On January 1, 2005, I (Uditha Asanka Waduge ) visited a Tzu Chi medical station seeking treatment for a sore back. After working so hard in the aftermath of the tsunami, I was fatigued and required immediate treatment. At the station, I met a Taiwanese surgeon, Dr. Li Wei-che.
The doctor jokingly asked me, "You're so young, so how can you have back problems?" I explained that my younger brother, my friends, and I had been lifting people injured in the tsunami and bringing them to hospitals. We had also been busy providing lunches to victims over the past several days. All of this was more than enough to explain my serious back pain.
After talking with me, Dr. Li saw that I had the heart to help tsunami victims. Because I could speak English, he encouraged me to translate for the Taiwanese doctors at the medical station. Eager to help any way I could, I gladly returned to the medical station the very next day.
In the beginning, I didn't know exactly how to help out or how to show compassion to patients. But as I worked under the guidance of other volunteers, I gradually began to understand my duties. Although at first I had no idea how to treat a wound, I quickly picked up many first aid techniques by watching others. Now I know how to perform basic first aid and have learned the proper way to care for patients.
Despite working long hours at the clinic, I never felt tired. I think this was because there were so many people who loved me and so many people I loved in return. Because I was able to help others, I felt fulfilled. In fact, I was so preoccupied with helping others that my own back pain disappeared!
The tsunami and its aftermath came at a crucial time for me, because I was studying hard in preparation for additional schooling in Japan. I felt that it was more important to continue volunteering and helping others, so I asked my teacher to postpone my preparation classes for a few weeks.
My teacher was surprised at my request. "Why? Do you know that you only have one or two months to prepare?" I responded that I felt compelled to continue to help the victims of the tsunami, even though it meant putting my education on hold. After hearing the explanation, my teacher was very supportive. He wished me well, saying, "You can be a volunteer and study at the same time. Just go ahead and help the needy!"
From that time on, I slept only two or three hours a night. I awoke at four a.m. and studied to six. Then I would go to work at the medical station. By the time I fell back into bed at the end of the day, my feet were very sore and I was totally exhausted. I realized that I could not continue to prepare for study abroad and volunteer with Tzu Chi at the same time. It was just too much.
One evening, I told my parents, "Mom, Dad, please don't be angry, but I've decided to postpone my studies in Japan for a year or so." They were puzzled and asked me why. I explained that I wanted to continue my volunteer work with Tzu Chi. They agreed that my reasoning was sound, and they even came to the medical station to observe exactly how I spent my days.
When I informed the overseas study agency that I was postponing my studies, they warned that my decision would make things difficult for me. They pointed out that I had already signed some documents and paid tuition money up front. Despite the difficulties that faced me, I did not waver in my decision. Even if my decision meant a financial or educational setback, I deeply wanted to show my love to the victims of the tsunami.
Some people have asked why I continue to volunteer with Tzu Chi, especially considering the high personal cost. I tell them that before the tsunami, my life felt unfulfilled. Now, through my volunteer work with the foundation, I feel happy, fulfilled, and full of love. That is the driving force for my continued involvement with Tzu Chi.
I owe my newfound fulfillment to Master Cheng Yen. Because of her, Tzu Chi volunteers were able to come here, and I was given an opportunity to contribute to my people. When I saw Master Cheng Yen's photo and received Buddhist chanting beads and a necklace with a picture of a bodhisattva, I felt even stronger and more courageous.
Ever since I started my volunteer work, I have wanted to tell my people, "Please contribute your love and hospitality to the weak and needy! Provide them with food and do what you can to protect them! Use your love to do the right thing!"
Narrated by Uditha Asanka Waduge
Translated by Liou Yi-te
Source: Tzu Chi Quarterly Summer 2005
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