Written by: Shu Li Lo
Translated by: H.B. Qin
Edited by: Maggie Morgan
Tzu Chi USA Headquarters hosted the 2022 Tzu Chi Scholarship Award Ceremony for Southern California students at the El Monte Service Center on July 9. This was the first in-person ceremony that Tzu Chi has held in Southern California since the pandemic began. A total of 19 award winners invited their families to celebrate with them alongside Tzu Chi volunteers. The winners, all from low-income families, received scholarships of $1,500 each. These awards will assist students in thriving educationally, despite the current severe inflation in the U.S.economy.
The outbreak of COVID-19 forced many schools to transition to remote schooling. This change meant students couldn’t access school bulletin boards to learn about important opportunities, including the Tzu Chi scholarships. As a result, only 10 colleges students and nine high school graduates were awarded scholarships this year.
However, there is always a silver lining. Because there was such a small pool of candidates, volunteers were able to give closer attention to each student in need of aid. Team members could better understand the individual issues their families were facing, and thus provide more in-depth, personalized assistance. Part of this process included referring students to Tzu Chi’s Charity Unit to become medium and long-term care recipients.
Strength Through Struggle, Hope Through Hardship
Volunteers were elated to host the first in-person award ceremony after going on a pandemic-induced hiatus. They immediately started preparing early in the morning, arranging tables and chairs, rehearsing sign language, and practicing the process. Around 1 p.m., when everything was ready and the ceremony was about to start, the power suddenly went out. Volunteers hurried to contact the electric company and searched for a solution. Fortunately, the power turned back on in just a few minutes, and the unexpected twist only slightly delayed the event. The show must go on, and thankfully it did.
This interference served as a sort of metaphor for what life has been like since COVID-19 has entered our world. The pandemic and subsequent inflation have hindered the lives of many Americans, presenting challenges no one was prepared to face. Some families have witnessed their main source of income dwindle or disappear entirely. People were forced to work fewer hours and some were furloughed or terminated. This financial crisis, coupled with rising inflation, has forced many households to prioritize feeding the family before considering their children’s education. Therefore, the $1,500 scholarships meant even more this year. They signified hope and support in a time where both were in short supply.
According to Flora Yeh, the volunteer responsible for charity affairs at Tzu Chi USA Headquarters, “The scholarship must be awarded to students who are from low-income families, and who are motivated to study in spite of their difficult family circumstances. Among this year’s winners, we found that some students’ families are in very bad situations. We have transferred several of them to the charity team to care for them, to understand more of their families and help these children and their families.”
It All Comes Full Circle
The Tzu Chi Scholarship enables students from low-income families to continue their education so they can graduate from college, find employment, and have a bright future. Many previous winners have returned and supported Tzu Chi by joining the Tzu Chi Collegiate Youth Association (Tzu Ching) in college. These Tzu Ching give back to Tzu Chi’s cause, helping with food distribution and free clinics alongside volunteers.
Cesar Pacheco, the master of ceremonies for the event, was one of these young leaders. His family immigrated from Mexico to Fresno in Northern California in 2002. In 2013, he received a Tzu Chi scholarship to attend the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). The Tzu Chi scholarship helped pay for his housing, making the educational journey less stressful. After graduation, he came across Tzu Chi’s clubhouse by chance, and contacted Flora Yeh. With Flora’s encouragement and companionship, he participated in Tzu Chi’s food distribution. Cesar (who had already found a job) took the time to be the master of ceremonies and interpreter for the Tzu Chi Scholarship Award Ceremony.
Cesar now manages a commercial real estate company. He said, “I’m happy to be here to help with Spanish interpretation and be the master of ceremonies so that the Hispanic parents who are here can understand what we say. I’m happy for the students who are going to receive scholarships today and for the parents who are supporting their children to go to college and succeeded in doing so. Thank you, Tzu Chi, thank you!”
A Tzu Ching senior (graduated Tzu Ching), Rui Zhe Li, was one of the masters of ceremonies at the event, and encouraged the students to receive the scholarships. “The scholarships are not just about money, but the gratitude and compassion you receive from Tzu Chi so that you know that Tzu Chi is by your side like family. I hope you will continue to work hard and become part of the Tzu Chi family in the future.”
A Step Towards Achieving Their Dreams
Ashley Gonzalez, who is in her second year of receiving the Tzu Chi scholarship, said, “Last year’s scholarship helped me a lot, I spent the money on textbooks, parking permits, and transportation. I commute from Downey to Fullerton to go to school, it takes about 30 minutes to commute each way. It took a lot of time and money to commute, Tzu Chi helped me thank you very much!”
Angelina Quint is a second-time Tzu Chi scholarship winner. Her mother is suffering from cancer, and she has a mentally challenged brother at home, which puts a lot on her family’s plate. However, this does not impact her determination to succeed, and perseverance to be positive. Not only did Angelina work several jobs after school to support her family, but she also maintained excellent academic performance. It is remarkable that she continues to give back by spending her time participating in Tzu Chi’s volunteer service projects to help distribute food in the community.
Angelina said, “My mom and brother can’t work to earn money, so I have to work multiple jobs to support them. It’s really hard to pay for my own education under these circumstances because my school fees are really expensive. I can use the Tzu Chi scholarship for my education and pay for all my schooling. I’m really grateful to be awarded the scholarship. I can continue my education and achieve my dreams.”
Aliya Roserie has received Tzu Chi scholarships four years in a row. She said, “Tzu Chi not only helped me academically but also supported me emotionally and mentally; I wanted to go to medical school to further my studies, they supported me every year of my study career for the past four years. So, I am very grateful to Tzu Chi USA and I sincerely thank them for their continuous support.”
Every Student Has A Story
“After receiving the scholarship applications, we saw that these children from different families all have their own stories of hardships, we emphathize with their sorrows and helplessness,” Vera Yeh, the volunteer in charge of the scholarship program of Tzu Chi USA Headquarters, said. “From the time we found out about them until they receive their scholarships, we would care for them via telephone calls and home visits; because what we provide is not only this scholarship, we want them to know the gratitude and compassion of Tzu Chi, the love and care between people.”
For the past few years, Vera would reach out to students by calling, emailing, or greeting them with electronic messages. She was diligent in working to find out if they needed any help and to find ways to meet their needs. When she learned that a student contracted COVID-19, she sent him food. He was grateful to know he wasn’t alone, and that someone truly cared about his health.
When a stranger reaches out to help students and comfort them, the circle of compassion grows by default. A simple act of kindness inspires others to volunteer in their own neighborhoods, giving back once their cup has been filled by another. Over the years, Tzu Chi volunteers have seen students grow from the love they receive, and in return find immense joy in joining their mission.
Tzu Chi volunteers have stayed in contact with Lilian Duong, a previous scholarship winner, and her mother for years. Today, she has a career of her own. Lilian gave a speech as a representative at the ceremony, accompanied by her doting mother. The event happened to fall on her mother’s birthday, so volunteer Meiping Tan made a cake to celebrate the occasion. Tzu Chi’s touch of kindness is everywhere, and in everything. As we grow together, our beneficiaries and volunteers become a family.
Education is one of the most profound ways to change a life. The Tzu Chi Scholarship brings together the love of Tzu Chi volunteers, who hope for every scholarship recipient to have a safe and successful life. The awards give future generations the ability to make their dreams a reality and, with the support of Tzu Chi, become a force for good that will change the world.