On a Saturday afternoon, while most people are taking a break from a week of working, a group of young individuals in Ormoc are seizing their time to do volunteer works inside the Tzu Chi Great Love City.
Clad in their white uniforms, they go around the housing village, collecting recyclables from every house. They would sing the Ormoc Recycling Song, which a local Tzu Chi volunteer composed, as they walk on a neat line, following their recycling bike.
They are members of Tzu Chi Foundation’s Ormoc Youth Group. Organized in early 2017, it now has over fifty members whose ages range from thirteen to twenty-five. Tzu Chi is supporting over twenty of these children’s education. Whether it’s a college degree or a vocational course, Tzu Chi’s scholarship grant covers their miscellaneous fees and transportation allowance.
In return, Tzu Chi asks these children to volunteer in the organization’s activities inside and outside the housing village whenever they get a chance. This is in keeping with the goal of Tzu Chi’s Mission of Education, which is to give poor but deserving students a chance to finish a degree or skill that will help them raise their families from poverty while also teaching them to be compassionate toward the less-fortunate and the ailing, as well as care for the planet.
Recycling collection and segregation is just one of their many activities. They also conduct home visits to the elderly and ailing fellow villagers at the Great Love City. The young volunteers would clean their homes or give them a bath. Members of the Ormoc Youth Group also help out in the Weekend Market as well as conduct tree planting activities inside the village.
On the occasion when Tzu Chi needed volunteers to carry out its relief works, members of the Ormoc Youth are also among the first to respond to the call.
This was witnessed in the aftermath of a 6.5-magnitude earthquake that hit central Leyte on July 6, 2017. The young volunteers took turns in joining the relief effort. As many as ten youth members took part in the relief distributions every day for thirteen days.
Getting involved in such activities and exposing themselves to the teachings of Tzu Chi founder Dharma Master Cheng Yen widened these youths’ experiences and gave them a different perspective in life.
Rowegine Legaspi, 20, for instance, has changed a lot since joining the group.
Rowegine was sixteen when she began her ill vices. Influenced by her friends in Barangay Tambulilid, she took to drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes, sometimes skipping school and lying to her parents in order to attend parties.
As the eldest among four siblings, Rowegine was supposed to be her parents’ hope. But with the behavior she had picked up from her friends, they almost quit putting their hopes on her.
In 2011, Rowegine’s father had a serious asthma attack. On the same year, her mother began her medications. She has a high blood pressure.
Because of her parents’ medical needs, Rowegine was forced to stop her college education. She was studying Hotel and Restaurant Technology (HRT).
The Php300 profit that her mother gets from selling fish in the market and her father’s Php250 income from driving a tricycle combined simply cannot cover all their expenses. There were her parents’ medicines to begin with, the sustenance of her one-year-old brother, and the education of her two younger siblings to think of.
In 2013, Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) struck. When news of a housing village being put up for the typhoon survivors reached Rowegine’s family, they grew excited.
“Back in [Barangay] Tambulilid, we shared one house with eight of my husband’s siblings. We had a very small room for our family so it was a really a dream come true that we became beneficiaries of one of the houses here [in Tzu Chi Great Love City],” says 38-year-old Jenneth Estrera, Rowegine’s mother.
In Rowegine’s case, moving in at their new home was initially disconcerting. Having left behind her friends in Barangay Tambulilid, she didn’t know anyone in the new village.
But when local Tzu Chi volunteers started organizing a youth group to do volunteer activities, Rowegine was encouraged to join. In that exact moment that she chose to be part of the group, her life changed.
‘When we celebrated the Buddha Day [in May 2017], the volunteers told us that we should love our parents. That’s when I realized everything and felt sorry for my mother. I could really feel that I had been transformed. Before, I spent a lot of time with my friends. We went to the disco and got drunk. But now, I don’t go with them anymore because I realized that instead of wasting my time on those things, I will just spend it volunteering,” says Rowegine.
Jenneth was also happy to see the positive changes in her daughter’s attitude since the latter’s involvement with Tzu Chi.
“She spends time with youth volunteers now. Unlike before when she spent her time gossiping with her friends and they were not doing anything productive. Today, it’s different,” says Jenneth.
“I am thankful to Tzu Chi for giving her hope in life. Before, I was constantly angry with her because she would just lie there, sleeping and she wouldn’t listen to anything I tell her,” she adds. “Here at our home, she is the one doing the cooking, the laundry, and taking care of her siblings while I go to the market to start selling.”
Early this year, Tzu Chi also offered to support the youth members if they choose to study vocational courses.
At present, Rowegine is studying Housekeeping, a three-month course under the Technological Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA). She is studying as hard as she could so she can find a job and help her parents soon.
On her free days, and during weekends, she can be seen volunteering with Ormoc Youth Group members inside the village.
“I no longer mind how tiring it is,” says Rowegine. “What I keep in mind is that I just want to repay everything Tzu Chi has helped us with.”
As they go to visit the houses and collect recyclable materials, members of the Tzu Chi Ormoc Youth Group observe discipline and sing the Recycling Song which was an original composition by a local Tzu Chi volunteer. 【Photo by Jamaica Digo】
Members of the youth group spend their weekends meaningfully by collecting recyclables, promoting environmental protection among their fellow villagers. 【Photo by Jamaica Digo】
Youth group members bow to show their gratitude for the recyclable donations of the villagers. 【Photo by Jamaica Digo】
The young volunteers also help in sorting and putting price tags on the items being sold at the Weekend Market inside the village. 【Photo by Jamaica Digo】
From describing herself as a “party girl,” Rowegine Legaspi has turned her back behind her previous life and is now spending her free time volunteering for Tzu Chi. 【Photo by Jamaica Digo】
Rowegine Legaspi pays respect to her mother as she gets home after a day of volunteering. 【Photo by Jamaica Digo】
Rowegine Legaspi spends more time with her family now. She looks after her younger siblings while her parents are working. 【Photo by Light Li】
Realizing her parents’ hardships in raising her and her siblings from the Tzu Chi volunteers, Rowegine Legaspi is now helping with the household chores.【Photo by Light Li】
Through a scholarship grant from Tzu Chi, Rowegine Legaspi is able to enroll for a vocational course on Housekeeping. She is studying hard so that she can make her parents proud of her in the future.【Photo by Light Li】
Rowegine Legaspi grows emotional as she tells her mother “I love you” and apologizes for her past behavior. 【Photo by Light Li】