The imposing gray structures of the Tzu Chi Foundation have become a major landmark of Jalan Kepong. Founded by Master Cheng Yen of Taiwan, the foundation undertakes numerous community service projects benefitting a cross-section of community, irrespective of their background.
After branching out to Malaysia in 1996, they now have 16 centres throughout the country, with the Kepong branch functioning as its administrative office. The Tzu Chi Foundation has provided a path for many who seek help or wish to help. With their mission of “Educating the rich to help the poor; inspiring the poor to realise their riches”, the well-managed foundation has established itself as an admirable benchmark for helping the poor make significant progress.
Among its many devoted volunteers and believers is Annie Rajeswary, a retired school teacher and senior assistant of student affairs at a well-known vernacular school. Fondly known as Rajes teacher to her students, she describes Master Cheng Yen as a visionary and is proud to be associated with the Tzu Chi Foundation.
“I feel blessed to have chosen to walk this path and I hope that with God’s grace, I am able to continue this for many more years to come. Giving back to community was something ingrained in me since young,” explains the petite 61-year-old who as a teenager followed the nuns of her church to rubber estates where she taught Bahasa Malaysia and English, an experience that led to her pursuing teaching for a career.
Becoming a teacher was merely a means to further her life in service. Rajes taught and shared everything with her students – academics, singing, dancing, hygiene, moral values, table manners etc. She also took a special interest in slow learners and her primary method of teaching was through creativity and fun where students enjoyed themselves.
“It’s very important to accept each child as your own and understand each child is designed differently. We first need to build the bridge of trust, especially with children from broken homes, before extending a helping hand,” says Rajes, as she looks back to the times she has played the role of a confidante in many of her students’ lives.
Her journey with the Tzu Chi Foundation began in 2008. “It brought meaning to my life knowing that I was able to take service to greater heights. I was impressed with Tzu Chi’s mission, vision and methodology of helping those in need. The NGO’s method of collecting data, conducting home visits and catering to patients with specific needs is very well-planned and consistent.”
Upon joining the community, Rajes soon found that the members were incredibly humble. No task was too demeaning for them to carry out and they did so with much pride. Members comprise of people from all walks of life, with no discrimination to race, religion, profession, age, educational background or station in life.
“Service to people is service to God” is the motto that keeps Rajes going as she participates in Tzu Chi’s numerous activities. Among her many memorable experiences would be, helping at an HIV centre in Batu Arang, assisting in medical camps, cleaning Pulau Ketam, and helping with care recipients (giving food items, tuition, medical assistance).
Rajes is particularly enthusiastic about the foundation’s “Bamboo Bank” principle, an initiative begun by its founder. Fashioning coin banks out of bamboo, Master Cheng Yen asks members to drop a one sen coin into the bamboo bank every day, explaining, “No matter how poor one is, daily set aside a 1 sen coin and/or a handful of rice. Once a sufficient portion is collected, this amount can help feed another family.”As a matter of fact, using this method, Tzu Chi has collected sufficient funds to build a university and a hospital in Taiwan and is currently trying to do the same internationally.
The foundation teaches many skills to enhance a person’s ability to make an additional income, such as Art & Craft, Music, Calligraphy, Cooking and Decoration at a nominal fee.
“These are skills, which in time, could eradicate poverty. Sadly language barrier is a major challenge, particularly with the Indian community as many these days are handicapped in both Malay and English. Also, I find many care recipients do not take the initiative to be independent and they continually expect some form of aid.”
Rajes’ face becomes grim as she explains that with the increase in domestic violence and broken homes, the number of care recipients is also escalating. “It is devastating to find parents not providing their children with even basic needs. As a result, we get many under-nourished children who also have bad academic records. It’s alarming to see some parents not giving any importance to education despite the support Tzu Chi gives in covering tuition, food and transport expenses.”
Whatever the challenges that come her way, Rajes continues to persevere and has been a pillar of strength to countless people in need, for more than four decades now. As she looks back on her life, she says, “We hear and read of love and compassion but through the Tzu Chi platform I am proud to be able to put theory to practice. Poverty is not an obstacle for progress. The only way to overcome poverty is through education and that is why we give primary importance to education.”
Since her retirement last year, Rajes has been able to dedicate more time to do what she loves best: provide service with love, passion and compassion. What better legacy can a person leave behind than give another a better opportunity in life?