The name Tzu Chi—a Taiwanese international humanitarian organization—was among the first to help Tacloban, Leyte, amid the devastation caused by Supertyphoon “Yolanda.” Even state and local agencies were impressed by how Tzu Chi staff paid residents themselves to clean up Tacloban so that the situation could immediately normalize in the aftermath of the typhoon.
When Judy Lao, maker of the great Ju. D. fruitcakes and cookies, invited me to attend the Tzu Chi Foundation’s 25th anniversary, I was certainly curious. Later I would learn that Lao is the foundation’s communications officer in the Philippines.
Tzu Chi means “compassionate relief.”
I was not prepared for the huge compound where the foundation holds office where Boy’s Town used to be. It was a guessing game which among the buildings in the complex was the venue for the celebration.
Once there, we were led to an area that was described as a Taiwanese food street. Several food stalls had been set up, each one cooking dishes that I presumed were street foods common in Taiwan. Going through the offerings, I guessed correctly that everything being offered was vegetarian.
Tzu Chi is a Buddhist foundation.
There was quekiam cooked by Margie Lao, sister of Judy. Machang even without pork and consisting mainly of mushrooms was no less inviting.
Tofu looked like slices of roast chicken. Eggs were cooked in tea. Noodle dishes felt hefty in the stomach. Very filling and delicious.
Fruits were artfully styled but obviously prepared to be enjoyed right away.
Everything there erased my bad memories of mock vegetarian meats and sauces that tasted of medicine.
Lifestyle’s Alya Honasan was launching a book on the Tzu Chi Foundation, “A Mission of Love.” It’s a comprehensive account of the Philippine branch and its beginnings. Included in the book is the life story of the founder, Master Chen Yen, a Buddhist nun.
We toured the huge complex.
There was an “Eye Center” where the poor can get cataract operations for free and eye checkups plus glasses. Other buildings housed training centers for vocational subjects such as caregiving, sewing and embroidery, metal work. Gardening and farming are also taught. And kitchen work like making preserves.
Lao said there is a roselle project in Leyte where the flowers are turned into preserves or juice. Reviving the practice of making flowers a source of food also honors Maria Orosa, whose roselle recipes are in the book “The Recipes of Maria Y. Orosa: With Essays on her Life and Work.”
“A Mission of Love” details other rehabilitation work before Tacloban. These included free outreach clinics providing checkups and surgeries in remote villages, and relief and rehabilitation for disaster-hit territories.
Tzu Chi volunteers would be attired in white pants and blue shirts, positive colors amid negative surroundings. For the celebration, Tzu Chi members were dressed in the same attire. They had worked quietly and without much media fanfare for 25 years in those colors. Now it was time to celebrate and make their work become better known.