Written by Jing Yi Lee
Edited by Andrea Barkley
Tzu Chi USA volunteers have established an incredible connection with residents in Tijuana, Mexico. And, over the years, the Foundation has impacted many people’s lives. Whenever Tzu Chi volunteers are on the road between Los Angeles and Tijuana, visiting underresourced communities or individuals, they think about these karmic relationships. An invisible thread connects people, space, and time and gradually brings light and hope to the world. With the coming of Christmas, another year is almost at its end. Tzu Chi USA and Tzu Chi members from the San Diego Service Center came to the Tzu Chi campus in Tijuana to prepare Christmas dinner for two families.
In 2015, a woman named Teresa donated land to Tzu Chi in Tijuana, hoping to benefit people and do good deeds. Tzu Chi volunteers Joe Wang and Kunrong Xie lived up to her expectations; in 2018, they built a medical park to provide treatment and care for local residents. Additionally, food has been regularly distributed to help the underresourced.
Two Troubled Families
On December 3, 2022, Tzu Chi’s Tijuana campus held an open house for residents and neighbors. One woman who attended, an 85-year-old named Vitalina, was visibly distraught. She informed volunteers that her son had a stroke and passed away, and her daughter-in-law left home many years ago, leaving behind four children. As a result, she said she had nothing on which to live.
Volunteer Cixi Cai immediately made a home visit. She discovered that Vitalina had four grandchildren and three other little girls whom other family members had left behind. Vitalina managed two households to keep social workers from taking away her seven grandchildren. She tried her best to give the children a good life. But it was hard for the children to lose their parents, and to be divided into two homes.
Vitalina’s grandsons, 17-year-old Sham Iraim Vásquez and 15-year-old second brother Gamaliel Vásquez, decided to assist their grandmother. They quit school and began to work in order to provide for the two younger brothers, 13-year-old Gilgamez Vásquez and 10-year-old Silas Icam Vásquez. After hearing about the experiences of the two families, volunteers decided to draw up short-term plans for them, hoping to help the children finish school so they can begin to have a semblance of a stable life.
The Richest Day
The volunteers prepared a sumptuous dinner for the two families on Christmas Eve. Then, they invited them to the Tzu Chi campus to feel the warmth of the Foundation’s big heart. Volunteer Jing Yi Lee skillfully arranged the dinner and created a festive Christmas atmosphere. Along with the joyful Christmas songs, the volunteers prepared delicious plant-based Mexican food and loving gifts, such as school bags, quilts, shoes, new coats and jackets, and other daily necessities.
Upon seeing so many new gifts, the children were overwhelmed and asked shyly, “Can I take all of these?” Volunteer Joe Wang smiled and said, “Everything you can see is yours. All the food is yours. You can take them home.” The children showed a rare smile; this short two-hour event was a happy experience for them all.
Kunrong Xie, a volunteer working in the local community, was very familiar with what local children generally eat. Usually, there are only simple foods such as biscuits because most of their families have no money for luxuries. But, she said, “Seeing how happy they are eating, each food item is like gourmet food for them.”
A Taste of Eternal Happiness
At the end of the dinner, before everyone was about to leave, volunteer Cixi Cai said to each of the children: “You must be grateful to your grandma, because of her, we had such an event today.” Every child stepped forward to hug their grandmother. And their grandmother kissed each child on the cheek.
Vitalina’s other son, Eduardo Hernández González, attended the event. He received an affectionate confession from his eldest daughter, “Thanks to my father. Although we haven’t had a mother for many years, we are filled with our father’s compassion. You have always cared for us. I love you so much for working hard. I am so grateful for your support. Thank you, dad!” Her father was overcome with emotions and held his daughter in his arms; the whole family embraced each other tightly, and no matter how much hardship they faced, this moment became one of eternal happiness.
Eduardo thanked his mother, “I am very grateful to my mother, because of you we have such a beautiful day. I am grateful to God and you for giving me life, and grateful to Tzu Chi’s friendship and gifts. I pray that God will continue to bless this team and us. Thank you so much, Dr. Joe Wang. You are like friends to us. The food is delicious, thank you chefs very much.”
Today Happened Because of You
Sham Iraim Vásquez spoke on behalf of his younger brothers, “I would like to express my gratitude to my grandmother. Because of you, we can have this special day and get to know this group; they have brought us many gifts. Thank you to everyone.”
The younger brothers also expressed their gratitude to their elder brother, “Thank you to my elder brother for always taking care of each of us, and thanks to everyone who has helped us.” Their faces were shy, but their words were sincere.
This Christmas was particularly fulfilling and meaningful for the volunteers who had traveled the long distance between Los Angeles and Tijuana. After the volunteer team finished the warm gathering at the Tijuana campus, they quickly drove back to Los Angeles to attend Tzu Chi’s “Little Love Festival”. After such an experience of heartfelt compassion, everyone cherished the reunion with their families even more.