Human tragedies continue to hog the headlines, proving once again that homo sapiens, despite wondrous technological advances that have been lulling us into a false sense of security vis-a-vis the might of Nature, are still at the mercy of the “whims” of natural calamities. While the carnage brought about by the 2004 South Asian Tsunami and the devastation wrought by the 2004/2005 Hurricane seasons in US have hardly receded into the recesses of our memory, 2008 has shaped up to be a particularly difficult year so far, with catastrophes charging out of the gate one after the other: Cyclone Nargis sweeping through the lowlying coastal plains of the Irriwaddy delta, Myanmar, the 7.9 earthquake in Sichuan, China, and the recent havoc in the wake of the tornadoes whirling through the US midwest.
Especially in Myanmar and China, rescuers are on a frantic search for survivors in hard-to-reach places while international aid organizations are mobilizing resources, be they manpower, materials, equipment, or financial, to pour into the affected regions. Donation centers have been set up, both physically on the ground and virtually through the Internet. To facilitate donations from folks on the street, small teams of volunteers have also been deployed at commercial facilities to collect donations from patrons making their weekend grocery trips.
Tzuchi Foundation, a Buddhist Compassionate Relief headquartered in Taiwan, has again initiated such a street-level donation drive effort at locales throughout the US. And we were honored to be called upon to help out in such a drive held in Tampa today. Our destination: The MD Oriental Market on 1106 E Fowler Avenue, one which we frequent on a nearly weekly basis. Our team of Linda, Wify, and yours truly was assigned to the second day (the first day was yesterday), the first shift running from 11am to 1.30pm, followed by a second shift ending at 4pm where our fellow volunteers from the Tzuchi Foundation in Tampa would take over.
The day was mostly sunny, except for several brief anxious moments when dark clouds loomed atop momentarily but eventually drifted afield, leaving a few drops on my head in the process, sparing us the deluge that would have hampered our effort but not dampen out spirit. As it were, even the weather seemed to be on our side on this day marked by compassion all-round.
After setting up the poster announcing the purpose of the donation drive at the entrance, and putting on a vest bearing the emblem of Tzuchi Foundation (Linda was in the familiar white long pant and blue T-shirt, a signature outdoor attire for Tzuchi volunteers affectionately termed “Blue Sky White Cloud”), we positioned ourselves on both sides of the entrance, but at a discreet distance away so that we would not block the direct path of entry into and exit from the Market, each holding a donation box in our hands.
We greeted the patrons warmly, and inquired politely whether they would like to make a donation to help the earthquake victims in China, after which we thanked them. We also bade them “have a nice day” on their way out. We abided strictly to the instructions from Tzuchi Headquarters not to be seen as exerting pressure on patrons; nor should we disrupt the smooth running of the business of the establishment. Prior to going ahead with the donation drive at the premises, the team leader is to consult the proprietors to seek their blessing for the effort. So we were that because of their good office and for that Tzuchi Foundation is thankful.
We used a combination of Mandarin and English for obvious reasons. Of course sometimes we did err on being presumptuous because not all Chinese looking people speak Mandarin. And they were graceful enough to overlook our oversight and happy to donate all the same.
Initiating a conversation with a complete stranger can be intimidating, let alone asking for a donation. I can recall times during my younger days when I was prone to being tongue-tight among strangers, preferring to merge into the background as much as possible. I still remember vividly a high school class debate when the night before I was agonizing over the things to say, the way to say it, and so on. I think I hardly slept, constantly turning in bed and dreading the arrival of the morning. When the moment came, I remember standing up, looking straight ahead, the mind drawing a blank, a complete one. I might have stammer a few words, but the pin-drop silence engulfed me, totally. After a seemingly interminably long time, in silence, I think I felt my teacher motioning to me to sit down, and the rest of the day just went by in a daze. That definitely wasn't me in there on that day, I rationalized, because I had won several elocution contests in my days at the elementary school levels. But my classmates never mentioned a word of my anomalous behavior that day after that, not to me directly anyway. And I was thankful for that.
I was forced to overcome my stage fright after I joined the work force during which I had been called on occasions to deliver talks and briefings. Now even though I still have butterflies in my stomach before an audience, I have never failed to speak, whether it was well delivered is another matter all together. Now I realize that as long as I make myself audible, intelligible better yet, people will always listen before they shut you off. They don't like to laugh at you, unless you yourself make it irresistible for them. I think it's the letting go of the pressure, and the assurance that comes from knowing the substance of the message we are about to deliver. Of course knowing that we are doing it for a good course helps tremendously.
This is our third time doing a street-level donation drive for Tzuchi Foundation, the first and second times being for the 2004 South Asian Tsunami and 2005 Hurricane Katrina Disaster Reliefs, both at the Oceanic Market several years back. Just like then, I found the experience to be a humbling one, and a heart-warming one as well.
People will always have a soft spot for human tragedies, irrespective of where it occurs. And they will always respond positively to kind words and polite requests. The readiness with which they came forth with donations that I witnessed today is a clear testimony to the humanity that resides within each of us. And as long as compassion and the spirit of giving are not in short supply, we will always be able to triumph over adversity, and render help to those in need, in whatever capacity each of us is best equipped to handle. And it was with this conviction that we handed the donation drive over to our successors of the day comprising the trio of Yu Huei, Adina and Lulu.