Tzu Chi’s Team Has Talent: Volunteers Offer Their Essential Skills to Underserved Populations

National Headquarters  |  June 28, 2022
Tzu Chi volunteers in New York did not let the cold weather stop them from helping others. In February, the team headed to Staten Island Care Center and volunteered to do haircuts for the patients. Photo/ Jiatian Liu

Written by Pin Hau Chiou
Translated by H.B. Qin
Edited by Maggie Morgan

The Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation’s team spans around the globe, simultaneously working on the same mission of ending suffering for all beings. Volunteers come from all walks of life and leave their footprints of compassion every step along the way. Tzu Chi has had the opportunity to connect with experts from every field imaginable, and formed teams of people who are the best at what they do. 

Our meaningful connections have turned into powerful networks of people who are driven to use their gifts to give back to the greater good. The work of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation truly knows no bounds; one day stylists are helping senior citizens with their hairdos and the next ophthalmologists are giving on-site vision exams and glasses to students.

Ears Lowered, Confidence Raised: Tzu Chi Volunteer Stylists Cut Senior Citizens’ Hair

On a chilly day in February of this year, New-York based Tzu Chi volunteers bundled up to head to the Staten Island Care Center. Volunteers out of Tzu Chi’s Northeastern Regional Office have been working with the Center for more than 20 years, offering haircuts to patients currently residing there. As with many other services that Tzu Chi offers, the haircuts were halted during the pandemic. 

Tzu Chi volunteer Yugui Wu cuts hair according to the style requested by the Center’s patients. Photo/ Jiatian Liu

Once mandates were cleared in New York, the staff at the Center called Tzu Chi to ask if volunteers could recommence the service for patients. The team immediately arranged to resume haircuts as soon as the request came in. In February, four Tzu Chi volunteers, all professional barbers, visited the Center to beautify the patients. The Center’s staff said it had been a troubling situation without volunteers coming on site; patients had to risk infection and leave the Center to visit a stylist or barber.

Tzu Chi volunteers concentrate on cutting patients’ hair at the nursing home. Photo/ Jiatian Liu

Getting a simple haircut is a task many of us take for granted. During the pandemic, we became accustomed to rearranging our normal routines to stay safe. Many senior citizens were forced to extend their time in quarantine as elderly people are more vulnerable to coronavirus. The residents of Staten Island Care Center had sorely missed the Tzu Chi volunteers who came to give them haircuts.

The Center’s staff commented on how much the stylists were missed:

No one came to help with haircuts for at least three months, even longer, because of the pandemic, it was not convenient for the patients to go out. Now that Tzu Chi has resumed the service, they feel alive again.

Tzu Chi volunteers helped 32 patients within two and a half hours, delivering the kind of happiness only a fresh haircut can bring. Patients no longer have to risk their health to leave the Center for errands like going to the barbershop or salon. No matter how old you get, you always want to look your best, and volunteers were able to leave residents feeling like themselves again.

A Sight for Sore Eyes: Tzu Chi Medical’s Vision Mobile Clinic Pulls Up

Tzu Chi New York'sVision Mobile Clinic van parked in front of P.S. 178 Elementary School. Photo/ Chunsong Shen

The day after the haircutting excursion, Tzu Chi switched gears and turned the clock back on their age demographic; Tzu Chi New York’s  Vision Mobile Clinic van visited Brooklyn’s P.S. 178 Elementary School.

Zenobia Thomas, a student at P.S. 178 Elementary School, had her vision checked by an optometrist and said, “I had a pair of pink glasses, but they were too old, I hope to get a new pair today.”

Many children come from financially-challenged households and eyecare is not always affordable. The American Optometric Association reports “clinical studies show uncorrected vision problems can affect development, academics” and another article revealed that up to 75% of school exams can miss critical issues.

Tzu Chi volunteers help students register for the glasses fitting service. Photo/ Chunsong Shen

Tzu Chi’s gift of sight came in the form of free glasses for students who exhibited signs of vision problems. The relief wouldn’t only help lighten their family’s burden but also enhance their academic performance. Children sometimes don’t understand their vision is off, so they don’t mention any problems to parents or faculty members. Having proper care and a qualified optometrist evaluate them is key for healthy development. put it precisely saying: “Often, a child believes everyone sees the world the way he/she does. That is because children’s vision problems are often silent, without any signs.”

The vision checks turned out to be much needed; in total, 13 children left with brand new glasses and a new future ahead of them.

Tzu Chi Medical hopes to bring dental examinations to schools in addition to vision care services.

We hope to provide vision care services not only in schools, but also in communities, in shelters for the homeless, in senior centers, or in churches.

Optometrist James Chuang helped students test their vision and check their eyes. Photo/ Chunsong Shen

Whatever It Takes: Addressing Needs of All Shapes and Sizes

Tzu Chi knows the problems we face don’t look the same, and suffering comes in many forms. It is for this reason that the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation has dedicated branches that focus on education, medicine, disaster relief, vegetarian lifestyles, and empowering a new generation of leaders. Our goals are big, our mission is all-encompassing, and we cannot do it alone. Tzu Chi’s teams of volunteers are the heartbeat of our organization and the connections they form continue to widen our circle of compassion.

This group of events led volunteers to find just how deeply the pandemic had restrained people’s self-care; forgotten or underserved groups had insurmountable issues that Tzu Chi knew they could help alleviate. Our teams will continue to be present in communities that need us most and will show up when it seems no one else will.

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