Devoted Volunteers Deliver Free Medical Care in Bakersfield

Tzu Chi Medical Foundation  |  October 10, 2022
Pedro Ramirez (middle), the first patient at the free clinic on August 21, 2022, brings back three months' worth of savings in the bamboo bank he received before. Photo/Shuli Lo

Written by Minyuan Lu
ZH Edited by Chenglin Li
Translated by Ariel Chan
Edited by Ida Eva Zielinska

Following the resumption of free clinics for residents in the Bakersfield area of ​​Central California in May this year, Tzu Chi USA initiated the second round of clinics on August 21, 2022. The volunteers who participated were so enthusiastic that they filled up the registration quota quickly before the start of the event. As a result, the 56-seater bus transporting volunteers to the clinic site at Golden Valley High School was full when departing, and more than 20 doctors and volunteers had to drive to the location independently.

The volunteers agree to gather at the San Gabriel Valley Service Center before dawn at 4:00 AM and collaborate on bringing water, lunch, and snacks for the team. Photo/Shuli Lo
To prevent the spread of COVID-19, volunteers must have their body temperature checked before getting on the bus. Photo/Shuli Lo

Teams Without Rehearsals and Commands

That morning, janitors at Golden Valley High School forgot the time and hurried to open the doors shortly before the bus arrived, although the free clinic area was still just a cafeteria. Tzu Chi volunteers had to rush to set up the venue as quickly as possible. After getting off the bus, they put their belongings aside and spontaneously took up their respective preparatory work without delay. There was no rehearsal, no command, and no comments. Amid laughter, they completed the clinic set up on time.

After arriving at the venue, everyone tacitly begins their respective preparatory work. Photo/Shuli Lo
Patients who arrive for dental appointments undergo a rapid COVID test, administered by Tzu Chi Medical practitioner Zhengxiang Chen. Photo/Shuli Lo

Mobilizing the Whole Family to Volunteer

The free clinic was beneficial not only to the patients but also to the volunteers who provided medical services. Dentist Dr. Phu Truong has brought his two daughters, An and Tu, to participate in free clinics for years. Having seen their parents engage in community service since they were young, the girls vow to give back to the community after they finish their studies.

Dentist Dr. Phu Troung’s two daughters, Tu (right), An (middle), and their mother (left), lend a hand at the free clinic together. Photo/Shuli Lo

An Truong has volunteered with her father since eighth grade. She, her mother, and her sister Tu helped out during registration for dental care services at this free clinic.

We’ve been working with Tzu Chi for about five years, and it’s great to see these patients get the treatment they need. My parents are from very poor communities in Vietnam and they couldn't get the medical care they needed at the time. When we heard that Tzu Chi’s free clinics can really help the residents of the community, we were very happy to volunteer and help these patients who can’t afford medical care or dental expenses to alleviate their pain and illness. Tzu Chi’s regular free clinics have helped them. I’m very happy to continue volunteering and hope to become a doctor and Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) member in the future.

Her sister Tu has volunteered with Tzu Chi for four years, usually helping with dental care registration, check-in, and check-out. She said happily, “In the future, I hope to become a doctor and still volunteer with Tzu Chi and continue to bring smiles to everyone.”

I see the smiles on patients' faces after receiving dental treatment; Tzu Chi has helped many patients with their illnesses, which is why I want to participate in more volunteer activities.

Volunteering Joyfully With Good Reason

Local volunteer Paulina Ramirez, who helped with translation, thanked Tzu Chi volunteers for coming to help disadvantaged community members without insurance and hoped that more patients would come to see a doctor next time. She was once a free clinic patient herself and was especially grateful for Tzu Chi’s care for chronic patients: “My husband has a problem with high cholesterol. You sent him medicine during the pandemic and provided such good care. Thank you, Tzu Chi, for taking care of us patients.”

Community volunteer Paulina Ramirez (front left) helps translate during patient registration. Photo/Shuli Lo

Paulina’s daughter, Berenice Lopez, is in fifth grade this year. She accompanied her mother to help with translation, simultaneously learning to overcome her shyness. When her father was getting dental treatment, she was the best bridge between her dad and the dentist. It was then that she realized it’s not hard at all to be a volunteer.

Paulina Ramirez’s young daughter, Berenice Lopez, also helps with translation. Overcoming her shyness and fear, Berenice performs exceptionally well. Photo/Shuli Lo

Bernice enjoyed her volunteer experience immensely, saying, “It’s great to be able to translate here. I just want to say thank you. Although sometimes I get nervous and a little scared, I want to tell everyone that people always help each other, so never give up. It’s not difficult to be a volunteer. As long as you get over challenges and get used to them, everything feels great.”

I just want to say I don't want you to leave! I hope you can stay and continue to help us.

Patient Noe Mojarro came to the clinic on crutches. Two years ago, he accidentally fell down some stairs and broke a bone. Although he had surgery, his ankle was still swollen and painful, so he came to seek the help of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) treatments.

I don’t have medical insurance. Because of the pain in my right foot, I came here to seek treatment. I had acupuncture and a physical examination. I strongly recommend everyone to come here to see a doctor. Tzu Chi will not charge you any fees. TCM helped my pain, and the doctors were very kind to the patients. Thank you so much.

A Traditional Chinese Medicine physician treats Noe Mojarro’s painful ankle with acupuncture. Photo/Shuli Lo

The orderliness of the free clinic left first-time participating volunteer Yang Meng in awe. She was taking her daughter to a Tzu Chi free clinic for the first time, too, and found that no matter whether doctors or volunteers, even if they had not taken part in such an event before, they organized quickly and worked in an orderly manner. This kind of environment can inspire young people and she hopes her children will continue the legacy and contribute to Tzu Chi.

Volunteers prepare a delicious lunch for the nearly 100 volunteering workers on site. Photo/Shuli Lo
Moving the large amount of equipment and gear needed for the free clinic to the site is quite difficult. Photo/Shuli Lo

Providing care takes effort, but it’s a joy when you put your heart into it and feel that warmth of compassion put into action.

Tzu Chi answers medical and charity needs in various ways through several missions. But Love is key, and your love empowers all we do.