Volunteer power

Tzu Chi volunteers load the bags of recyclables they have collected from Manila North Cemetery into the truck, which will transport the recyclables to Tzu Chi’s recycling center in Sta. Mesa, Manila.

Behind the success of Tzu Chi Foundation’s annual environmental protection and recycling campaign in cemeteries during the observance of Undas are the volunteers who dedicate themselves to promoting love for the planet among the public.
The northeast monsoon and a tropical depression hovering over the country’s area of responsibility brought incessant rain from Oct. 29 to Nov. 3, but it did not dampen the spirit of the over 1,000 Tzu Chi volunteers, Tzu Chi scholars and Long-Term Care
Program beneficiaries who joined the recycling activities in nine cemeteries in Metro Manila and Rizal.
Wearing their plastic raincoats, they went around the cemeteries, encouraging people to segregate their trash and donating the recyclables for charity.
Tzu Chi, a Buddhist charity group from Taiwan, has been advocating recycling as a way to protect the environment since 1990.
In the Philippines, the campaign started in 1999 with Tzu Chi volunteers going from door to door in Binondo, encouraging residents to donate their recyclable materials. Proceeds from the sales of these are used to fund the organization’s charity, medical, education and humanistic programs.
In 2009, tropical storm Ondoy brought to light the gravity of the country’s garbage problem. Trash carelessly thrown by people had clogged waterways and resulted in widespread flooding. Metro Manila and 23 provinces in Luzon were declared under a state of calamity.
After cleaning up Marikina City through a cash-for-work program, providing the families with immediate relief aid and the children with scholarships, Tzu Chi set out to teach residents the concept of “recycling from the source” or from their respective homes. When every family knows how to segregate their waste, reduce the use of non-biodegradable items, reuse old items and recycle, then the volume of trash we generate every day will decrease.
Having experienced the wrath of Mother Nature first-hand, many of the residents came to care for and protect the planet. Today, many of Tzu Chi’s recycling volunteers are Ondoy survivors from Marikina.
Among them is Marcos Agda who spent four days with his brother trapped on their rooftop. Surviving that calamity has become a wake-up call. Today, he aims to be a good example in the community, volunteering during Tzu Chi’s recycling activities in cemeteries.
“I’m not ashamed of picking up the recyclable trash because I know that through this, I am helping the environment as well as people in need,” said Agda.
Although most of the volunteers come from poor families, they find a way to seize this opportunity to give of themselves.
To save on transport expenses, for instance, the volunteers – many of them senior citizens – opted to sleep at the cemeteries for two or more nights. Chairs and tarpaulins served as their makeshift beds.
For many of them, these were but little sacrifices they can make to give back.
Julieta dela Zerna, 65, is diabetic. Since 2009, Tzu Chi has been providing her monthly maintenance medicine and a sack of rice under the Long-Term Assistance Program. For a sidewalk vendor and widow like her, the aid brings much relief.
“Tzu Chi has been giving us enough aid so we felt it’s necessary [to volunteer]. Although we cannot afford to give monetary help, we can still offer ourselves,” Dela Zerna says.