You might have seen them — small armies of T-shirt clad volunteers doing everything from collecting money for disaster relief to helping out at seniors homes to picking up garbage in natural spaces across the city. These volunteers from the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation Canada, also known Tzu Chi Canada, have a goal to help where they can, typically with very little recognition or thanks. To find out what drives this charitable organization, Lifetime had some questions for Tom Torng, director of public relations for the foundation, founded in Taiwan in 1966 by a female nun, Cheng Yen.
Q: Why was it important for Gary Ho to create the Canadian chapter of the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation?
A: Before Mr. Ho and Mrs. Ho migrated to Canada, both of them volunteered with Tzu Chi Foundation in Taiwan for many years. Master Cheng Yen, told Mr. Ho, “While you stand under Canada’s sky, stand upon Canada’s land and enjoy Canada’s resources, you should give back to the community.” Therefore, Mr. Ho established Tzu Chi Foundation' s Canada chapter in 1992.
Q: When did the Vancouver office start?
A: In 2000, Tzu Chi Canada moved its national head office to the current location in Vancouver. Under this office, there are five volunteer service districts — Vancouver, Burnaby, Richmond, Surrey and Coquitlam — in the Greater Vancouver Area and one sub-chapter office in Toronto.
Q: How many members/volunteers does the Vancouver office have?
A: Currently, Tzu Chi Canada has over 40,000 donors and 2,200 volunteers across Canada. Among them, more than half are living in the Greater Vancouver Area.
Q: How do volunteers help?
A: In food banks, they help food sorting and distributions. In senior residences, they run all kinds of activities for senior residents. In schools, they help run the breakfast programs. In shelters, they hold winter gift events and so on.
Q: How do volunteers help seniors?
A: Our volunteers usually provide services at senior residences, totaling 37 in Canada, like chatting, exercise, tea/coffee serving, entertainment, nail painting.
Q: Why is it important to help the environment on top of everything else the volunteers do?
A: Even though Tzu Chi Foundation's initial mission is "charity," environmental protection is also an important mission master Cheng Yen cares about. Master said we need to protect our Mother of Earth as global warming has caused many disasters, flooding, drought, wildfire around the world and the situation is getting worse. More and more people are suffering from the disasters. More and more lives and property are lost. Unless we protect the earth and environment, the suffering cannot be eased.
Q: Can anyone volunteer or do they have to be a Buddhist?
A: Even though Tzu Chi Foundation is Buddhist-based, master Cheng Yen said that religion should not stop people from joining us to do good deeds. And the philosophy of Tzu Chi Foundation is to help people in need beyond the limit of geography, culture, language, politics, religion and colour of skin. Therefore, we welcome everyone to become our volunteers no matter what kind of religious belief you have. That is why all our volunteers in Turkey and Jordan Chapters are Muslim. There are more than 7,000 female volunteers in our South America chapter and they are all Christian.