The founder of Tzu Chi Foundation, Master Cheng Yen, says that the beauty of a group lies in the refinement of its members. When asked about the management style of Tzu Chi, she always replies: “In Tzu Chi, everyone educates and manages themselves.” Through a three-stage volunteer training process, volunteers develop knowledge and understanding of the foundation’s missions, guidelines, and philosophy. This helps them to work together. Trainee volunteers learn about the Tzu Chi spirit and participate in Tzu Chi's Four Missions. Volunteers help to serve in the community by recruiting members who donate and support Tzu Chi, regularly serve in the community, and take on leadership responsibilities. They are certified as commissioners or faith corps members after satisfying training requirements.

No matter what role they play in a changing society, certified volunteers continue to show their most inspiring characteristic--their loving concern for people. In its early stages, the Tzu Chi Foundation was a local charity in a traditional society. It was founded near Hualien, a small town on the east coast of Taiwan. It was isolated from the rest of the island by the vast mountain ranges of central Taiwan. With limited transportation, manpower, and resources, Master Cheng Yen and her followers began their charity by giving rice to the poor in neighboring communities.

Housewives with shopping baskets in hand would gather by the corner of a market in Hualien to share with others about a Buddhist nun who wanted to help the poor. Each day the housewives donated NT$0.50 (approx. 1 US cent) into bamboo coin banks to support the charity work.

That was how Tzu Chi started. It was 1966, when U.S. economic aid was coming to an end and Taiwan’s economy was about to enter a period of rapid expansion. From these modest efforts to raise funds and care for the needy in their surrounding area, the early commissioners went further and became concerned for the larger welfare of society. From this came Tzu Chi's core concept – “Respect all life and care for the poor."

Since then, Tzu Chi's certified volunteers have dedicated themselves to their communities around the world. They may not share the same background or religion, but all identify with Tzu Chi's core concepts. All can find space within Tzu Chi to apply their skills and help people in need.

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