Behind the success of Tzu Chi’s seven-year environmental protection campaign in cemeteries every All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days are the volunteers who dedicate themselves to promoting love for the planet among the public against the odds.
In Manila North Cemetery, the northeast monsoon rain and tropical depression did not stop the over 100 Tzu Chi volunteers, Tzu Chi scholars, and Long-Term Care Program beneficiaries from promoting environmental protection through recycling and keeping the memorial park clean.
Unlike recycling activities in previous years, volunteers who joined this time did not receive any monetary allowance. To save on fare expenses, the volunteers opted to sleep in the cemeteries for two or more nights.
Tzu Chi Foundations’ annual recycling program in the cemeteries during the observance of All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days from October 29 to November 3 has been running for seven consecutive years. It aims to raise awareness on environmental protection among those visiting their departed loved ones.
This year, a total of 1,715 Tzu Chi volunteers mobilized for the activity, setting up stations in nine cemeteries namely Loyola Memorial Parks in Marikina City and Parañaque City, Manila North and South Cemeteries in Manila, Manila Memorial Park in Parañaque City, Holy Cross Memorial Park in Quezon City, Manila Chinese Cemetery in Manila, Paraiso Memorial Park in San Mateo, Rizal, and Himlayang Pilipino in Quezon City.
Behind the success of the campaign are the volunteers who dedicate themselves to promoting love for the planet among the public against the odds.
The northeast monsoon rain and a tropical depression did not stop the over 100 Tzu Chi volunteers, Tzu Chi scholars, and Long-Term Care Program beneficiaries from carrying out the activity at the Manila North Cemetery. Armed with their umbrellas and wearing their ponchos, they went around in what is the oldest and biggest cemetery in the metropolis, picking up plastic bottles and other recyclable items through the beating rain.
“Although it is raining, we wear plastic [raincoats]. We still collect [recyclables] for Tzu Chi. When we get tired, we rest a bit. Then we continue with the work; it’s because we want to collect many recyclables to donate to Tzu Chi,” says Maria De Leon, 66.
A widow, De Leon has been receiving monthly rice assistance from Tzu Chi since 2009. Tzu Chi also helped rebuild her home in Barangay Nangka, Marikina City after it was destroyed by Typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana).
Like De Leon, 59-year-old Leah Bañez wishes to give back the help. She suffers from diabetes and goiter, which used to make her prone to fatigue. For seven years now, Tzu Chi has been providing her with maintenance medicines for her goiter and Php1,500 cash aid every month.
Two years ago, her Free thyroxine (free T4) tests, which evaluates thyroid function, became normal.
“Before Tzu Chi started helping me, I wasn’t able to take my maintenance medicines continuously. I was always brought to Jose Reyes [Hospital]. I easily got tired and weak,” shares Bañez.
“When Tzu Chi started providing my maintenance medicines, I have become healthier. That’s’ why my fellow beneficiary and I decided to volunteer for Tzu Chi [recycling program in cemeteries]. This is the second year that we have been doing this,” she adds.
Another beneficiary, Julieta Dela Zerna, agrees. “Tzu Chi has been giving us enough aid so we felt it’s necessary [to volunteer]. Although we cannot afford to give monetary help, we can still offer ourselves,” says the 65-year-old sidewalk vendor.
Diosdado Contado Sr., 65, even travelled all the way from Bagong Silang in Caloocan to Manila North Cemetery, paying for his own fare, to volunteer during the activity.
His son, Diosdado Jr., is now bedridden. He is a polio victim who also suffers from aspergilloma, an infection of the lungs. He receives monthly maintenance medicines from Tzu Chi since 2015.
As a recipient of Tzu Chi’s help, Diosdado Sr. knew the value of Tzu Chi’s recycling advocacy all too well. Proceeds from selling recyclable materials after all go to fund Tzu Chi’s charity, education, medical, and humanistic programs.
“To some people, what we do here seems collecting dirt but it actually isn’t. These recyclables are treasures that Tzu Chi gives back to the people. These plastic bottles, for instance, can be turned into blankets for disaster victims. Other recyclables can be sold to raise funds. It may seem like trash but when we recycle it, we give it new meaning,” says Diosdado Sr.
Recycling through the night
Unlike recycling activities in previous years, those who joined this time did not receive any monetary allowance. While Tzu Chi rented vehicles to transport the volunteers from their respective communities, the volunteers – many of them are senior citizens – opted to stay at the cemeteries overnight to save on the foundation’s expenses.
It was cold so the volunteers were swaddled in jackets and caps.
Felicidad Baile, 63, a volunteer from Barangay Nangka in Marikina City, spent three nights at the Manila North Cemetery.
“We take a nap and when we wake up, we go for another round of recycling collection,” she says. “Our mindset is that we want to collect recyclables because every time I join home visit [activities], I witness so many ailing people and others who don’t even have food to eat, so I am willing to sacrifice if it means Tzu Chi can help them.”
Marilyn Serrano, 62, also spent a few nights at the Manila North Cemetery.
Before coming across Tzu Chi, Serrano admits to disposing her trash mindlessly. Today, she is a firm advocate of recycling and environmental protection.
“Tzu Chi made me realize the importance of recycling. Through them, I think I have become more ‘human’ and more disciplined,” she says. “In Tzu Chi, PET bottles are turned into blankets to help the disaster victims. That is why we treasure every plastic bottle we collect.”
From October 31 to November 2, Tzu Chi volunteers collected a total of 1,627.80 kilos of recyclable materials in Manila North Cemetery.
Because the truck assigned to transport the recyclables to Tzu Chi’s recycling center in Sta. Mesa, Manila could not enter the crowded cemetery, Tzu Chi volunteers – young and old – walked the distance from their station inside the cemetery to the corner of Dr. Alejos Street and A. Bonifacio Avenue, carrying the bags of recyclable items to be loaded into the vehicle.