Tijuana Care Mission: Tzu Chi Uniting Across Borders to Share Love and Compassion

National Headquarters  |  April 20, 2023
Local Tzu Chi Tijuana volunteers , Tzu Chi USA volunteers and family in Tijuana
Local Tzu Chi Tijuana volunteers accompany the Tzu Chi USA volunteers to care for impoverished families in the area. Photo/Ying Dan Lai

Written by Jingyi Li, Ah Mui Manguy
Translated by H.B. Qin
Edited by Andrea Barkley

On March 6, 2023, Tzu Chi USA Headquarters Delegation accompanied Tzu Chi Tijuana volunteers to visit local families struggling with poverty and hardship. Upon meeting these local families, the US delegation team was filled with emotion and admiration as they “witnessed the suffering and acknowledged the blessing.”

A Family in Distress

Unprivileged family standing infront of their house and waving hand
Tzu Chi meets with a family of six in Tijuana. Photo/Ying Dan Lai
Tzu Chi volunteer interacting with children in Tijuana
Volunteers care for the children of this family and hope they can return to school. Photo/Ying Dan Lai

In Tijuana, there exist two strikingly different worlds: one, a paradise for tourists, and the other, a limbo for impoverished residents who grapple with making ends meet every day. The US volunteers met a family living in heartbreaking conditions. Their home was merely a humble shack with a dirt floor.

The father, Camero, is blind, the mother cannot work, and all siblings are 16 or younger. One of the younger daughters had her fingers amputated due to a lack of access to hygiene products. Another son, who had the chance to go to school, had minimal school supplies. In this low-income family, the 16-year-old eldest son had to give up his schooling to support the family and take up the responsibility of providing for his family.

Veteran volunteers Dr. Joe Wang, Ah Mui Manguy, and local volunteers contacted this family. Their goal was to find suitable jobs at the Tzu Chi Tijuana Medical Campus for the oldest brother and to apply for birth certificates for the other children so they could return to school and have a chance to escape poverty one day.

Unintentionally Becoming a “Nail Household”

Poor condition of Tijuana housing
After becoming a “nail household”, the family continues to struggle. Photo/Ying Dan Lai

Two years ago, the family purchased a dilapidated house for $3,000 (USD), unintentionally becoming a “nail household” in the face of wealthy developers who wanted their land. A “nail household” is a property that refuses to move or be bought out by developers. As a result, their water supply was cut off for two years, leaving them reliant on the kindness of their neighbors. Upon discovering the family’s predicament, Tzu Chi Tijuana volunteers stepped in to help. They began to refill the water tower every week, ensuring the family had access to water for their daily needs and alleviating their struggle.

Inside the simple shack, there was no furniture other than two beds. The family warmly welcomed the volunteers and described their life through an interpreter. Following Master Cheng Yen’s teaching of empathy and compassion, the Tzu Chi volunteers gave real-time comfort to the family. The experience deeply affected the volunteers. Everyone sincerely hoped to do something to help the family and families like them.

A Visit to the AIDS Home

Tzu Chi volunteer in the ward of the AIDS Home
Tzu Chi USA and Tijuana volunteers in the ward of the AIDS Home. Photo/Ying Dan Lai

Veteran volunteers Dr. Joe Wang, campus staff member Cindy, and campus clinic doctors and nurses accompanied the US delegation team on their visit to the AIDS Home, which is home to AIDS and tuberculosis patients without families, and where they can receive the selfless dedication and attentive care by doctors and nursing staff without discrimination.

AIDS was once a terrifying diagnosis, but effective treatments have emerged thanks to years of committed research. No longer is death the inevitable outcome for those affected by the disease. Instead, with compassionate care, support, and attention, the despair has gradually faded away, making room for smiles and the joyful laughter of those who continue to live and embrace life.

Roman, a worker at the AIDS Home, told the volunteers, “Many of the women are separated from their children because of the disease but after their conditions stabilize, the AIDS Home encourages and assists them to bring their children back to them as soon as possible.”

Roman also hopes to expand the AIDS Home into a school that can teach introductory medical courses and teaches skills that will equip these patients with the ability to earn a living when they re-enter society.

From Care Recipients to Volunteers

Europe-America-Africa Team Leader Tsung Han Lu visits the Tijuana low-income neighborhoods
Buddhist Tzu Chi Charity Foundation's Europe-America-Africa Team Leader Tsung Han Lu visits the Tijuana low-income neighborhoods. Photo/Ying Dan Lai
Post-rain storm conditions in Tijuana
Post-rain storm conditions make already difficult living conditions more challenging. Photo/Ying Dan Lai

Under the guiding principle of “love without borders,” Tzu Chi USA volunteers actively engage in international aid and social care. Regardless of differing religious beliefs and languages, the shared mission of “saving lives” fosters a sense of emotional unity. This belief ensures that those receiving assistance experience both material and spiritual comfort. In addition, the powerful message of “great love” transcends language barriers and reaches local communities directly. 

In Tijuana, numerous individuals who once received Tzu Chi’s support have become volunteers. Although many are devout Catholics, they’ve stepped beyond religious boundaries to dedicate themselves to helping others, demonstrating the power of unity through their collaborative efforts.

I truthfully self-reflected and wished I could give as selflessly and courageously as the volunteers at the Tijuana Campus.

The Tzu Chi USA volunteers were very impressed by Tzu Chi Tijuana volunteers who showed their unity of effort and dedication to the “great love” of spreading happiness and relieving suffering. Volunteer  Ying Dan Lai said, “This trip to Tijuana has touched me deeply, and it’s like a new page in my life has started. I was very moved by how people who live in an environment where they have almost nothing can appreciate what they have and spread the seeds of love.” Impassioned by what she witnessed, she lamented that many people with greater material comfort are not truly grateful for what they have.

As the Tzu Chi USA Headquarters Delegation prepared for their journey home, they anticipated challenges since heavy rain had led to flooding and treacherous muddy roads. Moreover, reports of demonstrations, protests, and looting emerged the night before their departure. As a result, the government suspended classes and advised against venturing out. Yet, despite these daunting circumstances, the US volunteers returned to the United States. Thankfully, each volunteer arrived home safely, a testament to their unwavering dedication to their compassionate work.

Tzu Chi volunteers from the US and Tijuana group photo
Tzu Chi volunteers from the US and Tijuana take a group photo at Tijuana Medical Campus. Photo/Ying Dan Lai

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