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Tzu Chi Volunteers Inspire Eco-Friendly Practices in India

When you arrive in Bihar, your eyes will marvel at an endless array of litter, accompanied by incessant honking horns and buzzing flies hovering over bustling street vendors serving an unending stream of delicious snacks. Amidst this, you might accidentally encounter the occasional cow dung and its pungent odor; the seemingly chaotic and noisy ambiance challenges our preconceived notions about this ancient civilization, which thrived as early as 3,000 BC.

Bodhgaya, India. In Italy, the best “morning call” comes from the aroma of coffee; in the Netherlands, one can bask in the sea of flowers, which brings tranquility throughout the day. How about Bodh Gaya, in Bihar province in eastern India? What experiences await your senses there?

In India, there is one essential gesture to learn – greet others with a respectful “Namaste” (a gesture of folded hands). This simple and courteous way of saying hello and inquiring about the other’s well-being inevitably draws a kind-hearted response in return.

Happiness through Giving

On the morning of July 15th, Tzu Chi volunteers from Singapore and Malaysia greeted the local villagers with warm “Namaste” gestures, especially in Bakraur Colony. They were continuing their environmental efforts from the previous Saturday (7/8) under the Tamarind tree, teaching the villagers about recycling.

On the morning of July 15th, Tzu Chi volunteers from Singapore and Malaysia returned to the Tamarind tree, once again teaching the villagers of the Shepherds’ Village about recycling. (Photo by Yeh Jin-hong; India; 2023/7/15)

The main focus of the day was to create “Eco Bricks” – encouraging the villagers to collect non-biodegradable plastic waste, such as candy and biscuit wrappers, and stuff them into bottles. This method not only reduces waste but also prevents environmental pollution.

Young and old volunteers, whether they joined willingly or were convinced to help, happily engaged in sorting newspapers and cutting up materials to be placed inside the plastic bottles. Although they could not communicate through language, body language, and gestures bridged the gap, leading to shared laughter and camaraderie.

One individual stood out from the crowd. Due to congenital limb deformities, he could not sit on the large plastic sheet with the others; he worked from a modified tricycle. Volunteer Lee Li Hua (李麗華) gave him a chance and explained the process of making the Eco Bricks in English. He immediately picked up the scissors, using his left hand to cut. When Lee suggested that he did not need to cut them so small, he quickly adjusted and said, “OK.”

Malaysian Tzu Chi volunteer Lee Li-hua (left) guided Vene, who has a physical disability in his legs, to cut plastic and packaging materials into small pieces to be placed inside plastic bottles, creating eco-bricks. (Photo by Chu Hsiu-lien; India; 2023/7/15)

This person was Vinay Kumar, a 30-year-old who lived with his mother and three brothers. Despite appearing older than his actual age, Vinay has acquired many languages through interaction with tourists at the Sujata Temple – he could speak not only Hindi and English but also Thai and Japanese. Impressive!

Vinay earned a meager income by offering simple translation services; he also received government subsidies to make ends meet. Local volunteer Vivek Kumar joked that he feared Vinay might steal his job due to his multilingual abilities; this lightened the atmosphere and brought laughter from everyone.

In this relaxed ambiance, people worked and chatted without pressure. Vinay kept cutting with his left hand until it was time for the volunteers to wrap up. He wholeheartedly supported the environmental initiatives led by the volunteers in the village, including the previous mass cleaning activities and educational programs for the next generation. All these efforts contribute to making their community a better place.

The volunteers led a massive cleaning effort in the Bakraur Village and hung up plastic banners with the message that those who litter lose blessings, while those who pick them up gain blessings. (Photo by Yeh Jin-hong; India; 2023/7/15)

Far away, a little boy in a blue shirt was taught to count the number of plastic bottles on the ground by Malaysian Tzu Chi volunteer Huang Xiaoqing (黃曉清). The boy diligently counted, struggling a bit with the English numbers; but, after several attempts, he memorized them. The volunteers praised him as a “Good Boy,” and he smiled proudly at this positive reinforcement.

At another point, an elderly man known as Biggu, who helped saw bamboo, came over; he complained of foot pain and sat down. It turned out he had stepped on a nail. Volunteer Ye Zhen-zhu (葉真珠) asked him to lift his foot — but years of walking on rough surfaces had darkened the soles of his feet and made it impossible to identify the injured area and its severity.

Ye went to the nearby Senani Samaj Seva Ball Jagrup School to fetch water. There she meticulously cleaned Biggu’s foot soles and gently dried them with tissue. During the process, she noticed a wound near the base of his third toe, which showed signs of potential inflammation.

Malaysian Tzu Chi volunteer Ye Zhen-zhu thoroughly washed the soles of Biggu’s feet and used tissue to dry them before examining the injury on his foot. (Photo by Yeh Jin-hong; India; 2023/7/15)

After discussing the situation, the volunteers decided to take him to a local clinic after connecting with the Jing Si Abode in Hualien, Taiwan, later that day. However, when they arrived in the afternoon, Biggu was fast asleep, reeking of alcohol. They could not wake him, so they had to give up on their plan. They hoped the alcohol would act as a disinfectant to prevent tetanus but this was not a good solution. The volunteers warned others not to follow this method.

Throughout their journey in Bodh Gaya, Tzu Chi volunteers have experienced the joy of giving and connecting with the local community, even in the face of challenges and communication barriers.

Volunteers with Sincere Compassion

In Bakraur Village, two newly motivated volunteers, Gaina Manjhi and Malo, were greeted by an early arrival at the recycling site under the big tree. It was none other than Jaydish Manjhi, an elder in the village. Last week, when the volunteers visited his home to show concern, they found him intoxicated. So today, upon their arrival, the volunteers cautiously approached and sniffed to check for any sign of alcohol. Jaydish quickly waved his hand and shook his head, indicating that he had not been drinking. Satisfied with the lack of alcohol odor, the volunteers nodded in confirmation.

Gaina Manjhi (center) and Jaydish (right) worked together, earnestly explaining the process to their fellow villagers and using the bottles they had prepared. (Photo by Chu Hsiu-lien; India; 2023/7/15)

Jaydish then cheerfully crouched down to join a team led by Malaysian volunteer Lai Han-xin (賴漢心). Earlier, villagers had accidentally flattened plastic bottles meant for making eco-bricks. Lai was using a stick to repair them. Jaydish followed her lead, stuffing plastic into the bottles, and he seemed to be in much better spirits.

Among the Singaporean and Malaysian volunteers, Lai is known for her calm and composed demeanor. Whenever there is a need for a stand-in, she proactively steps in without anyone having to call for assistance. She is a natural at recycling work. Lai pointed out that the value of the recyclables collected by the villagers was limited, but it was essential to encourage them to participate.

“Though it might be challenging at first, we must take the first step.” At 6:40 a.m., she, along with the “advance team” of Kuo Yu-mei (郭玉梅), Ye Zhen-zhu, and Huang Xiao-xiao, arrived at Bakraur Colony. Together with Malo and Jaydish, they combined exercise with recycling, reaping benefits from both

Malaysian Tzu Chi volunteer Lai Han-xin (left), an accomplished stand-in volunteer, was guiding Jaydish (right) in making eco-bricks. (Photo by Yeh Jin-hong; India; 2023/7/15)

In contrast, Lai reflected on the abundance of clothes piled up in Malaysia that await sorting. Fast fashion trends have led to the rapid production of inexpensive garments; as a result, many people buy and discard clothing without even removing the tags. However, in this village, residents might wear the same dirty clothes for several days;  it was commonplace to see men bare-chested and young children running around naked

Lee Li-hua (left) gathered the villagers, Vene, and local volunteer Vikash (second from the right), advising them to take the lead in motivating other villagers and purifying their homeland. (Photo by Chu Hsiu-lien; India; 2023/7/15)

At the age of 67, Lai Han-xin keenly felt the urgency of Tzu Chi volunteers‘ efforts to transform the Buddha’s Homeland. “Time was never enough,” she said. “You must come and experience it, to truly understand these auspicious conditions.”

As she prepared to return home next Monday, she wanted to encourage more volunteers to come and experience the environment and people of this sacred place, to reciprocate the Buddha’s kindness with sincere compassion. This way, they could put the Buddha’s heart at ease, fulfilling their role as disciples and Tzu Chi members without any regrets.

Kindling Compassion, Uniting Our Strength

After organizing the recyclables, the volunteers’ work was not complete. They were about to return to Bakraur Colony to spread the message door-to-door, demonstrating how to fill the plastic bottles for making eco-bricks and encouraging the villagers to join the cause.

Wearing their volunteer vests, Gaina Manjhi and Jaydish joined them, earnestly explaining the process to their fellow villagers using the bottles they had prepared. Their good friend Akhlesh Manjhi also put on a volunteer vest – this left Ajit Manjhi feeling envious. Ajit, like many other enthusiastic villagers, had always shown keen interest whenever the volunteers visited. However, due to his occasional drinking and gambling habits, he was undergoing a “probationary observation” period.

Ajit (right) really wanted to wear a Tzu Chi volunteer vest like his good friend Akhlesh. (Photo by Yeh Jin-hong; India; 2023/7/15)

That day Ajit diligently followed along, participating in waste sorting and eco-brick making. He openly admitted that he still indulged in occasional drinks and gambling; but he also shared that, before each gambling session, he would first contribute money to a donation box and encourage his gambling buddies to do the same. He questioned whether this approach was appropriate.

Nevertheless, his actions revealed a budding sense of compassion. The volunteers believed that, with sincerity, he too would eventually don the volunteer vest with joy.

After distributing the plastic bottles, Lee gathered the villagers and local volunteer Vikash to reiterate: “This is your homeland, and you are the leaders. You must take the lead in this effort.” The villagers nodded in agreement. Relying solely on one volunteer is not enough; it is essential to gather more volunteers from the local community, unite their strengths and dedicate themselves to purifying their homeland and spreading purity throughout the Buddha’s homeland.

A Jing Si Aphroism says: Only love and gratitude
can cleanse the afflictions in our hearts.

Tzu Chi: Let us make our world a better place.

The young and old villagers of Bakraur Village were following the volunteers, sorting newspapers, and cutting up materials to be placed inside the plastic bottles. Laughter could be heard from time to time. (Photo by Yeh Jin-hong; India; 2023/7/15)

Story by Chu Hsiu-lien | 2023/07/16

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