It was when Cristina Fajardo had absolutely nothing that she discovered she still had something to give.
While lamenting the loss of her family’s belongings to floods from habagat (torrential rains) that engulfed their two-story home in Maly, San Mateo, Rizal, in 2014, Fajardo noticed members of the Tzu Chi Foundation helping clear her community’s streets of debris and mud. At first, she admits, she had her misgivings about the volunteers clad in blue collar T-shirts and white pants. But the longer she observed them, the more she saw their genuine sincerity, love for people, and willingness to help. “They’re different,” she says. “I wanted to be a part of them.”
Through the encouragement of Nanie Alboro, a longtime commissioner based in Nangka, Marikina, Fajardo threw herself wholeheartedly in all things Tzu Chi Foundation. She participated regularly in “Cash for Work” programs and the distribution of relief goods to groups affected by fires, floods, and the ongoing pandemic. She collected donations, was in charge of the foundation’s recycling initiative in its Sta. Mesa Buddhist Tzu Chi Campus(BTCC), and attended seminars in its Agno Street Tzu Chi Foundation office in Quezon City.
“Whenever there was a call for volunteerism, go!” she says enthusiastically. “Even if I was by myself, I would find my way to the Quezon City office. If you really want something, you’ll do what you can to reach it.”
Of the places she has been to in the name of volunteerism—Ormoc in Leyte, Bicol, Catanduanes—it’s Taiwan that holds a special place in her heart. There, she received her certification as commissioner by Master Cheng Yen in 2015.
“It was awesome, beautiful, and brought me to tears,” says Fajardo of this milestone. “That’s why I tell others, ‘Aim to go to Taiwan, because it’s really different when you are certified by Master herself.’”
For Fajardo, who describes her former self as a maldita (naughty) who couldn’t care less about her community, the satisfaction of helping someone without expecting anything in return is motivating and uplifting. “Even if you’re poor, you don’t have to give money. You can give love and compassion,” she says, recalling one of the many teachings she learned in the seminars. “Even if we’re poor, it feels good to give.”
It’s a mindset this 62-year-old wife of a dump truck driver tries to instill in their three children. “I tell our kids, ‘While I’m still young and strong, I’d like to be useful to the world,’” she says. “‘I’d like to go to as many places as I can so I can be of help to others. It’s the only thing I can share with you as I get older.’”
It’s more than enough. Says Fajardo, “If people adopted the teachings of Master, there would be no wars in this world!”