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Tzu Chi Charity CEO: ‘Balance compassion and wisdom’

October 21, 2019 | Jonas Trinidad

The small delegation from Tzu Chi Taiwan receives a warm welcome from students of Tzu Chi Philippines’ Livelihood Training Program. Yen Po-Wen, CEO of Tzu Chi’s global charity mission (left), leads the team on his first visit to the country. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

Story Highlights

  • In his first visit to Tzu Chi Philippines on October 21, Tzu Chi Taiwan’s charity CEO Yen Po-Wen urges his Filipino counterparts to balance compassion and wisdom when doing charity work. As to when a volunteer should be compassionate or wise, he quotes from Dharma Master Cheng Yen, who says that volunteers should use their judgment.


In his first visit to Tzu Chi Philippines, a prominent Tzu Chi volunteer from Taiwan urges his Filipino counterparts to “balance compassion and wisdom” in doing Tzu Chi’s work.

Yen Po-Wen, CEO of Tzu Chi Taiwan’s charity mission, arrived in Manila on October 20 to visit the foundation’s operations in the country. Formerly the CEO of a major company in Singapore, he joined the ranks of Tzu Chi volunteers. In 2017, he rose to leadership of the charity mission not just within Taiwan but also around the world. He carries years of hard-learned but valuable lessons about doing charity work to share with the Filipino volunteers.

In his first meeting with Tzu Chi Philippines staff, Yen shared the foundation’s immediate and long-term response in the wake of the 1999 Chi-Chi earthquake in Taiwan. On the pre-dawn hours of September 21, 1999, a magnitude-7.6 earthquake rocked the entire island country. Nantou County, where the epicenter was located, took the brunt of the disaster, leaving homes and lives in ruins.

After touring the Tzu Chi Great Love Campus, Yen met with Filipino and Filipino-Chinese Tzu Chi volunteers in an open forum. The two-hour discussion centered on balancing compassion and relief in doing Tzu Chi’s work, which Yen admits that the answer is within a grey area.

“Our Master always reminds us that when doing Tzu Chi work, we need to follow wisdom and also compassion on a case-to-case basis. Wisdom is how we do it wisely, but compassion is from our inner spirit,” explained Yen.

Despite having no definite answer, the Taiwan volunteers say that the query isn’t uncommon. Siew Pei Fung, one of the members of Yen’s entourage, iterates that Tzu Chi’s obligation to help others should be based on need.

“Would we give a farmer a pair of high heels? A gown or maybe even a suit? He or she doesn’t need these things in his or her everyday life and work,” said Siew.

“We have to reach out to people and relieve their suffering first. And once they’re relieved from suffering, it’s the time that we can tell them Buddhist teachings. We can tell them how to stand on their own feet,” Siew quotes from a past meeting with Dharma Master Cheng Yen.

Master Cheng Yen encourages volunteers to decide for themselves when to be compassionate and when to be wise. Bro. Yen recalled that during his first year as CEO of the charity mission, he would seek guidance from the Master but would only be told stories in return. Over the years, he realized that the Master wants him to think what to do in every situation.

“We need to further our spiritual practice to become more compassionate, to go among people and try to understand their suffering and help them become from a palms-up to a palms-down person. That would be the most beautiful scene we can think about,” said Yen.

  • On the morning of October 21, Yen and his colleagues arrive at the Jing Si Hall for a courtesy visit. Tzu Chi Philippines staff welcome them. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • The Taiwan volunteers meet with the Jing Si Hall’s accounting staff. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • At the Tzu Chi Great Love Campus, Yen shares his expertise about effective disaster relief. He draws experiences from Tzu Chi’s efforts in the aftermath of the 1999 Chi-Chi earthquake in Taiwan. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • Tzu Chi Philippines staff receives bookmarks as tokens of appreciation. Each bookmark contains a unique Jing Si aphorism. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • Yen tours the Tzu Chi Eye Clinic, accompanied by Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) Philippines coordinator Dr. Antonio Say (right). 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • The Taiwan volunteers visit the Caregiving Course. This latest addition to the Livelihood Training Program prepares students for the lucrative but arduous work of assisting the elderly, children, and people with special needs. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • Late in the afternoon, an open forum was held for Filipino and Filipino-Chinese volunteers. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • Siew Pei Fung iterates that Tzu Chi’s obligation to help others must be based on need. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】