Written by Christina Chang
Translated by Hong (Ariel) Chan
Edited by Maggie Morgan
On March 27, 2022, California’s community of Cupertino ended their days a little healthier than they began. That Sunday, in Silicon Valley, Tzu Chi volunteers held a one-day free clinic for low-income residents of the neighborhood. A team of 56 medical staff and service volunteers were on site, attending to the 30 people who had made an appointment. At the clinic, patients were able to access free services in dentistry, ophthalmology, western medicine, traditional Chinese medicine, and chiropractic.
The day started early for Tzu Chi as doctors and volunteers; around 8.a.m, Tzu Chi’s mobile clinic rolled into the Quinlan Community Center in Cupertino City. The team started preparations, ready to provide the public with medical services and health consultations they needed.
The March 27 free clinic marked Tzu Chi’s first in Cupertino. The Silicon Valley Tzu Chi volunteer team has been deeply involved in the local community for more than a decade, and were excited to offer yet another resource to residents. Volunteers began their relationship with local communities by sorting produce at the farmer’s market and supporting the city government.
Tzu Chi’s regional branch has been dedicated to fostering a closer bond with locals by integrating with various aspects of community life. In 2015, Tzu Chi volunteers were awarded the Cupertino City Crest Award. The involvement and performance of Tzu Chi’s Northern California medical volunteer team gained recognition by the city government, who in turn offered funding to Tzu Chi’s free clinic.
Preparation for the clinic began in the beginning of 2022, with patient pre-diagnosis registration and appointments. The event’s planning continued up until the very day of the clinic, with the on-site service team solving problems, assisting patients, and divvying up duties. Tzu Chi volunteers in Silicon Valley put countless hours of work and incredible effort into organizing a successful service for residents of Cupertino. Tzu Chi volunteer Lynn Chiang expressed that forming a qualified team is essential in ensuring an event runs smoothly. Lynn said, “I hope this free clinic will not be the only one. More free clinics will be held in the future to continue to serve the community.”
Tzu Chi volunteers set up the venue for free clinics in the early morning. Photo/Andy Chiang
Planning Long-term Collaboration with Community Partners
For years, the West Valley Community Services Center (WVCSC) has partnered with Tzu Chi volunteers to serve the Cupertino community. WVCSC is a social welfare organization that assists residents struggling with housing and financial issues, alleviating what can be a suffocating situation for individuals and families alike. The Organization joined Tzu Chi volunteers for the free clinic to offer resources to low-income attendees. Tzu Chi volunteers took the opportunity to spread the word about the free clinic, distributing information on the clinical services in hopes of reaching all corners of the community.
Associate Executive Director of WVCSC, Sujatha Venkatraman, mentioned that government-issued insurance (oftentimes the only resource for low-income seniors) doesn’t pay for dental and ophthalmology care. Due to this lack of coverage, many people have not seen a dentist in years, let alone learned information about ophthalmology and other health disciplines. It’s not hard to see how many other medical problems can stem from an initial financial struggle.
Sujatha pointed out the importance of Tzu Chi’s free clinics: “Many families who are struggling financially could only seek to meet the basic needs of life, so they neglect to take care of their own health.”
More than Just Medical: Professionals Offer Warmth and Love
Over two decades ago, Dr. Kevin Hwang, a chiropractor and rehabilitation practitioner, joined the Tzu Chi Medical Foundation to offer his services at the free clinics. He is frequently spotted at Tzu Chi’s medical events in parts of Northern California where medical support is needed most.
On the day of the Cupertino clinic, Dr. Huang patiently listened to elderly patient Weilin Huang as she spoke of her physical pain. After taking her complaints into consideration, Dr. Huang explained the necessary rehabilitation methods required to alleviate her ailments; X-rays were able to pinpoint the condition of the woman’s spine. Ms. Huang said she had been plagued with lower back pain for more than 10 years, and expressed worry about her incurable condition.
Dr. Huang immediately encouraged her with positive thoughts: “It can definitely be cured, and it can be restored, as long as you find the right tools and methods of treatment.” Ms. Huang’s heart was instantly soothed by Dr. Huang’s heartwarming words, and her eyes gleamed with hope.
After her visit, Ms. Huang was full of gratitude: “Dr. Huang is very caring and helped me with a lot of treatments. He also taught me the rehabilitation exercises that I can do when I get home.” Ms. Huang, who lives alone, was relieved to hear that she could take preventative measures against getting “a hunchback” and regain her health to better care for herself. Dr. Huang helped Ms.Huang’s physical condition, but more importantly it seemed that her initial sense of loneliness and depression had disappeared.
Dr. Monica Wu is a dental practitioner in the Silicon Valley area. She often uses her vacation days to participate in Tzu Chi’s free clinics and helps with outreach in the community. She recalled that when the pandemic started two years ago, she received active support from Tzu Chi volunteers who had provided medical protective equipment. When there was a severe shortage of supplies, volunteers’ immediate donation of supplies ensured the health and safety of patients and medical workers alike. Her personal experience connected Dr. Wu to Tzu Chi’s medical humanistic spirit. Dr. Wu said, “I think today’s free clinic is a kind of compassionate care for the low-income community who have needs but lack support.”
Physician Derrina Wu had previously met Tzu Chi volunteers through patient introductions. During the Camp Fire Tzu Chi disaster relief efforts at the end of 2018, Dr. Derrina Wu traveled with Tzu Chi volunteers for the first time, participating in free clinics in Northern California. When Dr. Wu saw the residents from the town of Paradise, whose homes had been destroyed by wildfires, she experienced something she hadn’t as a medic; her spiritual reward felt more profound and fulfilling. Dr. Wu said, “When I knew I could participate in the Cupertino community free clinic, I jumped at the opportunity and signed up immediately.”
March in Northern California is still mildly cold, but the families from Cupertino were able to feel an inner warmth that Sunday at the clinic. Though these people will continue through the challenges of life, the medical support provided by Tzu Chi’s doctors and volunteers reinvigorated the community with renewed strength.