|By Tseng Yung-nan
Translated by Norman Yuan
(mirror of http://taipei.tzuchi.org.tw/tzquart/98fall/qf98-18.htm)
"Your husbands must be successful businessmen, so that you don't have to worry about money and you can spare time to devote yourselves..."
"No! No!" One of the volunteers shook her head and interrupted without waiting for me to finish. "Sure, many people think that way. It's true some of us are very rich and some are just well-to-do, but more often than not, we are very poor."
Today, May 26, is my second day in Tzu Chi Hospital. As I was wandering around the maze of corridors, I heard a soft voice: "May I help you, sir?" The friendly tone and the unusual attitude of service puzzled me. "I am a hospital volunteer." What a warm feeling she gave me!
Not long after I returned to my ward, three volunteers appeared, women in their thirties or forties. I was tongue-tied, not knowing how to address them. Reading my mind, they said, "Just call us 'sister.'" How wonderful to address them as sisters! It dissolved the strangeness between us and made me feel as if we were from the same family.
Those who have never stayed in a large hospital can hardly comprehend the bitter side of life. Patients in the beds next to yours come and go, tortured by illness, their faces gray with dismay. They are frightened by the possibility that they are facing the end of their lives.
The volunteers put a small card on the table: "Get well soon!" Although the card was small and simple, it filled the room with warmth.
When the women started to chatter, I frowned with the intuition that a missionary sermon was about to begin. Instead, we just had a casual talk. I don't know where they learned the skill. With just a few words, they mixed right in with all the patients in the room and made us laugh again. They never talked about anything serious. Nor did they try to make us believe in Buddhism. They were angels spreading love in the secular world.
I knew they were unpaid volunteers, so I said to them with admiration and envy, "Your husbands must be successful businessmen, so that you don't have to worry about money and can spare time to devote yourselves..."
"No! No!" one of the volunteers shook her head and interrupted without waiting for me to finish. "Sure, many people think that way. It's true some of us are very rich and some are just well-to-do, but more often than not, we are very poor."
I still had my doubts. "In our society, where money always comes first, some people may think you are foolish to do things like this. But you never think that way. On the contrary, you feel very happy. Why?"
"We have been moved by Master Cheng Yen's spirit and ideas." They replied without any hesitation or explanation, but only with supreme joyfulness.
Songs to Sobs
At about 3:30 p.m., those volunteers came again. To relieve us from our depression and boredom, they invited us to a sing-along party in the roof garden on the third floor. Reluctantly persuaded by their loving hearts, I went along with other patients, supported or wheeled by volunteers, to that nice, lovingly designed little garden.
The party came alive with the singing and dancing of the volunteers. They cajoled an old man in his eighties, sitting in a wheelchair, to sing two old Japanese songs, for which he won a lot of applause.
"Grandpa, would you please sing a song?" One of the women turned to an old aboriginal man with lots of gray hair.
"I can't sing." The old man bashfully shook his head.
"It doesn't matter. Sing 'Naluwen,' okay?"
"Naluwen... Nalu..." His bell-like voice surprised everyone around. But then the singing suddenly changed to sobbing. He must have been very touched by the loving face of the volunteer who was squatting in front of him and holding the microphone for him.
Each song, each dance, each movement transformed our purgatory into a paradise. I was hiding in the corner, but the volunteers would not leave anyone alone. One of them invited me to join the singing and dancing. I tried to excuse myself by stretching out my two arms, which had become swollen because of too many shots. "It doesn't matter. Just move forward two steps," she said. To the rhythm of "The Snail and the Oriole," she sang and danced behind me, and at the same time she pushed and guided my shoulders and arms to make the right motions. Sometimes she stopped to massage my shoulders. Overwhelmed by her thoughtfulness, I turned my head and said to her gratefully that it was very kind of her to do this.
"Just turn your face forward and never mind about me." Just like that old man, my tears rolled down my face. What relationship did we have? Why did she have such unlimited love? I really wanted to turn around to give her a grateful look, but I didn't dare.
A young high school boy sat in a wheelchair beside me. "Young man, what happened to you?" asked a volunteer. "Car... accident." He had no visible injuries, yet the two words came out slowly and painfully. A young woman next to him explained that his brain had been injured and that when he first came to the hospital two months before, he couldn't even speak.
"Who is this young lady?" the volunteer asked
She held the microphone in front of his mouth as the audience fell silent. He didn't say anything at first. After a long while, two streams of tears flowed down his face, and he said quiveringly, "Ma... ma, I... love... you." Thunderous applause burst out. At that very moment, the sister moved the microphone away because the mother was holding the boy's head, kissing him and weeping.
Courage to Sing
The climax was over and people began to leave. I don't know where I got the courage. I stepped forward and grabbed the microphone. "Wait!" Everybody turned around and looked at me.
"A moment ago, a sister asked me to sing and I said I couldn't. But now I have to. My fellow patients, the joyful singing, the affectionate tears, all have been brought out by these Tzu Chi volunteers. They have given us so much warmth with their great love. In order to show my appreciation and to bless them, I would like to sing a song."
Thank you, Tzu Chi volunteers,
The lyrics were very simple. After I sang a couple of times, all the other patients joined me. At this time, all the volunteers came up front and bowed to us. I marveled that Master Cheng Yen had not only taught Tzu Chi members to give love, but she had also taught them to be so polite.
I had no intention of stopping, so I turned to the young man next to me. "You are a high school student, and I am a high school teacher. I would like to sing the same song to bless you."
Bless you, my student,
I was sent to the Tzu Chi Hospital because I had severe chest pains. All the people around me were scared and so was I. I thought that even if I survived, I would live the rest of my life under a shadow of fear. Fortunately, Dr. Wang Chih-hung used a cardiac catheterization method, and he found out that the pain came from the muscle and nerve, not from the heart. I want to thank him, and I want to thank all my friends, colleagues, students and my wife for their care and love.
What I learned from the Tzu Chi volunteers during my hospitalization was that love must be expressed. I will always try to follow their example. In addition to having love in my heart, I must show my love with action.
Footnote: The sincere gratitude from the bottom of my heart must be written down. Therefore, I borrowed a pen and a piece of paper from a nurse. Even though my arm still hurts from all the injections, I have written about the sweet love of the volunteers to show them my respect, appreciation and encouragement.
Impressions of Volunteers
By Kenn Allen
In February, Kenn Allen, president of the International Association for Volunteer Effort, visited the Abode of Still Thoughts and Tzu Chi Hospital
It is rare to discover a truly "world-class" volunteer program. I had that opportunity in February, when I was in Taiwan and was invited to visit the Tzu Chi General Hospital in the city of Hualien. Let me tell you about that visit.
Since 1986, Tzu Chi General Hospital has provided high quality medical care for all people regardless of their ability to pay. The hospital is located in Hualien, on the relatively backward, undeveloped eastern coast of Taiwan. There are few other medical resources in the area, and seriously ill patients often did not survive the long journey to hospitals in Taipei.
When you enter the front door of the hospital, you discover the "volunteer office" immediately to the left, in the main lobby. It has a totally glass wall so it is fully visible to all who enter the hospital. There is work space for the volunteers and for the three paid staff responsible for volunteer functions at the hospital.
The paid staff, by the way, are responsible only for coordinating schedules. The actual management of volunteers takes place in the various units of the hospital.
Most impressive, the volunteers share office space with the professional social workers in the hospital. In the Asian style, the offices are totally open, with work being done at long tables or desks placed side by side. This sends a clear message about the importance of volunteers in the hospital system.
There are over five thousand volunteers working at the hospital over the course of a year. Every day, there are over ninety on site, including up to sixty that come from throughout Taiwan to spend three days to a week in residence at the hospital. All of them are members of the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation, although not all are Buddhists. It is not unusual for a Tzu Chi member to come from another part of the world to serve for as long as a month as a volunteer.
They work in every aspect of the hospital's operations, from the intensive care unit to the laundry room. This requires extensive training and support for them but, according to one administrator with whom I spoke, "We want volunteers to feel they are learning, not just giving."
Perhaps most impressive was the way in which they have been integrated into the work of the palliative care ward. There, they are part of a team that includes doctors, nurses and social workers who are assigned to individual, terminally ill patients. In fact, the doctors and nurses introduce the volunteers to the patients as part of the overall treatment team.
Volunteers are trained to provide psychological support for patients and their families. The hospital believes, said one doctor, that "psychological, social and spiritual care is often better done by volunteers." Some even stay overnight, in small rooms provided by the hospital right on the ward, so that they can be close to their patients. It is quite common for volunteers to use the kitchen area in the ward to prepare special food to the tastes of the patients.
Tzu Chi is a remarkable organization founded by a remarkable woman, Dharma Master Cheng Yen. I had the opportunity to visit with the Master in her Taipei office and also to visit the "mother house" of her Buddhist order in Hualien. Founded in 1966, Tzu Chi now has millions of members and more than a hundred offices worldwide. The foundation is involved in a wide variety of volunteer efforts, including international relief.
The organizational culture of Tzu Chi is built on a belief in the fundamental value of volunteers. Under the Master's leadership, it has become a world-class example of how volunteers can make a difference in the lives of others.
For more information about Tzu Chi, you may contact King-pong Liu in their Taipei office:
No. 35, Alley 7, Lane 217, Chunghsiao East Road, Section 3, Taipei, Taiwan, Republic of China.