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Wednesday, 11 September 2013 00:00

Tzu Chi is Part of Me

Written by  By Loh Siew Chien, Melaka / Translated by Goh Hwe Yong

Fresh writers look on Tan Siew Chern as their teacher.【Photograph by Lim Chin Tong】

"I thought I was only good at teaching; I never knew I could learn skills like writing articles, using a computer, surfing the Internet and photography," said Tan Siew Chern as she summarized her more than 10 years of learning and contributing as a documenting volunteer. "And it feels so good to be needed!"


Siew Chern said, "Tzu Chi is part of me, as natural as taking meals, going to bed and breathing. It will always be so."

She gave her typical child-like innocent smile; her hair a silver crown, her mind pure, and her attitude accepting - that is Tan Siew Chern. Her Dharma name, Tzu Xie (慈協), Xie (協) is a Chinese character with triple 'strength (力)', aptly portraying her wholeheartedness in doing voluntary work.

Prior to her retirement as a Primary School Teacher in 1997, she was introduced to Tzu Chi through a forum she attended in 1995. Upon her retirement, she joined Tzu Chi Melaka as a volunteer. Since then, she has been actively engaging herself in many areas of voluntary work, namely, home visits to the poor and needy, recycling work, or maintaining cleanliness of the Jing-Si Hall. She is always in a happy disposition, be it working or talking with other volunteers as they work together.

By chance, she was invited by Sister Echo Chien, presently CEO of Tzu Chi Kuala Lumpur & Selangor, to attend a meeting of the Editorial Board of the Melaka Tzu Chi Monthly Journal. Although she had corrected hundreds and thousands of compositions as a teacher, she has never tried her hand in writing. But she went with an open heart and mind to learn.

It all started from there; and ever since then, she has been a copywriter, a 'job' she has held for more than 10 years.

A new beginning after retirement

In year 2000, she had a special opportunity to go to Taiwan to learn from Master Cheng Yen. Subsequently, former CEO of Tzu Chi Melaka, Brother David Liu requested her to write about this special experience. It was a 'tough' job, as her first version was returned for a re-write. It was not until the third revision that her article was accepted.

As the journal was a monthly publication, much work was required from a very shorthanded workforce on the Editorial Board. Siew Chern naturally became a fulltime copywriter, starting from scratch and fearful that she could not meet the expectations initially. But, she persevered and became a 'part-time' Editor; bravely taking up the responsibility of writing articles on Tzu Chi events.

As she had to spend more and more time with the editorial work, she picked up computer skills from others on the Board.

She added, "I was a late starter, in my 50s, when I picked up knowledge in computer, Internet, photography, and so on. I never imagined I could learn so much. I credit it to the fact that I always try to fulfil the responsibilities given to me."

From the early stage of learning to write, she has evolved into an experienced writer complete with her own free flowing style, her accurate expressions, and sharp observations. She is still learning and improving, living proof that "Excellence is achieved by being mindful" – a Jing-Si Aphorism by Master Cheng Yen.

As 'practice makes perfect', Siew Chern perfected her writing skills through reading. The "Taiwan Tzu Chi Monthly Journal" and books compiled from Master Cheng Yen's lectures are sources from which she enriches herself in writing skills, as well as, in spiritual cultivation.

Going on-line, home-based voluntary work

Ever since she became a Tzu Chi volunteer, she has had a busy but happy life; and even when she was living alone in Melaka, she was never really lonely.

However, due to personal circumstances, she accepted her children's request to stay with them in Kuala Lumpur.

Even with her move to Kuala Lumpur, Siew Chern's mind was always with Tzu Chi. After a brief transitional period, she resumed her editing work through emails. She feels so much better now that she could continue her voluntary work.

Low Siew Lian, a staff member of the Publication Department, has great words for Siew Chern for her understanding and willingness to help at all times. She said, "Once, when I just mentioned that I was still stuck with newspaper cutting, she took back a whole pile of newspaper to Kuala Lumpur without a second thought, did all the cutting and returned them to me. I felt so relieved."

Like Siew Chern, Gan Chian Nee, a staff member of Kuala Lumpur/Selangor Branch, is not from Kuala Lumpur so she naturally takes to the former and treats her like her own grandmother. When Siew Chern learnt that Chian Nee had fallen ill, she prepared a hot flask of cooling herbal drink for her. It almost moved Chian Nee to tears.


Chian Nee said, "Shigu (i.e. Siew Chern; and 'Shigu', an honorary salutation used by the younger ones towards elderly volunteers) always makes sure she is punctual in her work. There were times when she had to work late into the night writing articles for Tzu Chi…"

Because of her age and experience, Siew Chern is highly appreciated by the Editorial Board, and is always on the minds of the board members. They always make sure they 'see' her daily on-line, and would be worried if there is no response from her for a few days.

Regrets for a missing page in the Tzu Chi Melaka's history

Siew Chern regrets that there is a missing page in the record of Tzu Chi's charitable work. It concerned a 1998 accident in the Straits of Malacca which involved a Taiwanese ship. All sailors on board were rescued and sent to emergency wards. Tzu Chi volunteers played the roles of interpreters and foster family members, giving timely help of all forms to all the sailors. It went on for over a month before arrangements were made for them to return to Taiwan. Yet no one thought of keeping an account or taking photographs of the incident.

The absence of such a record bothers Siew Chern greatly; and it serves as a reminder to her to always put history into written record for Tzu Chi.

She said, "The Centre for Research and Edition on the Literary Compilation of The Jing-Si Dharma Lineage and Tzu Chi Dharma Path" is currently compiling a full file on the literary and historical records of charitable work carried out by Tzu Chi. An abstract from the file reads: We are creating history: let the footprints of Tzu Chi be seen. We are recording history: let Tzu Chi's great effort in its missions be carried on."

With the above in mind, Siew Chern treats article writing as a mission entrusted to her, and she feels proud for being able to record part of the history of Tzu Chi.



She said, "Looking back, I really marveled at myself. At 72, I am still capable of performing this task, and words just can't describe the joy that I feel."

"I may be busy, I may feel tired, but I really feel so good because my effort is appreciated. I will go on contributing till I die," Siew Chern added.

 

In 1995, Siew Chern (2nd right) was among the first group of overseas teachers' group that went to Taiwan for training. She then became a very active member in the local Tzu Chi Teachers' Association. 【Photograph provide by Tzu Chi Melaka】   A great treasure to the Editorial Board, Tan Siew Chern looks after the board members well. 【Photograph provide by Tzu Chi Melaka】

In 1995, Siew Chern (2nd right) was among the first group of overseas teachers' group that went to Taiwan for training. She then became a very active member in the local Tzu Chi Teachers' Association. 【Photograph provide by Tzu Chi Melaka】
 
A great treasure to the Editorial Board, Tan Siew Chern looks after the board members well. 【Photograph provide by Tzu Chi Melaka】
 
Siew Chern (right) always takes it upon herself to make sure history is recorded for Tzu Chi's great actions. 【Photograph by Hoe Sin Huang】  

Siew Chern (right) always takes it upon herself to make sure history is recorded for Tzu Chi's great actions. 【Photograph by Hoe Sin Huang】
 

 

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