Story by Chun-Hsia Lin

Turkish volunteers have transformed Master Cheng Yen's Jing Si Aphorisms into a multi-language illustrated book, collaborating with the teachers and students of El Menahil International School. | Photo courtesy of Abdulrahman Hritani

Turkish volunteers, along with the teachers and students of El Menahil International School, have created a multi-language illustrated book based on Master Cheng Yen's Jing Si Aphorisms. This project began with a vow to transform these aphorisms into an illustrated book that is presented in Turkish, Arabic and Chinese. On May 21, Tzu Chi Türkiye volunteer David Yu shared the process with Master Cheng Yen, showcasing a sample of the newly created book.

With the organization and leadership of Tzu Chi volunteers Faisal Hu (Left 1) and Nadya Chou, the sample book was completed in two months. | Photo courtesy of Taghreed Hasan

Under the organization and leadership of Tzu Chi volunteers Faisal Hu and Nadya Chou, the sample book was completed in two months, with contributions from 236 people. The right side of each page features Jing Si Aphorisms in multiple languages, while the left side displays students' illustrations, creating a unique blend of art and wisdom.

The right side of the sample book features Jing Si Aphorisms in multiple languages, while the left side displays students' illustrations, together forming the elements of the illustrated book. | Photo courtesy of Abdulrahman Hritani

This version of the Jing Si Aphorism book not only provides translations of Master Cheng Yen’s wisdom but also integrates Buddhism and Islam. A dozen or so teachers from Tzu Chi’s El Menahil International School joined together to select Arabic proverbs, Hadiths, and Quranic verses that correspond to the Jing Si Aphorisms. These were then translated into Chinese, Arabic, Turkish, and Romanized Pinyin, with student-created illustrations depicting the teachings.

A Picture Tells a Thousand Words

Art teachers at El Menahil guided students in creating illustrations under the theme "Humanity in Picture Books." A total of 217 students participated and 44 illustrations were eventually selected to be included into the book, while the rest will be published in various ways in the future. Each illustration features a unique QR code linking to reflections and stories from the student artists and their guiding teachers.

"Kind words are like pure flowers. Mean words are like poisonous snakes." Illustrated by Rouseel Mahou.

One notable illustration depicts the Jing Si aphorism, " Kind words are like pure flowers. Mean words are like poisonous snakes." It shows a human heart split in two: one half pink with vibrant flowers, the other half black with a writhing snake. This artwork, created by 11th-grader Rouseel Mahou under teacher Amal Ibrahim's guidance, vividly conveys the aphorism's meaning. Rouseel wrote, "This drawing is deeply meaningful, illustrating how this aphorism affects our souls. Good words make the heart bloom with beautiful flowers; bad words and malicious speech are like a snake's venom, turning everything around them coal-black."

"With more people, comes greater strength and therefore more blessings." Illustrated by Adam Jneid and Mohammed Hak.

 Another striking illustration accompanies the aphorism, "With more people, comes greater strength and therefore more blessings." This piece was a collaborative effort by 11th-grader Adam Jneid and 12th-grader Mohammed Hak, inspired by the maternal and sisterly love of Tzu Chi staff member Fei Lin, known as "Mother Fei" to the local children after the 2023 Türkiye earthquake. Her motherly and sisterly love deeply touched the students, and her embrace of the children left a lasting impression on Adam and Hak, inspiring them to express this impact through their art.

Personal Stories of Growth and Gratitude

Adam Jneid and Mohammed Hak shared their personal connections with Tzu Chi. Adam, who joined the school for Syrian refugees in 2015, faced challenges but overcame them through determination and support. He developed a passion for photography and is preparing to study computer engineering at university.

Adam Jneid shared his connection with Tzu Chi: "In 2015, while living in Yunus Emre, my family learned about a school for Syrian refugees in Sultangazi, and quickly registered me.

Although starting school was very challenging, with time and effort, I overcame these challenges and experienced significant growth and achievement. Since I am interested in photography, I joined the media volunteers' team, and Teacher David Yu taught me photography techniques. Now, at twenty, I am about to graduate and prepare to study computer engineering at university. I am truly grateful to El Menahil and Tzu Chi for their constant support and care."

Mohammed Hak's connection with Tzu Chi is even more remarkable. At the age of eleven in 2015, he and his family were walking down the street when they overheard someone speaking Arabic behind them, saying, "We will soon open a school, and it will be a successful project." Later, he learned it was Mr. Cuma Serya and a team of Tzu Chi volunteers, including Faisal Hu.

"I needed treatment for a leg injury and hadn't been to school for two years. Plus, I didn't speak Turkish, which was a barrier to my education. So, I quickly ran to them and told them, 'I also want to go to school.'"

"They came to my house, collected information, and assured me that I would receive a 'school opening notice.' A few days later, I received the news about El Menahil International School's opening and was one of the first to enroll."  However, after completing six years of education, Hak had to leave school due to his family's financial difficulties and started working at a barber shop.

"One day, I received a call from Mr. Cuma. He asked me if I wanted to return to school and offered me a scholarship equal to my work income. I was overjoyed." Upon returning to school, Hak not only attended classes but also became a media volunteer. In the aftermath of the 2023 Türkiye earthquake, Hak volunteered as a media volunteer, one of the photos he took was later featured on the cover of "Tzu Chi Monthly."

A Jing Si Aphorism, A Lifetime of Influence

The teachers and students involved in the illustrated book project expressed their profound respect for Master Cheng Yen. They wrote, "For many years, your words have guided us forward like a beacon. Your simple words have kept us committed to goodness. This book represents the interaction between our students and your words of wisdom."

The editing and design of the illustrated book were undertaken by 24-year-old Hritani (right). | Photo courtesy of Abdulrahman Hritani

The book's editing and design were handled by 24-year-old Abdulrahman Hritani, a second-year biomedical engineering student at Yildiz Technical University and a Tzu Chi media volunteer. Abdulrahman, who experienced the horrors of war since the age of thirteen, found hope and purpose at El Menahil International School, driven by the motto "Learning is light in the darkness."

"Tzu Chi has greatly influenced me, teaching me the meaning of dedication, gratitude, and volunteer service, as well as the true significance of helping others," he said. "Those who do not understand gratitude do not understand how to thank Allah. Allah wants us to take responsibility!"

Emerging from the Valleys of Life

Over the years, we have witnessed these Syrian refugee children in Türkiye growing up, pursuing education and become responsible contributing members of society. Master Cheng Yen expressed, "I feel very fortunate to have witnessed them growing up. What’s even more fortunate is that they encountered David Yu and Faisal Hu, who 'held on' to them, accompanied them and helped them from childhood to adulthood."

By cultivating a sense of gratitude, Master Cheng Yen hopes Tzu Chi volunteers can continue to help will foster kindness in these youths, encouraging them to give back and help others, continuing the spirit of compassion and support they have received.

Many of these Syrian refugees who were once helped by Tzu Chi are now giving back to serve as volunteers and continuing the spirit of helping others. | Photo courtesy of Adam Jneid

This illustrated book is a testament to the love and gratitude of its creators. Through teamwork and collaboration, the teachers and students of El Menahil International School tell the life stories of Syrian refugees who, after surviving the ravages of war, have found a place for rebirth and renewal. Guided by Master Cheng Yen's Jing Si Aphorisms, they are moving towards a bright future.