November 8, 2023
Tzu Chi marks 29th year with plans for a hospital
By Joy Rojas
In his 13 years as a Tzu Chi volunteer, Wilfredo Ortiz Jr. has practically seen and done it all. Originally one of many Typhoon Ondoy beneficiaries of Matandang Balara, Quezon City, he was inspired to follow in the footsteps of the men and women in blue and white after one of them left him with this thought. “Do you always want to be helped—or do you want to be the one who helps?”
Beginning with Tzu Chi’s recycling program at the Old Balara Elementary School (OBES), he volunteered for medical missions, relief distributions, livelihood programs, Jing Si Time for Kids, and fundraisers like Fiesta Verde. In 2013, he was among the first volunteers to set foot in Tacloban, Leyte, in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Yolanda (International name: Haiyan).
“We arrived when no help had been given out yet. We saw all the devastation,” says Wilfredo, who is part of Tzu Chi’s Mindong district. “We lived without electricity, food, and water. At night as we slept, we could hear the sounds of people crying in despair.”
In his volunteerism, he has witnessed Tzu Chi’s steady evolution through the years. He saw Sta. Mesa’s Buddhist Tzu Chi Campus (BTCC) transform from a school for underprivileged girls to the sprawling grounds where volunteers carry out Dharma Master Cheng Yen’s missions of charity, education, medical assistance, and Humanistic culture. He has also seen volunteers come and go. And even with a regular job as a handler who hires extras for movies, Wilfredo managed to fly to Taiwan last year to be certified as a Faith Corps commissioner.
“I think Tzu Chi is more organized now,” he says. “It’s more formal and follows a system.”
But Tzu Chi Philippines is far from done. At its 29th anniversary program held on November 4 at BTCC’s Jing Si Hall, Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) co-founder Dr. Jo Qua announced plans to establish a hospital in BTCC, one that will provide accessible, affordable, and expert healthcare to all. Tzu Chi Philippines CEO Henry Yuñez added to the good news: Physical therapy and acupuncture services are also part of Tzu Chi’s 5-year vision.
“We started with nothing until we grew and spread to different regions,” says the CEO. “Now we can do more.”
For all the exciting developments to look forward to, some things never change. As with all important Tzu Chi events, the foundation’s 29th year in the Philippines began at dawn with the somber three steps and one bow, a Buddhist ritual akin to a pilgrimage and one that symbolizes humility, gratitude, and reverence to one’s faith.
“We expect it every year and we’re always willing to join,” says Wilfredo. “As disciples of Master Cheng Yen, we offer ourselves as her volunteers [by making the full prostration].”
Even first-timers are moved by the ceremony that involves taking three measured steps before getting down on your knees and placing your forehead to the ground, your palms facing upward.
“I was amazed at how humble our Uncles and Aunties looked while they were doing it,” says Jazzamine Jane Franco, a BS Economics major at the University of the Philippines Los Baños. “When I did it, I reflected on my past actions and experiences and how they shaped me as a person.”
New scholar and conservative Muslim Chermee Jandilon says doing three steps and one bow is no different from Salah, the Muslim prayer said five times a day and in prostration.
With every bow, the daughter of a taxi driver gave thanks to the blessing of a Tzu Chi scholarship, and the chance to be part of a community that has extended unconditional assistance and love to the poor and underserved for nearly 30 years.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” says the BS Psychology major from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines. “At BTCC, everything is just so calm and peaceful. I feel it and carry it with me when I go home. Every time I’m here, I feel like a different person.”