Written by Phil Huang
Translated by Diana Chang
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto
Tzu Chi Education Foundation aims to encourage a more compassionate, humanistic society through our schools and distinctive programs that balance both developing the mind and opening the heart. And thus, Tzu Chi Education Foundation in the USA encompasses five Tzu Chi schools to promote a holistic curriculum that supports spiritual, intellectual, social, and creative development.
On February 1st, 2021, Tzu Chi Education Foundation and these five Tzu Chi schools were granted the “Kindness Certified School” award by the non-profit organization, Kids for Peace.
Along the halls of schools across the nation, awards and further honors are often displayed to share their wonderful memories and achievements with others — whether academic, artistic, or beyond. For many years, the Education Foundation has sought various ways to boost awareness for the compassionate and comprehensive teaching styles at Tzu Chi’s schools as they continue to cultivate educational programs that help build stronger, kinder communities. After nearly six months of research and discussion regarding the various applicable certifications, the Education Foundation chose to start with the “Kindness Certified School” certification, which aims to uphold a culture of kindness and commitment to fostering positive, caring, and respectful school environments where students can thrive. The awarding non-profit organization, Kids for Peace, was founded in 2006 in Southern California, and later expanded to become an international organization. Because Kids for Peace shares the belief that compassion is a force that can move hearts and change the world, the Education Foundation found the organization to be a great match, indeed.
Fifty Acts of Kindness
The Kindness Certification is awarded through participation in the annual Great Kindness Challenge created by Kids for Peace. This project aims to bring about a more friendly campus environment, prevent campus bullying, and teach respect, love, and compassion. The program requires that participating schools complete 50 acts of kindness in school by the end of January, and share those kind actions on social media via stories, pictures, and videos.
For this year’s Great Kindness Challenge, a total of 115 countries, more than 30,000 schools, and more than 17 million students took part. After communicating with the organizer of the event, Jill McManigal, the Education Foundation was permitted to allow five Tzu Chi schools in California and Texas to participate.
After viewing the Discovery Channel’s documentary about Dharma Master Cheng Yen, Jill McManigal expressed her surprise and enthusiasm, saying, “I didn’t expect there to be such a volunteer organization!” Noting the humanitarian missions Tzu Chi volunteers carry out across the globe, she happily placed Tzu Chi on the list of sponsors for the program.
Voluntarily Boosting Initiative
The Education Foundation took on the challenge in December of 2020 and managed to complete the challenges within one week. With Tzu Chi’s existing character education courses, these compassionate practices were naturally integrated into their daily studies. During this time, Tzu Chi educators and principals came to understand the profound importance of upholding the challenge, and decided to go further.
In the process, Principal Chingju Lin found that the teachers and parents worked together phenomenally well, and the whole team was very happy to take part.
During the event, the teachers, parents, and students participating in the program handled many intriguing shifts in communication. One example noted by Christina Rodrigues, the principal of Tzu Chi’s Great Love Preschool in Monrovia, sheds light on the way teachers and students think about character development. Where a student was once asked, “Do you think this is the correct way to do this?” they are now asked, “Do you think this is the kind way to do this?”
Kerian Lando, the principal of Tzu Chi’s Great Love Preschool in Houston, Texas, was filled with joy when speaking about the Kindness Challenge. Teachers were very happy to come up with new ways to help, even going on the Facebook pages of other Tzu Chi schools to incorporate their acts of kindness in new and creative ways.
The Tree Of Good Deeds Blossoms
The two-month event mobilized everyone, their hearts united by a truly remarkable and positive energy. Tzu Chi’s preschool in Dallas began the challenge with a ‘benevolence tree’ and ‘benevolence wall.’ Through the challenge, the students showed their love and care for their parents, teachers, staff, peers, volunteers, mail carriers, medical workers, and more by making thoughtful and heartfelt holiday cards. Pictures of these acts are puzzled together to form a patchwork wall of kindness, and a teacher records the loving deeds of the children on a heart-shaped card. During the second month, Tzu Chi’s Great Love Preschool in Dallas focused on promoting care for animals and the environment. Children used recycled materials to make bird feeders, reduced paper waste, learned ways to save water, and more.
Students at Tzu Chi’s Great Love Preschool in Houston started off the activities by bringing flowers to their teachers. Throughout the program, students expressed their appreciation for their teachers and volunteers at school by presenting them with a vibrant bouquet to brighten their day. After the program ended, students continued to give gifts of flowers to both teachers and staff at the school. Moreover, the ongoing pandemic has brought forth countless new hurdles for low-income families, and hoping to help ensure these families have the resources they need, the children prepared their favorite foods alongside their parents to be given to these families.
At Tzu Chi’s Preschool in Monrovia, there were different acts of kindness for students to participate in each day. To avoid physical contact during the pandemic, teachers also asked students to greet each other with their foot, which they referred to as a low five, rather than using their hands for a high five. Cards were additionally created for parents and classmates, and children were encouraged to express their care and gratitude through their words and thoughtful deeds.
Hogan Tsui, a student of Monrovia school learned that he must be kind to all creatures. One day, Hogan and his mother happened to notice their neighbor’s kitten trapped in a tree, meowing for help. Hogan was very concerned for the kitten, and together, they found their neighbor, who was able to get the kitten down safely. Hogan, his mother, and their neighbor all breathed a sigh of relief.
The Kindness Challenge at Tzu Chi’s preschool in Walnut, California, began with a project that focused on the themes of gratitude and environmental protection. The teachers and students built an environmentally-friendly city of love crafted from recycled cardboard boxes, cups, and PET plastic bottles. This mini-city includes a hospital, fire department, library, post office, and police station, thanking all those on the front lines for their dedication.
The acts of love at Tzu Chi Elementary School in Walnut reached students in Mexico as well. Due to revisions to the curriculum as per the California Department of Education, Tzu Chi’s Walnut Elementary School had nearly 650 idle textbooks. Therefore, students, faculty, and volunteers worked together to deliver the textbooks to Morelos Institute. A deadly magnitude 7.1 earthquake had rocked Mexico in 2017, causing widespread damage and immeasurable heartache. After Tzu Chi’s initial aid and medical outreach, our long-term relief was initiated with the rebuilding of the school in Jojutla, a municipality in the state of Morelos, Mexico.
The Journey Continues
Thanks to the loving efforts of the Education Foundation’s dedicated team, the school faculty, staff, parents, and students, this two-month event officially came to a close on January 29th with a total of 53 acts of kindness at Tzu Chi schools. The Education Foundation and five Tzu Chi schools in the U.S. all received the Kindness Certified School award.
Although this year’s Great Kindness Challenge has come to an end, Tzu Chi continues to sow seeds of love and gentle perseverance throughout the communities we serve across the globe. Under the wise and loving guidance of Dharma Master Cheng Yen and through our participation in wonderful projects like the Great Kindness Challenge, the team at Tzu Chi’s Education Foundation has accumulated excellent experience that will further the goal of providing holistic, high-quality education.