Volunteering with UCI’s Tzu Ching: Anteaters Spend Time with Elderly

Ariel Young | Photography Intern

Tzu Ching, a name that means “youths with compassion and joyous giving,” is the collegiate chapter of a larger foundation known as the Buddhist Tzu Chi Compassion and Relief Foundation – a non-profit organization founded in Taiwan in 1966 that seeks to improve global social and community services, medical care, education and humanism.

Established on the UC Irvine campus in January 2008, Anteaters Tzu Ching has upheld its missions of charity, medicine, education and culture on campus. It regularly implements community service events, such as monthly visits to the Fountain Care Senior Center, cleaning up beaches and hosting an annual walkathon called Walk-for-the-Earth to promote environmentalism. They also go on an annual trip to Mexico where they provide free medical clinic help for the locals who cannot afford to see a doctor.

Among these events, they also hold an after-school reading program in which they go to a nearby elementary school every month to help students with homework, and play academic games to teach them the importance of teamwork. The tutored students live in underprivileged areas and are typically two to three years behind in their academic progress.

“Seeing myself make a difference in other peoples’ lives, whether it be an act so small such as making someone smile, is such a rewarding feeling” says club secretary Connie Chow. “My mother taught me that I should appreciate what I have, and always seek ways in which I can make the community a better place for others.”

The simple act of volunteering can truly uplift the soul and put a smile on the faces of not only those you are helping out, but on your own as well. So maybe the next time you’re feeling a little blue or under the weather, signing yourself up to do some volunteer work just might be the key to raising your spirits.

Before arriving at the Fountain Care Senior Center one rainy morning with UC Irvine’s chapter of Tzu Ching, I can’t say that I had any real expectations. I’d figured that we would probably be singing some songs and talking to the elderly for a little bit before leaving the center, and that would be that. Boy, was I wrong.

While settling ourselves into the facility, I started seeing smiles flashing around the room, especially as the opening notes of the Macarena began to play. After a pause to let the music sink in, the volunteers from Anteaters Tzu Ching began dancing to the music for their audience – a charming group of seniors ecstatically bouncing to the beat in their wheelchairs.

To my pleasure, the entire visit was perfectly planned, and we continued with the morning by launching into the happy birthday song for the seniors who were born in October, before giving everyone balloon flowers and animals. One of the ladies was quite attached to her Homer Simpson balloon and wanted to have her picture taken with it.

We proceeded to do some small performances that included the Hokey-Pokey and the Macarena, and also showcased some of the group’s musical talents with a piano piece and a couple of songs. The amount of enthusiasm we received from the elderly audience was heartwarming.

When it came time for us to sing “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “You Raise Me Up” for them, one of the seniors spontaneously wheeled himself up to join us in the front so he could contribute his own beautiful voice to the songs. When I looked out into the crowd, I could see the rest of the seniors swaying in their seats and mouthing the words to themselves, perhaps reminiscing about their younger days when they used to listen to the same songs.

We spent the remainder of our time at the center chatting with the seniors and hitting balloons back and forth with them. Despite the short amount of time we had to talk, it was nice getting to know them. Many of the seniors had quite a lot of interesting things to say.

At the end of our visit, the happiness I saw on the seniors’ faces and the genuine joy I felt from getting to share my morning with a group of such wonderful people was incredible. Whether with Anteaters Tzu Ching or another group, get out there and volunteer. You won’t regret it.