Tzu Ching Gather at Winter Retreat in Houston to Foster Community and Collaboration

Southern  |  February 16, 2023
Tzu Chi USASouthern Region Tzu Ching group photo
Tzu Ching from Texas A&M University, University of Texas at Austin, Georgia Institute of Technology, and Emory University took a group photo with Tzu Ching Alumni and mentoring volunteers from Austin, Houston, Dallas, New York, and Washington, DC. Photo/Penny Liu

Written by Jack Fan
Translated by Ariel Chan
Edited by Yingying Lee, Andrea Barkley

From January 13-15, 2023, 24 Tzu Ching members from Texas A&M University, University of Texas at Austin, Georgia Institute of Technology, and Emory University, and 13 Tzu Ching alumni and mentoring volunteers from Austin, Houston, Dallas, New York, and Washington, DC gathered together for a three-day community-building retreat. The three-day gathering aimed to strengthen the bond and sense of unity among these Tzu Chi members and volunteers.

Learning From Each Other to Gain Wisdom

Tzu Chi USA Southern Region Tzu Ching at the reception
The Tzu Ching camp registration team. Photo/Tsangbin Wen
Tzu Chi USA Southern Region Tzu Ching group discussion
Tzu Ching members exchanged ideas and personal experiences with each other. Photo/Jack Fan

Tzu Ching alumni facilitated the planning of this retreat. Volunteer Allan Tian took the helm by initiating the retreat’s theme and curriculum planning. He was concerned that if they did not hold a retreat this year, Tzu Ching volunteers might lose the enthusiasm for future gatherings. Therefore, despite the challenges of hosting a camp during the winter vacation, the team successfully achieved this feat through careful planning and communication among members.

I hope that this camp can broaden everyone's horizons. In addition to focusing on Tzu Chi campus activities, I hope they get involved with broader social and global issues.

During the retreat, participants exchanged ideas on how to create more equitable relationships within the group. In addition to learning from each other, each member had the opportunity for personal growth and reflection during these interchanges. The more they interacted with others, the more each person’s empathy grew. Since everyone came from diverse family backgrounds and viewpoints, members discussed the uniqueness of Tzu Ching to identify their shared beliefs. They exchanged ideas on overcoming differences through their commonality to foster mutual bonds.

Striving to Embody Their Beliefs

Tzu Chi USA Southern Region Tzu Ching sharing their
The retreat provided the opportunity to learn and share. Photo/Jack Fan
The course material was diverse and enriching. Photo/Jong Wu

Steve Chen has been a member of Tzu Chi for many years and has in-depth experience in leading retreats. He holds a master’s degree in public health and served as a camp instructor. Chen guided students to discuss Tzu Chi’s uniqueness and invited them to connect with the world outside their immediate communities. Finally, Chen encouraged them to focus more on global issues to support Tzu Chi’s relationship with the United Nations and other international organizations.

Steve Chen, an Emory University alum, said, “I am honored to be able to return to the Southern region and learn with Tzu Ching in Texas and Atlanta; thinking back to my own Tzu Ching experience, sharing my stories has helped me understand myself better and reflect on how I have evolved as a person.”

During the retreat, Tzu Ching presented Tzu Chi’s achievements from their various home communities. A common theme was how Tzu Chings adapted measures to meet local communities needs. This ability to empathize and listen to communities created bonds between attendees and demonstrated their shared ideals. 

The Spirit of Compassion and Equality

Tzu Chi USA Southern Region Tzu Ching and Houston Food Pantry
After the camp participated in the Southern Region’s bi-weekly vegetarian food distribution, the distribution staff and Tzu Ching volunteers took a group photo together. Photo/Jong Wu
Tzu Ching helping out for Houston Food Pantry
Tzu Ching volunteers assisted branch volunteers in distributing supplies. Photo/Tsangbin Wen

A local bi-weekly vegetarian food distribution coincided with the Tzu Ching retreat. So, Tzu Ching supported the event by participating in the packing and distribution work. Ryan Lo, an Atlanta-based Tzu Ching, who partook in the camp for the first time, recalled, “Everyone took the initiative to find things to do. It showed me that Tzu Ching is a selfless and loving group. This is why I fell in love with Tzu Ching in the first place.”

Members also learned about the subtle differences between giving and receiving during the distribution. They discussed how it felt to give and receive and how to cultivate empathy from that experience. Through this dialogue, they learned to listen and provide a genuine presence for each other.

I was most impressed by the lecture discussing empathy; it allowed me to better meet people’s needs by understanding their life backgrounds; this is the spirit of compassion that Tzu Chi teaches us.

Vegetarianism Protects the Earth

Tzu Ching participating Iron Chef competition
During a vegetarian cooking competition, Tzu Ching members learned how to change their daily eating habits to better protect the Earth. Photo/Liju Su
Tzu Ching plating their food for Iron Chef competition
Each group awaited the judges' scoring. Photo/Jong Wu

In recent years, climate change has become a crucial issue. So Tzu Chi USA launched the Young Leaders Program, which aims to be an intermediary by combining Tzu Chi’s ideas with industry elites to put thoughts into action. One of the planners, alumnus Bryan Xiao, flew in from New York to present the organization’s mission and address the members’ questions.

In addition to discussing practical ways to mitigate environmental damage, the class also discussed how switching to a vegetarian diet could positively impact climate change. Studies have shown that switching to a plant-based diet can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, land use, and deforestation, among many other benefits. 

As part of the day’s event, Tzu Chings engaged in a “vegetarian cooking competition.” After the competition, attendees served their delicious dishes to each other. This competition was a fun and educational way to encourage members to “go vegetarian” and encourage environmental protection.

Tzu Chi Honors the “Whole Person” in Each Tzu Ching

On the last day, the camp team planned various art and cultural activities so that Tzu Chings could learn from others, explore multiple interests, and challenge their abilities and teamwork skills with others.

To encourage relaxation and self-care, the organizers also incorporated a gardening activity. Pablo Romo, a Tzu Ching Alumnus from Austin, Texas,  reminded everyone that they could use recycled containers to store seeds and edible herbs, thus strengthening members’ savings habits.

Tzu Chi USA Southern Region volunteer preparing food
Branch volunteers provided healthy and delicious vegetarian meals to the young people. Photo/Tsangbin Wen
Tzu Chi USA Southern Region Tzu Ching lining up for the meal
Camp members praised the delicacy of the meals. Photo/Penny Liu

Erica Chang, President of Tzu Ching at the University of Texas at Austin, commented, “Whole-person development essential. In addition to showing their strength in academics and career-related skills, developing personal interests also represents our uniqueness. When we get together, we can maximize our strengths and make Tzu Chings more effective.”

The three-day retreat provided intensive study and mutual learning. Members were deeply motivated and felt a new sense of devotion to Tzu Chi’s community. The camp course fostered friendship among Tzu Chings, spreading love to their community and empowering them to take on societal leadership roles to help create a better tomorrow.

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