The Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation is an international non-profit humanitarian organization with four main tenets: charity, medicine, education, and humanitarian culture. So far, with the help of 10 million volunteers and donors, the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation has provided millions of dollars of relief and aid in over 70 countries.
Tzu Chi was among the first organizations to provide relief to families that were victims of the World Trade Center attacks, Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina, and the earthquake in Haiti. Tzu Chi is unique in its approach to disaster relief in that it hands sums of cash directly into the hands of survivors. This is part of Tzu Chi’s philosophy: allowing survivors to use charity money on their own terms.
The Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation started in 1966 when a group of women began to save two cents from grocery money every day to donate to charity. The organization registered as a non-profit 501(c)(3) in California in 1984, and over the years, it has become an international group of over 10 million volunteers.
Literally meaning “compassionate relief,” Tzu Chi has expanded its program beyond just charity by building schools and hospitals around the world. With deep roots in Asia, Tzu Chi has become one of the most influential charity organizations in that region. Tzu Chi volunteers are easily recognized by their blue and white uniforms, and have frequently been called “blue angels.”
A factor that distinguishes Tzu Chi from many other Buddhist organizations is that it is first and foremost not evangelical. Volunteers are made to feel at home and are encouraged to practice whatever religion they affiliate with. All members are encouraged to improve their behavior and mindset, regardless of the underlying Buddhist ethics.
Tzu Chi is strictly non-political and non-governmental, and does not discriminate based on race, religion, nationality, gender, or ethnicity. For this, it has come under some scrutiny in the past, as many Taiwanese were upset with Tzu Chi for offering relief to mainland China. That criticism passed when Tzu Chi became one of the most coordinated organizations to provide relief to Taiwan during the 921 earthquake.
The organization has expanded to involve university students worldwide. The Tzu Chi Collegiate Association is a worldwide network that was officially established in Taiwan in 1992. The volunteers are often given opportunities to attend international NGO conferences. Tzu Shao is also a branch of Tzu Chi that allows youth 18 and under to get involved.
Tzu Chi is progressive in the idea that human growth is rooted in charity and giving, not just internal meditation. Not only does Tzu Chi help survivors of disasters and tragedies, but it also helps its volunteers. Many people are involved with the organization to help their communities and also for their own personal development.
– Lindsey Rubinstein
Sources: Tzu Chi, NY Daily News