Volunteer Mee-Chwong Chin saw that Grandpa Rajendra was trying to keep warm with five thin layers of clothing, which was inadequate for the cold weather, prompting him to request winter clothes. | Photo by Lay-choo Koh | 2024/01/09

Master Cheng Yen, founder of Tzu Chi, often said, "If those in suffering cannot come to us, then those who are able must go to them." In a relay of love, Tzu Chi Mee-Chwong Chin

volunteers from Singapore and Malaysia are stationed in Bodh Gaya, India, to help the underprivileged locals. For nearly a year, they have been providing continuous care to twenty-six families, spreading a thread of hope wherever needed.

Wrapping Grandpa in Warmth

In January, as winter set in, temperatures dropped suddenly in Bodh Gaya, causing shivers all around. On the morning of January 9, volunteer Mee-Chwong Chin and local volunteer Sudha Kumari visited and cared for Rajendra Paswan who lives in Ganga Bigha Village.

Finding the cold unbearable, Grandpa Rajendra asked if the volunteers could provide him with a winter jacket. Today, the volunteers came specifically to deliver the winter jacket, but he was not home, so his wife hurried to find him.

When Grandpa Rajendra returned, he shyly accepted the jacket, bowing repeatedly to the volunteers, unable to express the joy and gratitude in his heart. Chin and Sudha helped Grandpa Rajendra try on the jacket to see if it fit. Grandpa's young daughter, who was temporarily staying with him, held her child while a group of curious neighbors watched. Both adults and children, upon seeing Grandpa Rajendra, felt genuinely happy for him.

Grandpa Rajendra was only wearing five thin layers of clothing, which could not withstand the cold. That is why he requested the winter jacket from the volunteers. In this chilly winter season, being able to provide winter jackets to those in need warms the hearts of the volunteers too.

Grand Opening of "Buddha Juice"

On this day, the volunteers visited Bakraur Village to care for Bhimsen Prajapati. Six years ago, Bhimsen suffered an electric shock at work, causing a significant decline in his memory and physical strength. However, he had a dream of selling juice but lacked the funds to set up a juice cart. In early November 2023, a neighbor shared this with Tzu Chi volunteers. Hence, Tzu Chi decided to sponsor him to fulfill his dream of selling juice by providing a cart.

In January 2024, volunteers revisited the roadside iron workshop outside Bakraur Village to check on the progress of his juice cart. Upon arrival, the volunteers noticed that Bhimsen and his wife had painted the cart blue and mentioned that it would take three more days to complete. The volunteers suggested taking Bhimsen to Gaya to purchase a manual juice extractor to help him start his business quickly.

On the morning of January 11, after a forty-minute drive, they reached their destination. Along a narrow road filled with goods, the volunteers managed to purchase a Raja brand manual juice extractor for 3,500 rupees (approx. 45 USD).

Volunteers delivered the juice extractor, hoping that Bhimsen (second from left) can soon start his business to improve his life. Photo by Lay-choo Koh | 2024/01/15

On the afternoon of the 15, while delivering the juice extractor, the volunteers were pleasantly surprised to find that Bhimsen had already bought cups, plates, and other utensils for his business. He had also acquired bags of oranges and red pomegranates, ready to start working. At the front of the cart was a sign with eye-catching images the shop name "Buddha Juice". With the help of the iron workshop owner, the volunteers assembled the juice extractor onto the cart.

Following tradition, Bhimsen's wife performed a ceremony, tying ribbons for good luck on the juice extractor and applied red paint, hoping for business to prosper. They planned to officially open for business the next morning at ten o'clock.

Wishing Prosperity in Business

When the first cup of juice slowly flowed out, Bhimsen’s face lit up with a big smile. As everyone tasted the juice, they wished him prosperity and wealth. With Tzu Chi's assistance, Bhimsen's dream has finally come true. Bhimsen expressed his gratitude: "I feel very good, genuinely happy from the bottom of my heart. I now have the strength to face the future."

The next day, eight volunteers joyfully attended Bhimsen's grand opening. Around eleven o'clock in the morning, with the winter sun shining, Bhimsen hung a string of auspicious fruits and vegetables to ward off evil spirits. Bhimsen's neighbors from Bakraur Village skillfully helped peel the fruit, and under the rhythm of the iron rods, the seeds of red pomegranates appeared in the plates.

Bhimsen's wife, adhering to tradition, performed an opening ceremony by tying colorful ribbons around the juice extractor for good luck and painting it red, wishing for prosperity in their business endeavors. | Photo by Lay-choo Koh | 2024/01/15

As Bhimsen's wife offered prayers, the first cup of pomegranate juice was purchased by volunteer Mee-Chwong Chin. Other volunteers generously bought cups for everyone to try. The freshly squeezed juice received praise from all ages, and the iron workshop owner's father gave a thumbs-up and said: "Excellent!" As everyone watched Bhimsen counting his money, they could see the deep sense of gratitude in his eyes. They all knew he was truly moved, and they wished him great success in his business endeavors, hoping everything would turn out wonderfully for him.

The first cup of pomegranate juice was purchased by volunteer Mee-Chwong Chin. | Photo by Lay-choo Koh | 2024/01/15

Volunteers have continued to observe Bhimsen’s progress, keeping an eye on how his business is going and how he brings in business. On average, he makes around 587 rupees (approximately 7.04 USD) a day. So far, the most he made in a day was on January 27, 1,050 rupees (about 12.60 USD). His goal is to ramp up his daily sales to 2,500-3,000 rupees (roughly 30-36 USD) come summer.

Finally fulfilling his dream, Bhimsen (left) shared his feelings, saying, "I feel really good, genuinely happy from the bottom of my heart. I now have the strength to face the future." | Photo by Lay-choo Koh | 2024/01/15

From Furrowed Brows to Bright Smiles

In Bodh Gaya, most of the impoverished families can be characterized as having "absolutely nothing." On this day, Mee-Chwong Chin once more led a team of volunteers to Bakraur Village to attend to Jagdish Manjhi, a 78-year-old man living with his two grandchildren. With limited means, the door to his house is just an iron sheet and piece of cloth.

Seventy-eight-year-old care recipient Jagdish Manjhi lives in a simple home with an iron sheet and piece of cloth serving as a door. | Photo by Lay-choo Koh | 2024/01/22

Volunteer Vivek Kumar mentioned, "We've been looking after Jagdish for six months already. It is troubling to see that his house lacks a proper door, with just a sheet of iron serving as the only barrier. This leaves them vulnerable to animals like chickens, dogs, or others coming in and eating their food." Jagdish himself expressed the necessity for a door, prompting the volunteers to make plans after evaluating the situation.

With the cold weather in January, the volunteers hoped to quickly install an iron door for Jagdish. On January 22, they contacted the iron workshop owner to take measurements and craft a customized door for him. As Jagdish was not home at the time, the volunteers observed while the workshop owner carefully measured and drew plans. They placed a deposit and scheduled completion within five days.

Tzu Chi care recipient from the same village, Gain Manjhi (right), joyfully lent a hand in drilling and plastering, grateful for the opportunity to contribute. | Photo by Lay-choo Koh | 2024/01/27

Five days later, the volunteers went to the workshop to inspect the door, only to find out that additional charges were required for installation by the owner. Later, they found Gain Manjhi, a Tzu Chi care recipient from the same village, to help with drilling, lime plastering, and painting. He was delighted to have the opportunity to contribute.

Care recipient Devnarayan Paswan also helped to apply primer to the iron door. | Photo by Lay-choo Koh | 2024/01/30

On January 30, around noon, six charity team members set out again to Jagdish's home to check on the door's progress. They found Devnarayan Paswan, another care recipient, helping to layer on the primer, which was expected to take two days to dry before painting could be completed.

Jagdish had been worried for the past few days due to the unexpected delay in the door-making process. However, now that the door had reached the painting stage, he finally showed a smile of joy. Through this process of installing the door, the volunteers witnessed the mutual love and assistance among these three elderly villagers, which inspired them with the values of love and kindness.

Jagdish's neighbors surrounded him with lively music, dancing freely and joyfully to its rhythm, expressing themselves with graceful movements and unrestrained joy. | Photo by Lay-choo Koh | 2024/01/30

At noon, amidst the care process, the neighbors' lively music filled the air, and women of all ages danced gracefully, enjoying themselves.

Seeing the volunteers' arrival, they warmly invited them to join in the dancing.  Mee-Chwong Chin and Lay-choo Koh followed suit and joined in the festivities. This unexpected gathering was a rare opportunity for community bonding and neighborly relations.

On February 1, the volunteers visited again, and the iron door was finally completed with a coat of blue paint. Jagdish, who was warming himself by the fire in the open space, greeted everyone with a joyful smile.

Vivek Kumar expressed his joy at the special blue color of the door, resembling Tzu Chi's color, and the two golden Hindu words written on the door, says "blessings" and "god of wealth", which Indians love very much.

After an eleven-day endeavor, the volunteers successfully completed the challenge of making the iron door, bringing a satisfied smile to Grandpa Jagdish's face (third from left). | Photo by Lay-choo Koh | 2024/01/30

Jagdish was also very happy. He said: "It's all thanks to Tzu Chi that we have this opportunity. Otherwise, every day would be the same, with animals coming in and eating our things, which was a constant worry for us. But now we have a door, and we are very grateful to Tzu Chi.

Tzu Chi's charity work, which began in 1966, extends globally. The process of giving and receiving emphasizes providing physical and emotional care, not just material goods and money. Its goal is to offer spiritual comfort and respect, ultimately achieving stability in the lives of residents.

Story by Lay-choo Koh / 2024/03/20