Tzu Chi Health and Wellness Fair: To Serve and Be Served

Tzu Chi Medical Foundation  |  November 25, 2019
Dr. Lawrence Lai providing dental treatment to people in need at Tzu Chi’s Community Health and Wellness Fair

Translated by Audrey Cheng and Monique Kuo
Photos provided by Mary Keh
Edited by Monique Kuo & Adriana DiBenedetto

The United States is one of the world’s largest importers and exporters. The significance of its trade is undeniable, and its GDP and per capita GDP top the charts. One might ask what Tzu Chi Medical Foundation could do for such a  country.

Originally founded in Taiwan in 1966, the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation’s footprint of humanitarianism in the United States began with the establishment of Tzu Chi USA in 1984. Stephen Huang, the  CEO of the USA Chapter at the time, endeavored to promote the four missions of Tzu Chi: charity, medicine, education, and humanity. 

Preliminary research on the local communities’ medical needs was conducted. One of the findings revealed that approximately 75% of new immigrants in Southern California faced obstacles in finding jobs given the language, culture, and transportation barriers. This resulted in an inability to obtain health insurance, which produced a serious social burden. Matters surrounding the lack of medical insurance was exacerbated through the wide range of different ethnicities as well as the disparity between the wealthy and the underprivileged within communities. Even though the United States held a leading power in the world, it failed in this realm to effectively promote universal health care. From the study conducted, Tzu Chi recognized that health care for poor and vulnerable populations would be exceptionally challenging to obtain when these individuals fell ill.

A Day of Gratitude and Care

Since Tzu Chi Medical Foundation’s establishment in 1993, Community Health and Wellness Fairs have served low-income individuals and families twice per year, each April and November. Tzu Chi Medical Foundation invites underinsured and uninsured people to seek free medical care. The services include physical check-ups, physician consultations, acupuncture from TCM practitioners, dentistry, ophthalmology, blood work on-site, cancer screenings, and flu shots. 

At these health fairs, not only are preventative care with the complementary strengths of Western and Chinese medicine provided, but also health education workshops to ensure patients obtain holistic health care and health-related information. To reach remote communities for more people to benefit from such health fairs, Tzu Chi Medical Foundation partnered with other well-known charitable organizations like local churches, the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, and the Home of the Wanderers. Such a health fair offers an opportunity for people who can’t afford expensive medical bills to receive treatment and care. In addition to English, physicians and volunteers can interact with patients in Chinese, Spanish, Vietnamese, and other languages.

Dr. Jung Yuan Chi, a retired Chinese physician, has taken every opportunity to volunteer and serve patients. With a smile on his face, Dr. Chi feels like he’s home every time he volunteers at health fairs. He is grateful that Tzu Chi Medical Foundation provides this platform for whoever would like to contribute their professional knowledge and skills to serve people in need.

One voice might not be loud enough, but with a united front, anything is possible, including spreading love and care to people in need. I have witnessed so many Tzu Chi volunteers devoting themselves endlessly, even when they were exhausted and aching. Some of them suffered severe back pain and had to hold onto the edge of the car door to slowly get themselves into their cars. I felt so touched and grateful for their commitment to serve! The organization of community health and wellness fairs is absolutely necessary since it is the day for Tzu Chi Medical Foundation to express our deepest gratitude to these volunteers and a day for Tzu Chi Medical Foundation to take great care of these volunteers and ensure their health.

On Nov. 1, 2012, Tzu Chi Medical Foundation’s permanent clinics started holding such health fairs dedicated to the care of Tzu Chi volunteers. Many of these volunteers who were retired or worked full-time as volunteers did not have medical insurance, yet, they didn’t want to use Tzu Chi’s limited resources by going for free medical care provided by the clinics. They always put other, more-vulnerable people’s needs ahead of their own. Tzu Chi Medical Foundation thus decided to have a day of free medical care for Tzu Chi volunteers to show their boundless gratitude for all that they do, and ensure they know “the health of the volunteers is the greatest fortune of Tzu Chi.”

Volunteer Elaine Wang always takes great care when serving others. She is often too busy to allow her own hardships to surface. At this health fair, however, Dr. Chi was able to release her shoulder and neck pain with a massage and acupuncture. She felt considerable relief, and expressed her thanks for being able to receive free treatment at a meaningful health fair event so she can continue to serve those in need. 

The annual Community Health and Wellness Fair is not only for Tzu Chi volunteers, but is also open for the public. At a typical health fair, such as the one held on Nov. 10, 2019, within four hours, 164 people benefited from various treatment and health education workshops. Well-organized floor planning is one of the key elements to success at such a health fair, as well as pre-event preparation and orientation. It takes months of planning to recruit professional volunteers, such as doctors and nurses, and logistics volunteers, to ensure all treatment stations are staffed properly. Sometimes, volunteers with more experience are assigned to pair up with less experienced volunteers to help train future generations of volunteers.  

Another Tzu Chi volunteer, Sister Mary Keh, has been instrumental in the process of successfully recruiting volunteers for health fairs. She was deeply grateful to see so many professional and logistics volunteers take time out of their busy schedules to attend the health fair to empower more people in need to receive care. She said that she was also very thankful to Sun Labs and Walgreens for extending their support to Tzu Chi Medical Foundation for 25 years. Walgreen’s manager, Simon Lin, brought his wife and three children to volunteer that day, and hoped to serve at Tzu Chi Academy as well in the coming year.

Medical Care for Everyone

San Gabriel City Council Member Chin Ho Liao commended Tzu Chi Medical Foundation’s work during his opening speech:

Tzu Chi Medical Foundation has been providing free medical services for 26 years. Today, many patients with Medicare came to the health fair because some clinics and doctors won’t accept their white card. Fortunately, Tzu Chi provides medical services to these patients.

David, a 67-year-old patient, is still waiting for approval of his white card. Three weeks ago, he woke up and felt his face was paralyzed; he couldn’t even drink water without it dripping from his mouth. He heard about the Nov. 10th health fair from a friend, and although he’d never heard of Tzu Chi Medical Foundation before, he decided to give it a try. He was given acupuncture at the event and expressed feeling quite at ease after treatment. 

Another patient, Mr. Chang, hoped to access Traditional Chinese Medicine for treatment. Unfortunately, however, his insurance doesn’t cover such treatment, and he can’t cover the cost, himself. Hence, he waits for Tzu Chi Medical Foundation’s health fairs to receive free acupuncture treatment.

Dr. William Keh, CEO of the Tzu Chi Medical Foundation, said, “the main purpose of today’s Community Health and Wellness Fair is to provide healthcare to whoever is underinsured and uninsured, including our volunteers. The health fair today is like other previous ones, but better because a total of ten services are provided. First, there are three specialist services, Western medicine, Chinese medicine, and dental. Next, there are three screening tests: blood tests, and colorectal and prostate cancer screenings. Besides the treatments and examinations, there are three health education workshops: Dr. Yi Jiang’s sharings on the diagnosis and treatment of eye diseases caused by diabetes, Chinese doctor, Chiao Nien Wang’s demonstrations on neck and shoulder exercises and rehabilitation, and Rebecca Pai’s lecture, “Know the 10 Signs – Early detection matters” about Alzheimer’s Disease. Finally, there are mainstream community agencies to share health information services. It gives us a total of 10 services as a means of thanking our volunteers and communities who give us a chance to serve.”

Preventative Care – Health Workshops

The workshop began with Dr. Yi Jiang, who shared ways in which one can pay attention to eye diseases and complications caused by diabetes. He also quizzed the participants with a prize provided at the end of the workshop. The interaction from participants was overwhelming, and responses were well-received by other attendees.

Dr. Yi Jiang shares information on the diagnosis and treatment of eye diseases caused by diabetes
Participants offered phenomenal responses during health workshops

Dr. Chiao Nien Wang took the time to adjust participants’ posture to reduce pressure and pain on their neck and shoulders. He also introduced “10 Perfect Exercise Movements,” accompanied by beautiful music. Everyone enjoyed practicing the movements, and the relaxation of their muscles that followed as well.

Dr. Chiao Nien Wang demonstrates neck and shoulder exercises

Dr. Peter Chen, a specialist in colorectal cancer, listened to the “A Workshop.” Given that Alzheimer’s is a disease tied to aging, and that so far, a cure has not yet been discovered, 78-year-old Dr. Chen said, “the most important thing is your attitude towards life. Everyone will go through the cycle of life. We can only try our best to find the best cure and provide our care to our relatives and friends when they are suffering. As for ourselves, we must establish good, healthy habits”. 

Dr. Peter Chen likewise used himself as an example and mentioned that he “tries to train his brain by giving lectures. [He hopes] by doing so it can delay [Alzheimer’s] from happening if it will happen.” Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most disheartening diseases for the elderly. The importance of early detection for Alzheimer’s disease was emphasized, and 10 signs were shared in the hopes of raising awareness and identifying the signs.

At the end of all the workshops, Ms. Deng shared her first experience in receiving acupuncture treatment. She had never had acupuncture before and suffers from severe back pain. When she received the treatment, she said she couldn’t feel the needles at all and felt her pain was reduced after the treatment. She has decided to continue to see Tzu Chi’s TCM doctors.

Dharma Master Cheng Yen once said, “Tzu Chi Health Fairs are not just a day of health. It is about expecting everyone to be healthy every day: To be healthy, to respect life, to be people-oriented, and to protect the health of others.” And this is, indeed, the goal Tzu Chi Medical staff and volunteers strive for.