Written by Jean Hsu, Pen Chi Liu, Jennifer Chien
Translated by Diana Chang
Edited by Ida Eva Zielinska
Tzu Chi USA’s Southern Region Branch just celebrated its 30th Anniversary. On May 29, 2021, volunteers held an online event to go back in time and mark the milestones over the past three decades of the branch serving the U.S. southern states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. All the volunteers from the Southern Region joined the online event to greet one another and extend their blessings for more years of continually serving their communities and upholding Tzu Chi’s missions and spirit.
Serving With Devout Dedication
This online event to commemorate the 30th Anniversary was planned and implemented by the Southern Region’s documentation team. It took them nearly six months to collect historical data – including but not limited to videos – then compile, edit, and complete the 1.5-hour long commemorative video, which would stream live during the anniversary celebration.
On that day, May 29, Tzu Chi USA Southern Region branch offices and centers, including the Southern Region Office in Houston, Austin Service Center, Point Comfort Office, San Antonio Office, Miami Service Center, Orlando Service Center, Atlanta Branch Office, New Orleans Office, a total of 203 volunteers, Tzu Chi Academy teachers, parents, students, relatives and friends from all over the Southern Region were online to participate in the celebration.
The event kicked off with a video recorded on April 10 of Tzu Chi volunteers practicing a prayerful bowing pilgrimage at the Southern Region Office. The participants took the opportunity to pray with devotion as they walked three steps, bowed, and continued across a predesignated distance. While purifying their body and mind, being absorbed in self-reflection, they also conveyed good thoughts towards all sentient beings and blessings for the world.
Then the host read Dharma Master Cheng Yen’s letter of blessings to all Tzu Chi USA Southern Region volunteers, in which she thanked them for spreading the spirit of Tzu Chi.
Since establishing the branch, the volunteers have upheld Tzu Chi’s missions with love, principally through activities related to individual charity case care, food distributions, emergency relief, and the continuous implementation of Jing Si Aphorism teachings in Tzu Chi Great Love Preschool and Academy. When natural disasters strike, they additionally mobilize to provide immediate and long-term aid for the survivors to help them get back on track.
In her letter, Master Cheng Yen also expressed her hope that everyone would remember the cause and effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, accelerate the recruitment of volunteers, and promote and encourage vegetarianism. The plea for adopting a plant-based diet was especially relevant in Texas, home to the largest livestock population. She ended by saying that we must give full attention to purifying our minds, encouraging practices that support earth’s sustainability, and maintaining compassion for all sentient beings in our lifestyle choices.
Where There Is Tzu Chi, There Is Love
As taught by Master Cheng Yen, one of the core principles of Tzu Chi is unconditional love practiced by putting compassion into action to relieve suffering. Several speakers addressing those joining the online event touched on this next in the program, being Tzu Chi volunteers as well as disciples of Master Cheng Yen.
Stephen Huang, the Executive Director of Tzu Chi Global Volunteers, who sent his blessings to Tzu Chi USA’s Southern Region volunteers from Jing Si Seminary in Beijing, China, focused on this aspect. He shared how the volunteers’ thirty years of cultivation through service have not been easy, especially since they serve a vast geographic area of the United States as they sow the seeds of unconditional love from Master Cheng Yen’s teachings. He expressed his endless gratitude and blessings from the bottom of his heart.
Jackson Chen, CEO of Tzu Chi USA, next congratulated the volunteers from the Southern Region on the occasion of its 30th Anniversary. He highlighted how all Tzu Chi volunteers must bear Master Cheng Yen’s teachings in mind, and that “with the awakening of America, the world becomes peaceful.” Tzu Chi’s mission and eight areas of services have spread in the United States, he said, and the volunteers’ continuous efforts, done in the Tzu Chi spirit as Master Cheng Yen’s disciples, were integral to that growth.
Tzu Chi USA Southern Region’s Executive Director, Taishan Huang, was emotional during his speech. “The word that I deeply appreciate for 30 years is eternal ‘gratefulness.’ Grateful for the volunteers who have dedicated their selfless efforts in the 30 years that have gone by,” he said.
As Executive Director, he has repeatedly thanked all for their compassionate contributions and continuous support. During this celebration, he stated his hope to hold hands with everyone and follow the footsteps and teachings of Master Cheng Yen so that Tzu Chi’s spirit will flow for generations in the Southern Region.
Robert Lo, the Director General of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Houston, was also invited to give a speech. He affirmed that Tzu Chi’s efforts in the Southern Region had been well received by the community for 30 years. In the future, he said they will continue collaborating to do more for the southern region of the United States, and jointly contribute to the community and society as a whole.
Lifelong Learning at Tzu Chi
Next on the program, everyone watched the 30th Anniversary commemorative video and witnessed the milestones of Tzu Chi USA’s Southern Region, under the leadership of the current and former executive directors, Taishan Huang, Taishan Huang, Chiyao Lin, Chitsung Hsiung, and Suhching Huang.
By gathering benevolent forces and spreading the seeds of Tzu Chi’s spirit, the region’s directors and volunteers had touched communities across the broad area they serve. On countless large-scale emergency relief missions, following the teachings of Master Cheng Yen, they cared for those in need with selflessness, diligence, thrift, and perseverance in overcoming difficulties. Through actively upholding Tzu Chi’s missions, they helped relieve the suffering of many.
During the sharing, senior volunteer Amy Wang recalled the early days and how volunteers came up with suitable charitable services to offer, taking into account that the laws and regulations in the United States were different than in Taiwan, where their volunteer experience originated.
Dr. Samuel Chen, who led Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) at the time, believes that in a multicultural country like the United States, language barriers caused many challenges. TIMA members and translators can act as a bridge, not only with doctor visits but also when providing love and care for the community.
Volunteer Hope Huang recalled how the food distribution activities and medical outreach events on Thanksgiving truly benefited individuals experiencing homelessness at the time and low-income households.
Yeanshiow Lin, a volunteer who joined the initial establishment of Tzu Chi Academy in Houston at the invitation of former Executive Director Suhching Huang, shared, “Tzu Chi is a place for spiritual cultivation. I learned how to be a better person. I really learned a lot here.” Volunteer Jane Chen recalled the process of setting up a school in the past and the performance of the “Sutra of Profound Gratitude Toward Parents” in Texas.
Everyone vowed to maintain their affiliation with Tzu Chi, saying that their gratitude for and dedication to Buddhist practice within the Jing Si Dharma Lineage and Tzu Chi School of Buddhism is for life.
To Be Touched Is a Fleeting Feeling, But Gratitude Is Long Lasting
During the program, volunteer Meihui Chiang talked about the early compilation of a Tzu Chi publication and the demanded diligence. Before digital technology, she wrote manuscripts, developed photos, typeset, then delivered the completed copy to print. She recounted how she became emotional when a publication was finally in her hand, knowing the amount of careful effort it took.
Volunteer and former Executive Director Suhching Huang mentioned that Master Cheng Yen was very willing to give guidance yet always encouraged her disciples to apply their wisdom. Therefore, no matter what challenges are ahead, she always embraces them with gratitude and urges herself to take the lead in taking action despite the difficulties. This attitude is also an expression of her commitment to Master Cheng Yen.
Many senior volunteers shared their reasons for joining Tzu Chi and encouraged volunteers to keep their initial determination to seek enlightenment and adopt Tzu Chi’s missions with heart.
The teachers and students from Tzu Chi Great Love Preschool in Houston performed the song “Listen to Me Say Thanks” to express the message of spreading goodness in the next generation. It will gradually sprout and become strong, as we can see in the Southern Region.
The congratulations and aspirations of all the volunteers from multiple Tzu Chi locations across several states exemplified everyone’s determination to pass the baton of Tzu Chi’s Dharma path through the years ahead and from one generation to the next.
A Most Auspicious Celebration
Looking back on the countless touching moments they had shared, all the volunteers commemorating Tzu Chi USA Southern Region’s 30th Anniversary learned more about their footprints.
At the same time, they launched the heartfelt wish that everyone continues on the Dharma path, supports each other, and recruits members from the communities they serve to join in their efforts.
And, in the ultimate expression of the Tzu Chi spirit, they prayed, “May there be no disasters in the world; may society be peaceful; may every family be harmonious and happy; may everyone love one another.”