Written by: Hongli Tsai
Translated by: Ariel Chan
Edited by: Patrick McShane
December 11th, 2022, is a day with a special meaning. This date marks the 26th anniversary of the beginning of Tzu Chi’s involvement in San Bernardino and the greater Inland Empire community. To celebrate this important milestone, the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation invited representatives of communities in the inland areas of Southern California to gather and discuss how best to serve the community. The core concerns were how the organization will be able to further strengthen its roots in the community so that locals understand and take advantage of Tzu Chi’s services and how efforts can be coordinated with other charities to maximize the strengths of Tzu Chi’s initiatives.
The Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, Tzu Chi Medical Foundation, Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA), and local community representatives gathered at a free clinic held at Indian Springs High School in San Bernardino. After attending the opening of the free clinic, participants moved over to the school library to attend the seminar, hoping to brainstorm more services through positive interactions and networking.
Working Together to Plan the Future
Over the years, Tzu Chi volunteers have been providing food packages, free clinic consultations, and humanistic education to the San Bernardino school district. Now, farm workers in the community need clean water for their families, along with dental and dermatology services. Everyone present brainstormed various strategies to tackle these needs. Although individuals did not belong to the same organizations, they all shared the same mission. Discussions were moderated by Dr. Lily Rivera. Everyone communicated their future plans and exchanged ideas about how best to work together to serve the community.
The Tzu Chi volunteer team in the Inland Empire takes care of disadvantaged groups in the San Bernardino area, holding free clinics and distributing helpful materials. Since 1996, the medical team of the Tzu Chi Medical Foundation has also worked in the area, regularly providing Western medicine, Chinese medicine, and acupuncture services, helping low- and middle-income households and immigrant groups without medical insurance to obtain the medical treatment they need. After more than 20 years of free clinics, Tzu Chi has formed a deep bond with the local community. It was apt, therefore, that during one of Tzu Chi’s free clinics, everyone took advantage of the time to sit down to plan more and better cooperation in the future.
Debra Boudreaux, CEO of The Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, especially values people working together, gathering their strengths and resources to spread great love in San Bernardino: “Tzu Chi provides free and helpful medical services. The most important thing is to bring people’s loving participation together to such a great place.”
If Patients Can’t Come to Us, We Go to Them
Dr. Stephen Denq, Executive Director of Tzu Chi Medical Foundation, said: “It’s raining today, and the weather is very cold. I’m wearing thick clothes, but my heart is very warm. In addition to regular free clinics to serve these patients, we have combined with different local charities to share what everyone can do in the community. We want to concentrate our efforts and really take care of this group of people in need. From the medical point of view, from the charity point of view, and from the educational point of view, today’s forum is really quite successful, because everyone has the opportunity to share their views. Because everyone has different perspectives and sees different things, only by combining everyone’s strengths can things be done better. “
Dr. Stephen Denq shared the story of Master Cheng Yen’s work at Gai Hospital in Hualien, Taiwan with the representatives at the gathering, and discussed the maxim behind the story: that the success of any community service initiative is based on the combined efforts of all people, not just one person. Fortunately, Tzu Chi has expanded its medical outreach to the United States. In 1993 the first free clinic was established in Alhambra, in the Greater Los Angeles, California area, followed by two other free community clinics in South El Monte and Wilmington also in the Los Angeles area. In addition, Tzu Chi has free medical services and active clinic services in many states across the United States.
Congressman Mark Takano pointed out that Tzu Chi’s charitable work provides medical care to disadvantaged people in the communities he serves: “These vulnerable groups often do not have health insurance, or do not have documents to stay legally. Tzu Chi felt a great need to provide health care, dental care, and vision care to people in this community. It’s a huge service.” He also said that he has long known that some volunteers in Southern California have done very impressive work for local farm workers, and the cooperation between Chinese Americans, Taiwanese, local Latinos, and African Americans, is inspiring.
Helping Bring Children off the Street
Jeff Hewitt, Chair of the Riverside County Board of Supervisors, said: “We’ve had a great partnership in the past, and today we continue to see different groups working together in the same direction. Good things really do happen.”
Sandra Rodriguez, the Assistant Superintendent of student services at Indian Springs High School, said: “Homeless students have a lot of needs here: students in the foster care system, students, you know, live with parents who have many health issues that keep them from attending school properly, many families are struggling with alcoholism and substance abuse struggle, and a lot of times they don’t know what to do, especially when they’re desperate, and don’t know how to get help, even though there are a lot of resources in the community.”
The tall and burly Mayor Malcolm Lilienthal attended on behalf of the small inland city of Hemet. He spoke with a solemn expression and said: “We want to make sure they get a room where, you know, they can escape homelessness and drugs, helping them with their mental health and sobriety, and helping them get off the streets.”
Chang Yu Chang, deputy director of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, was invited to attend the free clinic in the inland area, and he also attended the donation ceremony for “Shoes for Children in Need” held by the Inland Chinese Association. At the event, he said “The most beautiful scenery in the Inland Empire is the volunteers of Tzu Chi USA and the members of the Inland Chinese Association. They work tirelessly to serve the community, help those in need, and bring happiness through actions.”
Long-Term Water Pollution Requires Urgent Assistance
Community representative Luz Gallegos is a dedicated public servant. For decades, most of the children living in the local mobile home communities have suffered from skin diseases and hair loss problems because the local water source has been polluted with arsenic. Over the past year, his organization has provided clean water to the community every day for daily necessities such as cooking and washing: “It is very important for us to get more support to strengthen this work, especially in these communities where most of the residents do not have legal residency status since they are afraid to seek medical help.”
The Inland Chinese Association’s “Donate Shoes to Poor Children” donation ceremony used positive actions to harness the power of happiness. Director and consultant Daryl Lee said: “We held a charity shoe donation event, which unexpectedly aroused enthusiastic responses from all parties; in addition to shoe donations, we also participated in food distribution and Tzu Chi’s free clinic activities so that everyone can do charity together.”
After the community conference, all attendees present, from congressmen and mayors to community representatives established a consensus that everyone must gather strength, cooperate with each other, and pool resources to effectively serve the community. There was no agenda for this meeting, yet more than 40 delegates patiently expressed their experiences and views one after another. Everyone interacted with each other enthusiastically, hoping to build a better San Bernardino community where people here can live and work in peace and contentment.