Srijana's Smile

By Goh Lam Kia (吳南凱), Leong Yit Yu (廖月紅), Lee Lay Sim (李麗心), Li Zhi Cheng (李志成), and Wang Yu Chan (王渝嬋)
Translated by Wu Hsiao-ting (吳曉婷)
Photo by Wang Yu Chan

Srijana's Smile

By Goh Lam Kia (吳南凱), Leong Yit Yu (廖月紅), Lee Lay Sim (李麗心), Li Zhi Cheng (李志成), and Wang Yu Chan (王渝嬋)
Translated by Wu Hsiao-ting (吳曉婷)
Photo by Wang Yu Chan

Tzu Chi volunteers are making an impact on the lives of families struggling to make ends meet in Lumbini, Nepal, as shown through the story of 11-year-old Srijana Kahar and her family.

Elementary school student Srijana Kahar holds a card printed with this aphorism by Master Cheng Yen: "The most beautiful face is a smiling face." She demonstrates this statement through her actions.

A vehicle loaded with rice trailed behind a group of Tzu Chi volunteers as they made their way along a muddy path in a rural village in Lumbini, Nepal. The houses in this area were predominantly constructed from earth or bricks, with roofs covered in straw or weathered tiles. The aftermath of heavy rains was evident in the partially collapsed walls of some houses.

The first Saturday of every month is Tzu Chi Lumbini's Charity Day. On July 1, more than 40 volunteers divided into groups to deliver lentils, salt, cooking oil, sugar, and rice to 18 local households. One of the groups arrived at a shabby earth house with no door, the eaves so low the volunteers had to stoop as they entered. Inside, there were two beds; one of them, covered in straw, served multiple purposes—a sleeping space, a dining table, and seating for guests. Eleven-year-old Srijana Kahar's school bag hung on the wall. A volunteer presented her with a card bearing an aphorism by Dharma Master Cheng Yen: "The most beautiful face is a smiling face." In response, the young girl's face beamed with a radiant smile.

The cooking area was located in one corner of the house, where two plastic buckets were catching rainwater dripping from the roof. Srijana's grandmother, 70, pointed to the leaky spot, lamenting, "Every time it rains, we can't cook." The volunteers made a mental note to repair the roof for the family.

After providing the household with a month's worth of food provisions, the volunteers prepared to move on to the next household. But before they left, the grandmother quickly retrieved a container of rice, requesting that they share it with other people in need. Despite their challenging circumstances, the family's compassionate practice of setting aside a portion of rice every day for charitable purposes persisted, profoundly moving the volunteers.

Young girl, big responsibilities

Tzu Chi's connection with Srijana and her family began in December of last year, when the foundation launched distributions of winter clothing and school supplies at 28 schools in Lumbini. Volunteers discovered Srijana at Siddhartha Primary School, shivering in the cold, her school uniform damp. They promptly held her close to share their warmth. After a subsequent visit to her home, they made the decision to include her family on Tzu Chi's long-term aid recipient list.

While speaking with the Tzu Chi volunteers visiting them, Srijana's grandmother conveyed deep concern for her granddaughter. She revealed that Srijana's parents had separated when she was young, and both had started new families. With Srijana's father now living elsewhere, the grandmother was deeply troubled by the uncertainty of who would care for Srijana should she and her husband, Diyar, become unable to work or pass away.

The family's livelihood depends on the elderly couple tending to a plot of land, which yields approximately 200 kilograms (440 pounds) of wheat per year. During the winter, they also grow mustard greens. Srijana is a great help at home. She never indulges in outdoor play after school. As soon as she gets home, she starts taking care of household chores. She cleans the house, gathers fodder to feed the sheep, and harvests vegetables for dinner. When her grandparents return from the fields with their empty lunch containers, she takes it upon herself to clean them using rice husks. The entire family then sits down to dine together.

Since Srijana was doing all the household chores, she could only study at night. Their home lacked electricity, and volunteers once observed during one of their visits that she was diligently doing her homework under the feeble glow of a flashlight. It was a poignant scene. To improve the lighting conditions, volunteers visited the family in early March of this year and installed solar panels. When they flipped the switch after the installation, instantly illuminating the room, the entire family burst into cheers. With light now available at home, the volunteers encouraged Srijana to complete her homework every day, ensuring that she could stay on track with her coursework.

"I like going to school, and I never miss a day," Srijana shared with Tzu Chi volunteers. "My dream is to become a teacher in the future."

Srijana's home had a leaky roof. Volunteers stepped in to address this issue. (Photo by Raj Kumar)

Helping oneself and others

In mid-July, six volunteers arrived at Srijana's home with materials to fix the leaky roof. They replaced some of the roof tiles and iron sheets with galvanized zinc plates, added an extra layer of wood for insulation at the bottom, and thoughtfully raised the height of the eaves. Srijana's grandfather, Diyar, lent a helping hand. The repairs were completed in just one day with everyone's combined efforts. The couple was overjoyed, exclaiming, "Thanks to Tzu Chi for the assistance!"

Recognizing Diyar's skillful hands during the repairs, volunteers decided to extend an invitation. Given that July and August marked the low season for farming, they asked him to join Tzu Chi's repair team through a cash-for-work arrangement. He readily agreed and started working the next day. He reported to the Tzu Chi Lumbini office, where he helped prepare materials for building a new home for Radheyshyam.

One side of Radheyshyam's home had crumbled due to rainwater erosion, rendering it unsafe and unsuitable for habitation. Volunteers decided to build a simple dwelling for him and his family. Diyar contributed by drilling holes, painting, and cutting construction materials. He appreciated the opportunity to assist, remarking, "Volunteers helped me repair my house, so when they needed my help, I willingly joined. It's fantastic to work here."

As of August this year, volunteers have repaired or built homes for 17 households in Lumbini. Several men from families receiving long-term aid from Tzu Chi have enthusiastically joined these efforts, working in exchange for pay. Through this, they have not only contributed to the reconstruction of their own and others' homes, but also earned income to support their households. Volunteer Zhang Bo Lin (張柏林) from Malaysia praised the men, saying, "They show up for work almost every day. Their dedication is truly admirable."

The week after repairing the roof of Srijana's home, volunteers returned to assess the quality of the work. The house no longer leaked, allowing the family to comfortably cook, even on rainy days. Srijana's grandmother chatted casually with the volunteers, mentioning her husband's delight at being part of the repair team. The volunteers offered their feedback, remarking: "Grandpa Diyar is highly committed to his work with Tzu Chi, and he performs really well!"

A handful of rice

Tzu Chi's monthly distributions provide much-needed relief to recipient families by alleviating their financial burdens. However, volunteers have observed during their home visits that these families often harbor a stronger desire for employment opportunities rather than receiving mere aid. As a result, some of them have enthusiastically participated in Tzu Chi's recent workshops, such as soap-making classes, where they acquire skills in soap production and packaging. Such training has the potential to enhance their income. Others, who were once beneficiaries of Tzu Chi's repair projects, have joined the repair team, taking pride in both assisting others and earning an income.

Tzu Chi volunteers from Singapore and Malaysia have been stationed in Lumbini for over a year now. They understand that only continuous and sincere care can transcend language, culture, and ethnicity, nurturing bonds of trust and love. An example of their impact can be seen in Srijana's warm smile. She greets their arrival every month with a heartfelt smile and presents them with a plastic container filled with rice that she has set aside. The practice of saving a handful of rice to assist those in need has become a part of her daily routine.

Srijana is grateful for the care and companionship provided by Tzu Chi volunteers. Not only has her home environment improved, but her grandfather has also discovered an additional source of income. This positive transformation and newfound stability have allowed her to devote more time to her studies, resulting in improved grades and bringing her one step closer to her dream of becoming a teacher. Volunteers remain committed to their work in Nepal, assiduously planting and nurturing seeds of love and kindness in the land where the Buddha was born.

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