Yang Jiao is committed to recycling. Not only does she dedicate her weekdays to sorting recyclables, but she also takes the time to educate students in a nearby school about proper sorting techniques. Through recycling, she has found her purpose in life and will continue to spread her love and joy of serving others to more people around her…

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