SINT MAARTEN (CUL DE SAC) - “Touching,” “a blessing” and “impressive” were some of the words used by attendees to describe the 2019 St. Maarten Tzu Chi Foundation Gratitude and Blessing Ceremony held at the Philipsburg Cultural and Community Center on Sunday, March 10.
“It touched my heart,” Indian merchant Damu Rawtani said at the end of the event.
Tzu Chi holds the ceremony in the first quarter of every year to give thanks and to reflect on its work in the community over the past calendar year as well as to educate the public on environmental and other important issues. The event also serves as the occasion to present Tzu Chi Founder Master Cheng Yen’s appreciation Hong Boa (red envelope) to local volunteers and participants. The Hong Boa is a red envelope containing a gift usually given on special occasions.
During this year’s ceremony, the foundation presented 150 food packages to pre-selected recipients, as it continues its efforts to help alleviate burdens on families in need in the community.
This year’s event was informative, educational and entertaining and included a performance from a group of Chinese students, a performance of the sign language song “So I stand up,” an educational presentation on global warming from St. Dominic High’s International Baccalaureate (IB) students, a review of Tzu Chi’s post hurricane Irma efforts in the community in 2017 and 2018 and speeches and sharing from past recipients.
Roger Yee-Fong, Eldica Richardson and Carlos Dollison were emcees for the event. Guests were told that Tzu Chi international is now 53-years-old; has offices in 57 countries and brought aid to 97 regions in the world.
“We are connected like one big family. Therefore, we love each other during peaceful times and help each other when there are calamities. In a darkness, there is a light of Tzu Chi,” Richardson told the capacity crowd.
She urged attendees to strive to cultivate blessings for a mindful year and to be grateful every day and every moment. “Towards every person, every matter, in every hour, every minute, we should always have a heart of gratitude. Let us get rid of the old and welcome the new to celebrate a mindful year. Live each of the 365 days of the year with mindfulness by eliminating afflictions,” Richardson stressed.
In remarks at the ceremony, Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sports (ECYS) Wycliffe Smith said volunteering, helping others, and reaching out are very important attributes that St. Maarten seems to be losing. “People seem to be more selfish and ego centric and into themselves and we are losing reaching out to others, caring and showing kindness,” the minister said. He thanked Tzu Chi for demonstrating these attributes in its work in the community and urged it to continue its “good work.” “Important are the lessons that we learnt about saving the earth and preserving the environment and eating well.”
Smith said at the end of the program that it was very enlightening to see what Tzu Chi has been doing in St. Maarten over the past years and especially after hurricane Irma. “You have reached out to those in need, you have assisted, provided the necessities that people needed and I know that St. Maarten is very grateful to you and I want to wish you well... for doing such excellent work. You are touching lives and you are making a difference in the lives of people and when you make a difference in the lives of people gradually you can make a difference in the whole world.”
Winston Flanders, whose home Tzu Chi volunteers cleaned and decluttered after hurricane Irma, expressed his gratitude to the foundation for their efforts during brief remarks at the event. “I appreciate all that they do for me,” Flanders said. “It was a wonderful experience. Even though I don’t know you, you still came out to help me clean up my home and I really appreciate it,” Flanders said adding that when he gets better he wants to return the favor by helping persons in need in his area of expertise – plumbing and electrician.
Representative of the Preparatory Secondary Vocational Education (PSVE) section of St. Maarten Academy Amy Arrindell thanked the foundation for their continued support to students and wished everyone “a mindful new year.” The school also presented a token of appreciation to Tzu Chi for their constant and consistent support.
A group of St. Dominic High IB students depicted the effects of global warming on the environment through video and skit and showed the audience how they can play their part to stop the degradation by conserving water and electricity.
At the end of the event the students said they enjoyed working with the foundation for the project, noting that the work of the foundation is touching and loving. One student said she learnt a lot during the process and another said the experience opened her mind to see how humanity can work together to create a better world.
Saskia Amatdawoed, who was one of three persons to be certified as a Tzu Chi commissioner last year, said she has been a happy Tzu Chi volunteer for more than ten years. “I feel that being part of Tzu Chi has done something positive in my life for me. Tzu Chi is more than charity and it is bigger than humanity; it is a great culture and it is so much a part of my life that Tzu Chi is center of my calm,” she said. “It took me a long time to realize this. In life, you have to find yourself. You reach a point in Tzu Chi that it is not about keeping yourself together or on the ground, it is about the people around you. It is all things positive, not perfect, but good.”
She said being in Tzu Chi has allowed her to assist others, discover life and most of all, help people who are in need. “In Tzu Chi, I don’t look at myself in a negative light, I look around and see the beauty that surrounds me. After Irma, I realized that many people needed help… I went to Taiwan in November 2018 to be certified. Being certified does not mean I have reached the finish mark, it means that now is the real beginning. It is now that I will start to actively take on Tzu Chi’s mission; walk in dharma and learn to live according to Tzu Chi’s mission by working in the community.
Former first lady Angela Richards-Huggins said after the event, that following hurricane Irma residents were hit hard and “we as St. Maarteners are happy that Tzu Chi is here to help.”
The curtains closed on the program with volunteers and attendees holding lit candles during the singing of prayer song “Love and Care;” the presentation of Master Cheng Yen’s “Hong Boa;” and the distribution of 150 food packages to the needy.
Attendees then enjoyed vegetarian delicacies prepared by Tzu Chi and the St. Maarten Filipino Community Foundation with love. A number of volunteers were at the event including four VKS officers who went to assist as volunteers.
Tzu Chi Commissioner Sandra Cheung said she is grateful to everyone who attended the event, performed, presented or in one way or another supported the event and she looks forward to working even more in the community in the coming period.