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Tzu Chi Celebrates 10 Years in Las Vegas - Environmental Mission that Never Sleeps

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Environmental Mission that Never Sleeps

The Recycling Project started in Las Vegas in 2006, under the leadership of volunteer Chen Zhen-he. Huang Bao-zhen and Lin Bi-tao had the idea that a steaming hot meal of lunch would attract recycling volunteers; it received a strong response and tens of volunteers came. The recycling group became the hottest team in Las Vegas. Since the World Times Chinese newspaper management team came on board, the volunteers have collected many old newspapers, which brought in a sharp increase in recycling revenue. More importantly, the volunteers raised the environmental and sustainability awareness among the people of Las Vegas; this cannot be measured by monetary value.

The volunteers moved towards mainstream society; apart from driving around designated collection stations, they occasionally formed teams to clean the streets of local communities and recycle the waste. They also adopted national parks where this is not done by the government. The Lake Mead National Recreational Area cleaning program has been going on for two years. This has received an excellent response; patrol guards and tourists all admire the volunteers' work in conserving Mother Nature.

On December 22, 2009, Tzu Chi volunteers made their first visit to Mr Li Qin-kui and his wife. On the table there were three sets of bowls and chopsticks: one of them had a bowl of sweet rice ball dessert in front of their son's picture. The young man was smiling brightly in the photo, while the two old people wept at the table. Mrs Li sobbed: "he was born in the winter, so we named him Dong Er (the son of winter). Today we celebrate the first day of winter with him." Their son died young because of a blocked artery. The old couple who lost their son did not know English, had no friends and lived alone with their daughter; they were locked in their pain. The visiting volunteers noticed that Mr Li was limping and observed a dark, swollen infection on his thigh. Fortunately, the son of volunteer Cen Hui-yee son was a surgeon who happened to be visiting from New York. He cured Mr Li's wounds just in time. Mr Li said: “thank you for coming to cure me from New York and giving me medicine. I can't believe there are such kind people!” The volunteers replied: “thank you for giving us this chance to give.”

After three years, Mr and Mrs Li accepted the advice of the volunteers and came out of their pain-filled home. They volunteered in recycling and other charity projects in the Tzu Chi office once or twice a week. Mr Li said: "recycling is such an important project, why is the local government not promoting it? Thankfully, we have Master Cheng Yen actively promoting it and I am so happy to be part of this meaningful work at this stage of my life."
In time, their tears went away, to be replaced by smiles. When a volunteer ran over and said "hug me!", the reserved couple slowly accepted the warmth of Tzu Chi and responded in kind. Mrs Li said: "Tzu Chi is my home and the fellow volunteers are my closest family!"

Mr Li is now 80 years old but, in the Las Vegas recycling team, he is only the third oldest. He said jokingly: "the 93-year-old is the oldest, 82-year-old Mr Zai is the second oldest and I am just the third. But don't take it wrong, I am not the 'Little Third (slang for a someone who's a third party sabotaging a relationship)'. There's no age limit for recycling work, we welcome everyone to the family! Come step on the bottles and cans with us and enjoy the happiest sound of music!"

Later on, their "family" came on stage at the celebration and performed the sign language song “Love and Care for All”; many were local American volunteers. The audience applauded warmly.

When the music for the prayer song sounded, the audience showed a reluctance for the ceremony to end. This ceremony of appreciation was more than just a grade report which the volunteers presented to their community, it was also a feast of humanistic culture and music. It purified everyone's hearts from greed, fear and bad habits, encouraging the hesitant to take the leap and start doing good and show filial love and respect to their parents. Tzu Chi volunteers are grateful for the long-term support from the community in carrying their mission to purify the city of sin. May Las Vegas be known for love and not gambling in the future.

(Written by Zheng Ru-jing and reported in Las Vegas USA on October 24, 2012)