In July 2023, a thunderstorm devastated the small village of Amatitlan, south of the capital Managua in Nicaragua, Central America. Tzu Chi volunteers swiftly responded and provided emergency aid to the villagers. In the months of August and September, volunteers worked tirelessly to extend their care to various communities by offering warm meals to school children, reaching out to vulnerable families, and organizing free medical clinics.
Teaching Jing Si Aphorisms to Develop Good Character in Children
In addition to nourishing the children physically, volunteers also work to impart life lessons through different activities. The principles of "say good words, think good thoughts, and do good deeds" are the "Three Goods", with the "Four Demeanors" on walking, sitting, standing, and lying, contributing to children developing good character and principles.
Through patient guidance and explanations, the volunteers invest time in helping the children understand these values. The introduction of charts and giving rewards has notably increased the children's awareness. When asked about the "Three Goods" and "Four Demeanors" during sessions, their enthusiastic responses and high levels of engagement are evident.
The positive impact of these lessons can be seen in their improved posture and reduced disruption in class. At the end of each session, volunteers prepare fun activities to teach Jing Si Aphorisms and then hold discussions to help them understand the lessons learned. For example, when their classmates face any challenges, everyone should come together to support and encourage one another rather than exclude or criticize.
While progress may be gradual, every Jing Si Aphorism lesson contributes to positive development. Jing Si Aphorism lessons not only influence the children but also involve the parents as they see the positive impact on their child's behavior.
Visiting and Caring for Lonely Seniors
Julio is 105 years old and lives alone. When volunteers visited him at his home, they found him sitting in front of his house alone, enjoying the sun. Wanting to keep him company, volunteers took time to sit with him and listen to his life stories. Despite his age, his memory is still good, as is his overall health, with no major illnesses. He said that he also received occasional visits from neighbors who kindly shared food with him.
When volunteers discovered that Julio had not had breakfast, Mercedita, a care recipient accompanying the volunteers, assured him that she would bring breakfast later and invited him to join her for lunch. Inspired by the compassionate actions of Tzu Chi volunteers, Mercedita regularly extends help to lonely elderly individuals as best she can.
Inspired by Master Cheng Yen’s teachings, Mercedita said: “I have learned about the spirit of the Bamboo Bank Era – doing good deeds and fostering kind thoughts are things everyone can do, which I will apply to my daily life." So, despite being a recipient herself, she aspires to be someone who lends a helping hand to others in need.
After a 40-minute drive and walking an additional 30 minutes on an uneven path, volunteers reached Maria’s home. Maria was grateful for the arrival of volunteers, and happily updated them on her current situation. She mentioned feeling a bit unwell lately due to her age and sometimes lacked strength while walking. In a previous visit, volunteers noticed Maria's makeshift bed made from torn fabric and cardboard. This time they brought her a new mattress, which she happily accepted, ensuring that she could sleep comfortably.
“Thank you so much for all the care you've provided. I hope you can think of me and visit me often," Maria bid farewell and tearfully shared her hopes for frequent visits. Maria currently resides with her granddaughter, who, despite having a modest income, takes good care of her, and ensures regular visits to the doctor.
Candida, another woman visited by volunteers, faces many challenges and has only one son living with her. Her grandson had moved away, taking much of the furniture with him. In early August, thieves targeted her sparsely furnished house. Though the loss was minimal, the experience left her disheartened. Local volunteers promised her regular companionship, gradually lifting Candida's spirits.
Transforming Lives with Educational Support
During a visit, volunteers encountered Angel, a young man who had dropped out of school due to his family's financial struggles. Angel's father, Jose, aged 65, suffered a stroke and lost his sight a year ago, so he is no longer able to work. His mother, Maria, is a dedicated Tzu Chi volunteer in the community, balancing caregiving responsibilities at home with occasional laundry and cleaning jobs to make ends meet. Despite their efforts, their limited income is only sufficient for basic necessities and expensive medications. Faced with the responsibility of supporting his family, Angel had to take on odd jobs.
"I didn't quit school because I don't want to study, but because our financial situation doesn’t allow it. I’m now the sole support for my family," said Angel with a sense of helplessness. Despite having excelled academically, he was forced to give up his education as the money he earns barely covers household expenses, leaving nothing for school supplies or tuition fees. Buying a notebook, for instance, would mean sacrificing a kilogram of rice for the family.
Recognizing Angel's eagerness to learn, volunteers persistently communicated with his parents. They emphasized the potential improvement in their economic situation if Angel continued his education. Eventually, Jose and Maria agreed. Tzu Chi volunteer Yang Li-Kai (楊理凱), along with local volunteers, visited the school, explained the situation to the principal, and requested permission for Angel to resume his studies. Understanding the economic conditions of the community, the principal granted Angel the opportunity to enroll in the sixth grade.
At sixteen, Angel bravely shoulders the responsibility of supporting his family. He works in the mornings and attends classes in the afternoons. He knows that he must work hard in the short term, so he can provide a better future for his family.
His parents have great hopes for Angel, hoping he will pursue higher studies, possibly even going to college. They understand that education is the key to transforming lives, and Angel is the future of their family. Having worked hard to interact with the family, the volunteers feel encouraged by the positive impact they have made on Angel and his family.
Humanistic Medicine, Safeguarding Lives with Love
In September, as well as distributing food packages, volunteers organized a free clinic with the help of Dr. Nineth. Due to limited mobility or financial constraints, elderly individuals in the community often resist seeking medical care. Such inaction causes minor ailments to escalate into serious conditions.
Dr. Nineth dedicates considerable time to each care recipient, giving not only medical examinations but also free medication and prescriptions. By doing so, she helps to eliminate barriers to healthcare, enabling them to bypass the need for costly private consultations and giving them direct access to comprehensive exams at major hospitals. Driven by the spirit of alleviating suffering and saving lives, Dr. Nineth compassionately accompanies these care recipients through their life journeys, providing warmth and dignity.
At 104 years old, Rosa is bedridden but maintains relatively good health. During volunteer visits, she expressed joy at their companionship, as she has no visitors on most days. With each encounter, Rosa shared numerous life experiences with the volunteers.
Rosa relies on her daughter, Esperanza, for support. At 65, Esperanza's children have moved to other cities for work, occasionally sending money when possible. Despite living in poverty, Esperanza remains committed to caring for her mother.
In a previous visit, volunteers noticed a large wound on Rosa's foot, resulting from an accidental scrape. Concerned that Esperanza might not routinely disinfect the wound, volunteers invited Dr. Nineth to provide immediate care and ensure Rosa's well-being.
Seventy-year-old Amalia resides in Masachapa, about a two-hour drive from the Tzu Chi office, and faces health challenges. Living in impoverished conditions, she frequently begs for sustenance at the market to make ends meet. Abandoned by her own children, she is left with her niece, Ana, and Ana’s four young children. However, Ana is burdened with the responsibility of caring for her own children and struggles to meet Amalia's needs.
During a previous visit, volunteers observed significant abdominal swelling in Amalia, prompting a visit from Dr. Nineth. Preliminary diagnosis suggests possible kidney inflammation and a referral for a hospital ultrasound was recommended. Lacking the financial means for the examination, Yang Li-Kai personally covered the expenses and scheduled an appointment for Amalia, as well as promising to accompany her during the medical visit.
Undeterred by the distance, volunteers consistently provide companionship to guard and support those in need. In August, volunteers brought care to three communities—Timal, Tisma, and Loma Linda—offering warm meals to children, visiting the elderly, and supporting vulnerable families. In September, this initiative expanded to include Guadalupe and Masachapa, involving 52 and 79 volunteer shifts, benefiting 345 and 291 individuals, respectively.
October 30, 2023 | Chu Hsiu-Lien, Lin Ching-Ju | Central America Report