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Home Our Volunteers Stories Generous Teacher Inspires Student to Life of Service

Generous Teacher Inspires Student to Life of Service

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The inspiring story of Lee Li-se began when she was a student in fourth grade at a primary school in central Taiwan more than 50 years ago. The daylight was fading, class had ended and Lee was standing at the end of a line of students; her teacher walked past and discreetly slipped three five New Taiwan dollar coins into her pocket. “Bring the money to your mother,” she said.

The teacher, Ms Chen Cui-qiong, repeated this act every month, to help Li-se’s mother pay for her tuition fees. She was able to pass the entrance exam into middle school; she was inspired to follow Ms Chen’s example and become a teacher. She remained in this profession until her retirement in 2007 and took a special interest in children with special needs. Since then, she has devoted her energies to the Tzu Chi Foundation, becoming a commissioner at the end of 2001. Age has not tired her desire to serve.

Three Coins Sowed the Seed of Compassion

Li-se comes from a poor family of eight people who lived in a cramped thatched cottage with less than 10 square meters of space. At the beginning of every month, her mother borrowed money from others in order to pay for her tuition. Realizing what was going on, Teacher Chen secretly gave money to her to give to her mother, so she could use it to pay back what she had borrowed. This was a routine that was repeated every month.

The three coins represented soil, rain water and the rays of the sun; they silently nourished the heart of Li-se’s heart. This led her to take a vow and become a teacher like Ms. Chen, a teacher with wisdom and compassion. At middle school, she studied hard and earned a scholarship each semester. Combining this with her wage as a laboratory assistant, she managed to pay the NT$400 school registration fee herself; this provided some financial relief for her family. After several years, she came to realize that she was the first and only work-study student at the school. The teachers had came up with this carefully thought-out plan in order to protect her dignity and self-esteem.

Blessed with this abundant love and her strong self-control, Li-se advanced on the journey to achieve her ambition to become a teacher. After graduating from the Teachers' Academy in 1977, she was a teacher at Shi Dong Elementary School until her retirement in 2007. For 30 years, she maintained the spirit of giving and worked hard to be a competent teacher.

Repaying Teacher's Kindness by Educating Others

Throughout her career, Li-se had many opportunities to interact with students with special needs. In order to understand and teach them better, she studied educational psychology at National Taiwan Normal University. With the knowledge she acquired, she took on more responsibilities in teaching such children.

When a student had difficulties coming to school, she would go to his house every morning to collect him. If a student was hyperactive, she would accompany him every morning to play sports for half an hour to exhaust some of his energy. Fellow teacher Chang Su-hsia was amazed by her spirit of sacrifice. She said in admiration: "when faced with special-needs students, Ms. Lee was the always the first to take on the responsibility to educate those who are hardest to teach, and these children adapted well after being taught by her."

Xie Ji-hua, whose child is in a Tzu Chi kindergarten, was taught by Li-se in elementary school. Expressing her gratitude, she said: "because my brain was slow to react, I sometimes did not understand what was being taught in class. During the two years when Ms. Lee was my teacher, she would bring me back to her home after school to give me extra tutoring."

Joining Tzu Chi Softens Teacher's Heart

Initially, Lee Li-se was only making charitable donations to Tzu Chi. In 1995, after an invitation from fellow teacher Hsiao Chun-mei, she joined the Tzu Chi Teachers Association. "Joining the Teachers Association was something different for me,” she said. “Previously, I supposed I was a very strict teacher. Every time I was in charge of student counseling for the week, the students were very well-behaved. There is no doubt I loved the children. Under the influence of Master Cheng Yen's wisdom, I finally realized that I could be more gentle and kind at times."

Enriched by the Dharma, she became actively involved in the Teachers Association. In addition to promoting the teaching of Jing Si Aphorisms at school, she also introduced Tzu Chi to her colleagues. In 1999, when a massive earthquake struck on September 21, Shi Dong Elementary was the only school in Taipei to suffer damage. Li-se inspired her colleagues to participate in an event for Nantou Guo Xing Elementary School, to raise money to rebuild the damaged school. Fellow teacher Chen Yan-jun recalled: "at that time, we often used our days off to go to Nantou with Ms. Lee, to interact with the students there and to encourage the teachers."

Subsequently, many teachers joined the Tzu Chi Teachers Association. Later, they formed the "Shi Lin Tian Mu Community Parent-Children's Class", through which they served the local community for 20 years.

Extending Love after Realizing the Impermanence of Life

In 2000, Lee Li-se fell sick; it was suspected that she had leukemia. Fortunately, it turned out that the diagnosis was incorrect. As a result, she realized the impermanence of life and determined to expand the range of her compassion. She trained to become a Tzu Chi commissioner and was certified at the end of 2001.
After the experience of sickness and hardship, she joined the Bone Marrow Donation Care Group with a heart filled of gratitude. She accompanied bone marrow donors and recipients and was also involved in advocacy campaigns. She encouraged her students to do charity and threw her energy into this life-saving movement.

She contributed her time and energy to volunteer activities, including visits to care recipients, recycling, the Teachers Association and preparing food. She was greatly influenced by all the help and support she received from her students and fellow teachers.

When Typhoon Morakot struck Taiwan, she felt Master Cheng Yen's compassion and wisdom even more strongly when she visited the victims at Lin Bian. She always reminds herself: "when helping others, is it what they need that matters most or what we want to give them?" When she cares for bone marrow recipients or the elderly who live by themselves, she treats them with all her heart, like members of her own family.

Li-se and her fellow volunteers often visit the elderly who live by themselves. They help to clean their house, massage them and comb their hairs. They often chat and laugh together. However, when she discovers that they have not been taking their medication regularly, the elderly will look at the "teacher" awkwardly, like a child who has done something wrong. She and the volunteers then help to separate the medicines into small containers and remind the elderly to remember to take them on time.

On one occasion, she was looking after an elderly man who had psoriasis, a skin disease. Her eldest son followed her to his house every other day to help him apply medicine on his skin. After a long period of care and companionship, the man came to trust Li-se like his own family.

Spreading the Seeds of Charity to the Next Generation

"I am willing to devote my life to students and education,” she said. Since retiring in 2007, she has returned to school to become a volunteer counselor. She also helps to promote the "Da Ai Mother" campaign at school. This campaign organizes activities including recycling education and anti-drugs advocacy.

During this time, she experienced the loss of loved ones; she again realized that nothing can stop the impermanence of life. With the support of her tolerant and understanding husband, Chen Jing-de, she focuses all her time and energy in helping others; she does not want to waste a second of her life.

In 2011, the Tzu Chi Tian Mu Community Chapter established the "New Seed Education Class" for local children. Utilizing her 30 years of teaching experience, Li-se helped children from backgrounds similar to hers. She also managed to get her colleagues, students and parents to volunteer as well; together they form a strong and competent tutoring team.

This busy volunteer schedule keeps the phone in her house ringing. Despite that, in 2012, she took on even more responsibilities: she became the Coordinator
of the community core planning volunteers. She reaches out to people in the local community, establishing good relationships with them and spreading seeds of compassion wherever she goes.

This is not the end of the teacher's story! Through her sincere efforts in helping students, she has formed an unbreakable bond between her and her students. Students she has taught now bring their children to the community's parents-children class to learn from "Grandma" and continue their good relationships.

One of them, Hsu Zhen-feng, put it: "we are following the teacher's footsteps. She has passed down the seed of compassion to us, to pass on to our next generation." In this way, the virtuous cycle of kindness and compassion will continue for ever.

(Written by: Lin Jing-yi in Taipei 2013/01/16)
 

" Material objects were meant to be tools for us to use. Yet, lacking wisdom, we are perpetually discontent, and we thus become enslaved by material objects. "
Jing-Si Aphorism

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