Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation

Jun 16th
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Home Our Missions Environmental Protection Recycling for the Sick

Recycling for the Sick

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In 1997 Tzu Chi volunteers opened the Tzu Chi Dialysis Center on Penang Island to provide free services to indigent patients. Two more dialysis centers in Malaysia followed at Jitra, Kedah, and Butterworth, Penang. Tzu Chi volunteers have been collecting, sorting, and selling recyclable materials to provide operating funds for the three centers. Many people from all walks of life take part in this worthy cause. Even dialysis patients have joined in.

In the quiet community of Taman Lumba Kuda on Penang Island, some 15 people had gathered under a canopy and were sorting through recyclable garbage. They had been doing this on Monday and Wednesday evenings for about eight months, and "they are doing it with ever more energy," said Ting Sing Poh (陳馨波), the Tzu Chi volunteer who started and organized the group. Many in the group nodded their agreement. More than half of the people in the group were dialysis patients at the center.

Opening their hearts
Paying home visits to aid recipients is one of Ting Sing Poh's responsibilities at Tzu Chi. Some of her care recipients are dialysis patients. Many people on dialysis tend to lock themselves in at home and cut themselves off from society. Refusing to accept their illness, they are often depressed and give up on themselves too readily. "I thought that if I could persuade them to do recycling as a way to give of themselves, it might get them out of their blues," said Ting.

It so happened that a Tzu Chi volunteer offered a site at Taman Lumba Kuda for a recycling station, so Ting organized some dialysis patients to do recycling there. The patients were initially reluctant to commit themselves to the task. To encourage them to get more involved, Ting asked one of them to be responsible for keeping the key so they could use the site freely. That seemed to open the group up a little. More patients joined in. One day the key keeper didn't show up on time. By the time he finally got there to open the door, people had already been waiting for an hour. He was really embarrassed by his own mindlessness and dereliction of duty.

Some patients even got their families to work there. As more momentum gathered, the program was expanded, at the participants request, from once a month to twice a week. "When they are here doing recycling, they see themselves as recycling volunteers, not kidney patients, and they can forget about their illness," said Ting. This therapeutic effect of doing recycling mirrors the experience of many other Tzu Chi volunteers elsewhere whose once depressed spirits have been uplifted and drab outlook on life brightened by doing recycling.

Ooi Peng Ket (黃炳吉) comes to the Taman Lumba Kuda recycling station every day to do whatever needs doing. His enthusiasm never betrays the fact that he is a dialysis patient who not long ago isolated himself from the rest of the world by locking himself in at home. Aside from recycling, Ooi spends one to two hours every day keeping the station clean. He thinks that what he and his fellow recyclers do at the station benefits themselves, the patients at the dialysis center, more than anybody or anything else.

The Dialysis Center
One Thursday afternoon, a group of dialysis patients put on Tzu Chi volunteer vests and went around knocking on doors in a residential neighborhood near the dialysis center. They called out loud, "We work for Tzu Chi. Do you have any recyclable newspapers, bottles, or jars that we can collect?" Though their calls were mostly met with dead silence or the barking of dogs, the occasional positive responses from a house or two were enough to bring smiles to the faces of the volunteers.

Dusk was gathering by the time the group got back to the courtyard of the dialysis center with their collection of the afternoon. They went on to sort out and put everything away before calling it a day.

"The patients used to come to the center, get their dialysis treatment, and leave," said Lee Chong Hoo (李濟瑯), administrative director of the center. "They neither cared much about the equipment nor talked with the people at the center. We wanted to change that situation, so we encouraged them to pitch in and do recycling."

At the beginning of 2007, the center set up a small recycling substation outside its entrance and invited its patients to help work it. The substation, along with the recycling station at Taman Lumba Kuda, became the two magnets that drew dialysis patients together to do recycling. The neighborhood collection on Thursdays is a part of what this group does regularly.

Patient Lee Yit Meng (李一銘) was originally weak and almost bedridden. That all changed for the better after he made recycling the center of his daily routine. Nowadays, he regularly works at the recycling stations at the dialysis center and at Taman Lumba Kuda. He even gives his less mobile fellow patients scooter rides to and from the recycling stations. "Coming here beats staying at home alone any day," he commented. "I can make many friends here. We chat, shoot the breeze, and kid around. Time flies by and I'm happy here."

Loo Chuan Lee (呂泉利), another patient, was forced to stop working because of his failing eyesight, even though his family still needed his financial support. He felt inadequate and depressed. Fortunately, he rediscovered his self-esteem through recycling and through delivering aid on behalf of Tzu Chi to fellow kidney patients. Now he enthusiastically encourages other patients to join in and do their best to give.

Tan Soon Lye (陳順來), 39, had a hard time facing up to his fate of being on dialysis at such a young age, but his outlook on life brightened after he began to visit and deliver aid to the needy. Now he volunteers at the dialysis center almost every day, acting as a nurse's aide, a janitor, or whatever role he is called on to play. "There are many things that I can still do. I must cherish my own life so that I can help more people," he said with a broad smile.

As these recycling volunteers help rid the earth of its pollution, they also wipe from their own minds the mental pollutants that made them depressed, unhappy, or miserable. Recycling has transformed them from aid recipients into cheerful aid givers.

By Lai Yi-lin
Translated by Tang Yau-yang
Photographs by Yan Lin-zhao

The Beauty of the Jing Si Abode


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" It is by cultivating tolerance and humility through the affairs of daily life that we become refined in demeanor and conduct. "
Jing-Si Aphorism