Tues, Feb 22, 2011: The first day of the CSW started off with a 10:00 am panel presentation hosted by the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation. The 2nd floor Church Center room was packed. Vegetarian food was available. And everyone got a free reusable cup. The spirit was optimistic as phrases were coined: “we teach people to give, as well as receive…when we reach out to someone, we empower them, but also inspire them”
The panel was highlighted by two South African women talking about the assistance that Tzu Chi gave them: “Tzu Chi taught us how to look after HIV patients...Tzu Chi taught use to sew...Tzu Chi taught us to wear pants. Our culture doesn’t allow us to wear pants”. The second South African presenter was 72 years old, yet she barely looked a day over 30. Again, the praise for Tzu Chi continued to pour: “Tzu Chi taught me to plant vegetables so I could feed my children”. Their involvement in South Africa was explained though a video that described how a Chinese volunteer of the NGO immigrated to South Africa for work and decided to give back: “Saddened by the plight of the Zulu people, the ethnic Chinese man went into black communities.” In 1995 he established vocational centers to teach Zulu women how to sew.
Mixed in with South Africa was yet another presentation on mobile technology for women’s empowerment from Plan USA. Also, there was a United Nations High Commission on Refugees report on refugees in Malaysia. And a fellow from Food for the Poor, who was introduced as a “manager of billions of dollars”, chose only to discuss the “grass roots” projects in Haiti. The UNHCR representative did give a stirring talk on how Rohingya refugees from Burma do not have refugee status in Malaysia, so they are considered illegal aliens. They are forced to stay in hiding and the children have no place to play and develop physical maladies because they cannot even run or play outside. Tzu Chi helped organize a sports day for these children.
The overall aura of this panel gave me a strange feeling, probably from hearing Tzu Chi (which did sound like sushi) professed so religiously. But, the work that NGOs like this do is important. Yet, it if one questions aspects of their work, it is only with hopes to make the work stronger and more sustainable. I yearned to hear about honest challenges or mistakes.
Alvaro Pereira (Food For the Poor)
Ellen Marree Al Daqqa (United Nations High Scommissioner for Refugees)
Linda Raftree (Plan USA)
Sheila Gladys Ngema & Tolakele Maria Mkhize (Commisioners, Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, S. Africa)
Debra Boudreaux (CEO, Busshist Tzu Chi Medical Foundation)