Written by Hongli Cai
Translated by H.B. Qin
Edited by Maggie Morgan
Since its inception in 1966, the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation knew there was much work to be done. Dharma Master Cheng Yen’s team had humble beginnings with just six women taking on the world’s suffering in its many forms. The relationship between illness and poverty was clear, and the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation started providing free medical care to impoverished people in Taiwan.
Over the past 56 years, that team of six has transformed into a network of 8,600 physicians and health professionals who make up the Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA). Throughout the past half-century, the medical care recipient count has climbed to over 2 million, expanding across the globe. The Tzu Chi Medical Foundation is the U.S. branch of the initiative, getting its start in 1993 when its free clinic broke ground in California. From that time on, Tzu Chi Medical has been holding regular free clinics for low-income families from coast to coast.
Communities Rejoice: In-Person Free Clinics Return
The pandemic rippled into every part of Tzu Chi’s charitable efforts, including the quarterly free clinics offered. On March 27, 2022, after a grueling two-year hiatus, Tzu Chi Medical held its first free, appointment-only clinic in San Bernardino, California. The community was eager to have the services restored as 50 volunteers tackled 40 appointments throughout the day.
One patient, Yadira Arana, came to the clinic to address her diabetes and high blood pressure. Though in-person services were suspended, Tzu Chi Medical was still able to help Yadira, regularly mailing her medication for the past two years. Yadira, beyond gracious for the foundation’s efforts, said, “The (volunteers) gave me medicine for both diseases. Thank you to everyone who has helped me, for people like us who have no identity documents and no medical (insurance), such free clinics have helped us a lot.”
Tzu Chi East Los Angeles’ volunteer team leader, Cizhi Zhang, and Medical Officer, Yuyan Lin, recounted the way Tzu Chi Medical was able to secure a space for the March 27, 2022 clinic in San Bernardino. In November of last year, the team met with San Bernardino School District’s Superintendent and relayed the message that Tzu Chi was prepared to hold free medical clinics in addition to distributing fruits and vegetables.
This offer caught the Superintendent by surprise as the pandemic was still in full swing; no matter the state of the world, Tzu Chi was still ready and willing to hold free clinics in the underserved area. The Superintendent agreed to make the space available immediately and then graciously allowed Tzu Chi to use the school’s facilities, tables, chairs, sound system, and equipment for the recent free clinic.
Tzu Chi Medical held another free clinic on the same day in Cupertino, Northern California. At the second event, 56 health care workers and volunteers provided medical services to 30 people who had made appointments in advance.
Caring for Communities Post-Pandemic
The Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation did not let its mission falter as COVID-19 continued to present obstacle after obstacle. Our teams cover the entire globe with compassion and they stopped at nothing to continue care in any way possible.
Volunteers organized and worked drive-thru food distributions, held fundraisers for tornado survivors, and donated cash cards to those in financial crisis. The pandemic placed new challenges on our protocols and programming, and our volunteers rose to the occasion. The principles and values that the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation was first created with remain inherent in its practices today. During a time of fear and uncertainty, our teams continued to push forward with the same fervor and love they carried with them before the pandemic, perhaps even more so.
Dharma Master Cheng Yen eloquently reflected the idea of this important duty in a September teaching:
“People of the world must take on the work of caring for the world. Since we live in this world, when disasters happen, we must contribute our strength to support the world so it does not crumble. With our feet steadfast on the ground, we shoulder the weight of the world. As long as we have this aspiration, we will have the strength.”