Translated By: Andrew Yang
Established in early 2017, Living Compassion is one of the charity institutions set up and run by the International Buddhism Temple. It focuses on poverty reduction, student aid and emergency relief for the needy in remote, poverty-stricken areas of mainland China, administering humanitarian aid to orphans and children otherwise without parental care and families in extreme poverty. So far the project is working in the provinces of Guangxi, Guizhou and Yunnan, with our dedicated and enthusiastic volunteers forging on in spite of huge challenges to support those in dire need. Together on this altruistic journey, our workers exemplify the spirit of compassion and loving-kindness.
In late April, Venerable Shan Zhen and I made a trip to Shenzhen for a meeting with Ren Hua, the project’s head of volunteers, and Xu Yuerong, its financial manager. We heard a detailed report from them and drew plans for future development. While excited to see them, I found that Ren Hua had lost weight and looked much more tanned. It must have been her frequent travels in the mountains. I remember that when she first joined the project, as then a high-ranking banker she clearly had the look of someone enjoying wealth and comfort. How her appearance had changed! But most important, the work performance report they delivered was amazing and truly encouraging. Here, let me share with you some of the major achievements they updated us on.
Gifting books to mark the annual Children’s Day
Every year volunteers of Living Compassion donate books to schools and children in celebration of the June 1 International Children’s Day. In what spare time they have, they carefully pick the best suitable books, busily sort through and pack them to personally put them in the mail. From start to finish it takes them a good three months. In cities where children’s books are relatively easy to come by, one may not realize how precious such gift books are to kids in these poorer or more far-off regions. As soon as they lay eyes on them, the kids simply cannot put one down before picking up another.
At the same time, to help foster virtues of compassion, gratitude and sharing, Living Compassion has set up a “reading corner” at some schools, where students look after their treasured books, and learn to circulate them while sharing reading experiences with each other. In less than two years the reading corner has flourished, helping many children to develop good reading habits. At just one school, the Longtian Primary in Guangxi, students participated in a district-wide reading contest and several of them won prizes. That pleased their teachers so much that the principal ended up creating a special lesson to focus on gratitude. The experience has taught the students to always be grateful and ready to give back by helping other people.
Critical ways to help underprivileged children get education
China’s educational authorities have in place a system called “central schools” in the countryside, which provide, for a modest fee, accommodation and meals for students coming from remote villages and where tuition is free. However, there are families unable to get their children to one of them because of poverty and the fact that they live a long distance away. To encourage parents of these households to have their children get schooling, Living Compassion is funding a need-based bed and board allowance for some of these young children.
Further, in more remote and mountainous areas, sometimes only one or two teachers teach the whole school, one of those “non-central” ones. Their work is made that much more challenging by resources so inadequate that even drinking water is a problem. To help, Living Compassion contributes water dispensers, bookshelves, books and other supplies, and its volunteers keep in constant contact with these teachers to monitor the welfare of their school. On top of that, some teachers now receive a stipend in their salary from Living Compassion.
Moreover, for a lack of resources and limited family income, children from far-off and mountainous hamlets are disadvantaged in basic schooling. Many find it hard to continue once they finish junior high, when the government-funded nine-year compulsory education program ends, and even high-achieving students drop out because their parents are no longer able to support them. At these pivotal moments in their schooling, Living Compassion volunteers delve into the specific problems these students face and offer timely counselling and support, so they may go on to a suitable program, either academic or vocational. The few defrauded students get prompt intervention to avoid losses, and many who did drop out receive valuable assistance to return to school, as our volunteers work tirelessly to locate appropriate courses and programs that fit their individual needs. In this fashion, Living Compassion supports destitute families in practical but vital ways to ensure their kids’ education.
Visiting as many families as possible to uplift them with positive energy
In recent years China has seen a rapid growth in its economy, and the government has attached increasing importance to poverty alleviation and narrowing the gap between rich and poor. Yet friends wonder why there are still so many families in need of help. To find out, one of the things our project volunteers consistently do is making sure to visit in person the needy households that are the remotest. To reach them, naturally, the roads are rugged and the going tough. They spend days on the road skipping many a meal and sometimes sleep, hoping to fully grasp the kind of deprivation confronting these hard-to-reach, hard-up families.
By conducting face-to-face interviews on site, volunteers find first hand the following among reasons for cases of grinding poverty or severe handicap:
- Some families live where the land itself is barren and water scarce, or where the government needs to develop premium farmland. These families often end up growing crops of limited economic value such as sugar cane or corn in mountains with a meagre income. In these regions poverty can be wide spread.
- Particularly in hilly or mountainous areas able-bodied males often find jobs far away from home, leaving behind young children and aging parents. Some of these men, when sick, injured on the job or out of work, are unable to support their family. And at times the other parent, being unable to handle it, simply walks out on the children. Unfortunately, kids in these households do not qualify for government care or assistance as they are not orphans.
- Not a few households in outlying locales have several children instead of one, and get penalized for violating the state family planning policy. Incapable of paying fines, they fail to enjoy government benefits otherwise deserved, and their children tend to drop out early or merely stay out of school.
- There are also families that suffer from other unexpected misfortune, lose their source of income, or owe crippling debts.
Beginning in June each year, Living Compassion workers take advantage of the summer vacation to do their rounds of home visits. They strive to find out if Living Compassion aid is where most needed, how it is doing, what positive change it is bringing and whether it meets the needs of the recipient families adequately. With children, our volunteers want to ensure that they are doing OK at school, and encourage further education for them with apt counselling. And with the elderly having to bring up young grandchildren, our staff share with them advice on how to properly care for school-age kids beyond basic material needs, and build a nurturing home environment where children learn to interact with people and work hard for reachable goals.
These valuable home visits, so critical to the families, and inspiring to neighbors, villagers and their leaders as well as teachers, have significantly changed their attitudes towards children’s education, and many have taken the initiative to assist Living Compassion in its outreach. One of the schools, Daqi Primary in Guangxi, originally did not trust our volunteer staff at all. In the end its principal, deeply moved by their persistence to make a difference, has come on board and now helps recommend families to visit and guides volunteers on home visits.
Carrying forward our humanitarian cause
At our Shenzhen meeting we sincerely thanked Ren Hua for leading the many volunteers in their exemplary work and praised them for their dedication to humanity and compassion, i.e., Living Compassion’s mission. We made plans to expand our services to wider areas and for more families. Ren Hua and Xu Yuerong both affirmed that they were very honored by the recognition of and trust in their work from Venerable Guan Cheng, and assured us of their determination to forward the cause of Living Compassion.
A week after returning from Shenzhen, I received a message from Ren Hua, to inform us that they had started work on a new leg of the Living Compassion journey, searching for further cases of aid among ethnic minorities in Guilin, Guangxi and ready to embrace new challenges. Her note was thoroughly uplifting! Let us salute her and all our committed volunteers who share the Living Compassion journey with us.