Tzu Chi Offers Free Medical Care for Myanmar Monks

South El Monte Health Center  |  November 21, 2022
Tzu Chi volunteers registered the monks to provide them with free medical services. Photo/Shuli Lo

Written by: An Tai Lee
Translated by: Hong (Ariel) Chan
Edited by: Patrick McShane

At noon on October 11th, 2022, the Tzu Chi South El Monte Health Center welcomed a group of special guests. Myanmar Monks from all corners of America and the world visited the Center for free and holistic medical care provided by Tzu Chi’s dedicated staff and volunteers. These monks were in town to attend the annual Pathan and Pavarana Ceremonies at the Azusa Myanmar Buddhist Temple in Southern California. This year, 43 monks attended the ceremony. 

Tzu Chi Cares for Myanmar

Unlike the hot and dry weather Los Angeles experiences year-round, Myanmar, located in Southeast Asia, has three distinct seasons throughout the year. From June to September, the tropical nation experiences the rainy season. During this time, monks can only recite scriptures and meditate inside the temple. After the rainy season is over, they often gather to discuss the way of Buddhism. Pavarana is a ceremony that brings them together to discuss and share Buddhism, traditionally held at the end of the annual monsoon season. Pathan is a more arduous ceremony held at the same time, during which all 43 attending monks use a relay method to take turns reciting scriptures for 30 minutes each over eight days (or 192 hours straight).

Tzu Chi volunteers welcome guests from far away. Photo/Shuli Lo
Myanmar monks were excited to attend this annual event. Photo/Shuli Lo

Around 1 PM, 8 monks arrived at the front door of Tzu Chi South El Monte Health Center. They were elated to attend this annual event, and what excited them most was receiving medical services at Tzu Chi. Though most are originally from Myanmar, the monks that visited the heath center reside in monasteries across across America. They do not have a daily income, instead relying entirely on the kind donations of others. As such, most of them lack medical insurance, especially insurance related to optometry. Additionally, they do not speak English and lack a Burmese-speaking doctor with whom they can communicate. They were all in need of checkups and hoped to receive medical services. When they found out that Tzu Chi is a Buddhist medical organization that offers free and holistic services, they became especially excited to attend this free clinic event.

The medical center has close to ten workers, including Western Medicine doctors, Optometrists and Opticians, nurses, and other volunteer medical staff. They respectfully provided health checks for monks, from checking weights to blood pressure and blood checks, internal medicine to ophthalmology, as well as basic photometry and intraocular pressure tests along with subsequent glasses making. All of the Tzu Chi medical center staff members were energetic and honored to serve the monks. They lovingly and efficiently provided the necessary medical services for the monks, filling the medical center with joy and warmth. 

Tzu Chi Medical Foundation Board Director Dr. William Keh and Dr. Mengjie Lin participated throughout this free clinic event. They provided Western medicine health checks, blood tests, and eye check-ups for the visiting monks.

Medical volunteers provided eye check-ups for visiting monks. Photo/ Shuli Lo

Dr. Lin said: “Due to lack of proper health care and maintenance, most monks have eye issues. They experienced nasolacrimal duct obstruction, conditions with blurry visions, inflammation of the conjunctiva or lacrimal sac, or even the phenomenon of inverted eyelashes, which significantly affect their daily lives. Tzu Chi South El Monte Health Center provided free eye drops and other eye medicine for them, and free optometry as well as glass-making services. By offering preventive treatment ahead of time, we can prevent these small issues from accumulating into big problems.”

Today is a special day. Myanmar monks gather in Southern California, and many monks among them have been with us a few times, showing trust and affirmation for our services. We are elated to provide service to them as well.

Elated and Grateful Monks

During the check-up, the eldest monk among them, Master Zanita, donated $500 USD to support Tzu Chi Medical. This is his second visit and donation. His donation is not only to give back in gratitude for Tzu Chi’s annual free medical services for Myanma monks but also to support Tzu Chi’s inexpensive or free medical services for low-income and uninsured members of the community. 

Zanita shared: “I hope to do something for Tzu Chi, not only last year, this year, or next year. I want to do it every year, hoping that my little support can help Tzu Chi’s future development. I received a pair of glasses here last year, which was great. I wear it every day now and read many scriptures with these glasses.”

Tzu Chi volunteers guide a monk into an exam room. Photo/ Shuli Lo
Tzu Chi volunteer checks a monk’s blood pressure. Photo/ Shuli Lo

Another Master, Unanda Tharya, is an old friend of Tzu Chi. He came to the clinic from Seattle, Washington. After getting to know Tzu Chi, he comes every year for medical services, and over the years he has come to know the spirit of Tzu Chi as well as its contributions to the world. When he discovered that one of his pupils is a Tzu Chi member, he became a donor. He has been donating $10 USD in support of Tzu Chi’s efforts each month for three or four years.

Unanda Tharya praised Tzu Chi: “I believe that Tzu Chi’s services are in line with what Buddhism calls ‘helping in action.’ As such, I want to be a part of it. I am grateful for Tzu Chi volunteers and medical volunteers’ immense contribution. I hope to contribute more in the future, grow with Tzu Chi, and help more individuals.” 

After their check-ups, the monks spoke of the joy they felt after such comfortable medical exams and convenient translation services. They enjoyed speaking with knowledgeable and talented doctors and were grateful after receiving their own pair of glasses. Tzu Chi South El Monte Health Center is filled with love and altruism, and it strives to spread the core of this spirit to the local community and world.

Help Tzu Chi’s medical outreach serve the community and those in need by donating in support of our efforts.