Judith Casco remembers the first time she met the Tzu Chi volunteers. Clad in their blue and white uniforms and with those Chinese looks, Judith was initially dubious of their offer to help clean up their devastated village of Sto. Niño Extension.
But at that time, Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) has just passed and Tacloban City’s village chiefs like Judith are desperate for any kind of help they can get.
Her qualms about the Buddhist charity group were replaced with awe when the latter began conducting cash-for-wok cleanup program in their village. The organization provided Php500 daily to everyone who will join in the cleanup. With many hands working together, it took only three days until Judith’s village was cleared of debris. It also provided a temporary livelihood for the villagers, helping them to regain their footing.
To this day, such gesture of goodwill remains unforgettable for the villagers. More so on Judith’s part.
“If Tzu Chi had not come, I can only imagine what would have happened to our village. What would have happened to our people? They don’t have the money to buy food. As the village chief, I was really worried. The relief assistance from different groups was not arriving as fast as we had hoped,” recalls Judith, 55.
Out of gratitude, Judith began attending training seminars. In 2015, she became one of the first Tzu Chi local volunteers in Tacloban City.
Since then, Judith has been actively involved in the organization, juggling her time between her work as a village chief and Tzu Chi volunteering activities.
Listening to the teachings of Master Cheng Yen has had a significant effect on Judith’s attitude. She believes it made her a better village chief.
For instance, whenever villagers are arguing, she finds herself sharing with them Tzu Chi founder Master Cheng Yen’s teachings, eventually leading them to reconcile. To her constituents and fellow village officials, this did not slip by unnoticed.
“She has changed a lot since she got involved with Tzu Chi. Before, whenever someone gets mad at her, she would fire back. But now, she listens and instead of get angry, she would offer advices,” says Rolito Candido, 37, a village councilor.
Judith has also inspired some of her villagers to become regular donating members or volunteers to Tzu Chi. But her advocacy to draw people toward Tzu Chi doesn’t stop there because she would go as far as the next villages and shopping malls to encourage people to become donors.
“I would tell them that Tzu Chi is helping many people, some of them are their fellow villagers,” she says.
Since 2015, Tzu Chi Tacloban has been responding to the needs of disaster victims in the city as well as the neighboring towns and provinces. In addition, 34 families are currently benefitting from its Long-Term Care Assistance Program, which provides monthly rice or medicine supplies and cash aid depending on the needs of the family.
Judith has also managed to influence a change in her husband, Alex.
Alex used to be addicted to playing the lotto that he would use the income from their tricycles for his gambling habit. In 2015, Judith finally managed to convince Alex to attend a volunteers’ training seminar in Tzu Chi. That was when he heard Tzu Chi volunteers discuss using the time we were given meaningfully and staying out of ill vices.
”She [Judith] became an instrument for me to change. I realized that since I got so addicted to lotto, I haven’t been productive anymore so I thought, perhaps I should stop. I promised not to play the lotto again and until now I have kept that promise,” Alex says.
Instead of play the lotto, he has taken a different habit now. He saves his coins and money into a coin bank which he gives to Tzu Chi as donations. He also volunteers, along with his wife, whenever he has the time.
For a moment, it seemed to Judith that she had everything in her life sorted out; until she was diagnosed of a malignant breast cancer in October 2015.
At first, she couldn’t accept it. “I asked myself what I had done wrong to deserve this illness,” she says, tearfully.
But one day, she came across a book called Life Economics by Master Cheng Yen.
“There was a passage there that says when you are doing good deeds it doesn’t assure you that you will not get sick because everyone will go through the process of sickness, eventually,” she says.
Since then, she decided not to be overcome by her condition. It was a relief that Tzu Chi helped her with her needed medications. After her surgery and every chemotherapy session that followed, she opted not to stay in bed. Instead, she busied herself with Tzu Chi activities, volunteering and making good use of her time.
Today, her chemotherapy sessions have ended. The worst has passed for Judith. But if there was anything positive she gained from this illness, it’s how it made her realize how short life is and how important every second that we have.
Now that she is on her last term of office as village chief, she says, there’s no more reason to pursue a higher government position. Instead, she’s planning to dedicate what remains of her life as a Tzu Chi volunteer, and making it as meaningful as possible.
Judith Casco, a village chief, uses teachings of Tzu Chi founder Master Cheng Yen whenever she has to mediate between her arguing constituents. 【Photo by Jamaica Digo】
Rolito Candido, a member of Judith Casco’s village council, says Casco’s attitude has improved a lot since she got involved with Tzu Chi as a volunteer. Instead of get angry whenever an argument starts in the council, Rolito says Judith has learned to be humble and accommodating to what the other side has to say.【Photo by Jamaica Digo】
When she was diagnosed of Stage 3 breast cancer, Judith Casco found strength in her family, fellow Tzu Chi volunteers, and the books of Master Cheng Yen.【Photo by Light Li】
Judith Casco’s husband, Alex, has picked up the habit of saving his money to donate to Tzu Chi instead of use it to play the lotto.【Photo by Jamaica Digo】