Tzu Chi Events Around the World

The Philippines

On the morning of October 29, 2019, Constancio Orbita and his neighbors were farming in the mountains in Tulunan in the province of Cotabato, Mindanao. Just then, a powerful earthquake hit and triggered mudslides. Luckily, Orbita and his neighbors escaped unharmed. But when Orbita arrived home, he was sad to find that his house had been reduced to a pile of rubble. His life’s work had been lost in an instant. He didn’t know whether he, already 60 years old, had it in him to rebuild his home and everything he had worked so hard for in the last several decades.

Three earthquakes over magnitude 6 struck the island of Mindanao in October 2019. Tzu Chi volunteers in Davao City, about 140 kilometers (87 miles) from the severely hit area of Tulunan, swung into action. They assessed damage in the disaster area and quickly distributed blankets and folding beds to those affected. Three large-scale distributions followed on November 10, benefiting 2,080 families in Tulunan and Magasaysay, in the province of Davao del Sur. Distributed items included rice, blankets, and emergency cash.

“Tzu Chi’s aid went a long way toward helping me get back on my feet,” Orbita said. “Without their help, I wouldn’t have known what to do.” Orbita and his neighbors used the money they received from Tzu Chi to buy materials to rebuild their homes. Each household received financial aid ranging from 10,000 pesos (US$200) to 20,000 pesos, depending on the size of the family.

“I can’t thank you enough,” Nilda Tinagon said to Tzu Chi volunteers. Not long after the quake, her son fell ill and had to check into the hospital. “I was at my wits’ end. I didn’t know where to get the money to pay my son’s medical bill, so I prayed to God for help. You can imagine my happiness when I learned that Tzu Chi was distributing cash aid to us quake victims.” After paying off her son’s hospital bill with part of the cash aid, Tinagon used the remaining money to buy a second-hand motor scooter for her husband. She wanted to make it easier for him to transport the vegetables they grew to the market. The unexpected gift from Tzu Chi gave the family a ray of hope.

Three earthquakes over magnitude 6 struck the island of Mindanao, the Philippines, in October 2019. Tzu Chi quickly provided aid to victims. Huang Yi-jie


Tzu Chi volunteers from Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Cambodia joined forces to offer free medical treatment in Battambang Province, Cambodia, from November 1 to 3, 2019. The services were provided at Ek Phnom Referral Hospital, Battambang Provincial Referral Hospital, and Srok Ek Phnom High School.

A pregnant woman named Yum Sey, accompanied by her husband, sought help at Ek Phnom Referral Hospital. Dr. Chuang Chi-jou (莊啟柔), from Taiwan, was the only OB/GYN physician on site. The doctor gave her an ultrasound exam and discovered the fetus in her womb had died. The fetus could normally have been easily removed, but a large fibroid in the lower part of her uterus compounded the situation, making the procedure more of a challenge.

Yum Sey said that this was her tenth pregnancy and her fifth miscarriage. She had sensed something was wrong with her pregnancy this time, and had gone to a hospital for a checkup. A doctor told her and her husband that she would need surgery, but they were too poor to afford it. In the end, they returned home without any treatment. The only thing she could do was to take painkillers to reduce the pain she was feeling. The day before the free clinic, a vehicle passed their home, informing people of the free medical services. Yum Sey jumped at the opportunity to seek help.

Unfortunately, the hospital where the free clinic was held didn’t have the required equipment for Dr. Chuang to perform the needed procedure on her. The Tzu Chi Cambodia office decided to send Yum Sey to a bigger hospital the following day for treatment.

This was the first time Dr. Chuang had visited Cambodia to take part in a free clinic. He said that normally an operation like the one Yum Sey needed was not very difficult to perform, but the lack of equipment limited what they could do. His heart went out to Yum Sey and other medically underserved people like her.

A 20-year-old young man with a tumor on his lips turned people’s heads at the venue. Suy Minea, the patient’s father, said that when his son was born, his lips appeared swollen, and as he grew older, the tumor also grew larger. When the boy was five years old, his father took him to a charitable hospital which offered free surgery, and had the tumor removed. However, the tumor grew back afterwards. Suy Minea took his son for treatment again but the doctor said he had no confidence in curing his condition. The father thus gave up seeking treatment for his son.

Their hope was reignited when they learned about the free services offered by Tzu Chi. Dr. Fong Poh Him (馮寶興), a renowned plastic surgeon from Singapore, examined the young man and diagnosed the tumor on his lips as a hemangioma, a usually benign vascular tumor. He explained that a patient afflicted with this kind of tumor may suffer a lot of blood loss during surgery, and so not every surgeon is willing to perform this type of operation.

It took more than an hour for Dr. Fong to remove the tumor from the young man. The doctor said after the surgery that although a hemangioma was not life-threatening, its existence on the man’s lips might affect his confidence. He believed that the young man would feel better about himself after the removal of the tumor. A tumor of this kind can be cured if completely excised.

Dr. Fong watched the father and son leave, much happier than before now that the tumor was gone. The doctor said, “Why do we come here to provide a free clinic? It’s to help improve people’s quality of life.”

At Battambang Provincial Referral Hospital, Dr. Antonio Say, of the Philippines, led a seven-member team in providing ophthalmological services. Ung Pothirath, an employee at the ophthalmological department at the Battambang hospital, came to have the cataract in his right eye removed. He said that an operation of this kind costs between US$75 and US$100 locally, which many people can’t afford.

Luot Chheam, 69, made a living by fishing. He explained that an illness when he was 12 had affected the vision in his right eye. Later in life, both of his eyes additionally developed cataracts. His eye condition had severely affected his ability to work because as a fisherman, he often had to dive into water to catch fish. He and three fellow villagers had arrived at the venue after a two-and-a-half-hour boat ride. He hoped that he could receive treatment at the free clinic to restore his vision, so that he could teach his children how to catch fish.

Treatment in dentistry and traditional Chinese medicine was also offered during the three-day free clinic mission. All told, more than 3,000 patient visits were served.

A scene at the dental department at a Tzu Chi free clinic held at Ek Phnom Referral Hospital, Battambang Province, Cambodia. Tzu Chi volunteers from six countries offered free medical care in internal medicine, surgery, ophthalmology, and traditional Chinese medicine in Cambodia from November 1 to 3, 2019. Lin Dong-xing


A handover ceremony was held on November 17, 2019, for ten new homes Tzu Chi Indonesia had built for underserved residents in Kamal Muara, North Jakarta.

In May 2019, Tzu Chi volunteers learned that some residents of Kamal Muara, a coastal village, were living in dilapidated, rundown houses susceptible to flooding during the rainy season or whenever the tide rose. The residents’ constrained financial situations made it impossible for them to repair or rebuild their own homes. The foundation decided to step in and help out. It took about three months to finish the first batch of ten houses. Residents moved into their new homes in November 2019.

One recipient of Tzu Chi’s assistance was Ayanah, a 50-year-old washerwoman. She had lived with two other family members in a wooden house situated much lower than the surrounding roads. She had hoped for decades that she would one day live in a house that wasn’t susceptible to flooding. Her wish finally came true when Tzu Chi built a new home for them. “I was so happy that I cried when they demolished my old house for rebuilding.”

Hendra and his brother, Henrik, lived in an old house left behind by their parents. They would be anxious every time it rained or when the tide rose. If the rising water flooded their house, they’d have to escape to higher ground. They also worried when strong gales blew for fear that their house would collapse.

The brothers wanted to repair their house and make it safer, but they both only had a junior high school education and couldn’t find anything better than factory jobs, which didn’t pay much. They were very grateful for Tzu Chi’s help. “It’s like a dream living in the new house,” Hendra said. “It’s sturdy and beautiful.”

On November 14, three days before the house handover ceremony, volunteers and the contractors of the construction project visited villagers in their new homes to find out if their houses were comfortable to live in or needed any improvement. The residents all claimed that they were very satisfied with their new homes.

Volunteer Teksan Luis said in the handover ceremony on November 17 that Tzu Chi planned to rebuild more houses in the village. “Hopefully, with a sturdy house to live in, residents will not have to worry about leakage and flooding problems,” he said. “This will make it easier for them to focus on their work and improve their family’s finances.”

Hendra, a villager in Kamal Muara, North Jakarta, Indonesia, poses in front of his new home (left). His old house (right) was low-lying and run-down. Tzu Chi built ten new houses for underprivileged people in Kamal Muara to help them live more safely and comfortably. Left photo by Hadi Pranoto; right photo by Anand Yahya

The United States

Every year since August 2013, Tzu Chi Orange County has held three free medical clinics at the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Ana in Orange County, California. The clinics are for low-income families and people without medical insurance. The events provide services in traditional Chinese and Western medicine, including ophthalmology and dentistry. Participants can also have their blood pressure, blood sugar, and other vital signs measured. The latest clinic took place on November 3, 2019.

It costs an arm and a leg to see a dentist in the United States, especially for low-income people and those without medical insurance. The free dental services provided at the Tzu Chi clinics are therefore very popular. People wearing thick coats or wrapped in blankets were already lining up for the free clinic at 2:30 a.m. on November 3, even though the event wouldn’t start until nine a.m.

Martin Rosas was the first patient to arrive at the venue. The dentist who saw him diagnosed a decayed tooth that would take two and a half hours to treat. Due to the long line of patients waiting, however, the dentist could not spend so much time on him and could only clean his teeth. Rosas was disappointed and volunteers really wanted to help him, so they came up with another treatment plan. A referral was made for him so that he could have his teeth treated for free in another place. Rosas broke into a smile when he learned how Tzu Chi had arranged for him to get the treatment he needed.

The eye clinic at the event helped many people see better. Luz Elena Nina received a pair of prescription glasses. In an instant, her vision became bright and clear. She was happy that her world had become so different after just an hour at the clinic. Maria Ramos, another patient, had arrived at the venue at three that morning. She said that it was very cold outside, but the wait was worth it. She cheerfully thanked Tzu Chi for giving her free glasses.

Dr. Peter Chen (陳福民) has participated in the free clinics for six years. He has told patients that everyone can help others by saving a little every day. Return patients Andres Salado and his wife, Juana Almazor, brought a full coin bank to the event to donate to Tzu Chi. They had saved the money bit by bit, a few coins at a time. Almazor said that she hoped they could help others get the help they needed, just as they had received help themselves. Dr. Chen responded by saying, “A big heart allows one to help others.”

Tzu Chi hopes to help underserved people feel love and care from society by organizing events like the free clinics.

A dentist treats a patient at a Tzu Chi free clinic in Orange County, California, the United States. Yan Guo-xing


January 2020