Buddhist foundation opens office, awards scholarships

September 01, 2001|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

CALEXICO — To commemorate the opening of its Calexico office, the Tzu-Chi Buddhist Charitable Foundation awarded scholarships to students at San Diego State University-Imperial Valley campus and Imperial Valley College during a ceremony Friday.

On Saturday, Tzu-Chi volunteers, clad in blue polo shirts and white pants, handed out thousands of dollars worth of school supplies, clothes and food to Mexicali families.

The flurry of charitable work is all a part of the master plan of Tzu-Chi founder Cheng Yen, who said in a letter that she wants to establish a presence in Calexico and Mexicali.

At Friday's opening ceremony for the group's new Calexico digs, the letter from Yen was read to an audience of students, college administrators and elected officials from Calexico, Mexicali and Imperial County.


According to Yen's letter, she is opening an office in Calexico because the city is near the border and, "This border separates the rich from the poor."

According to her letter, Yen's foundation tries to ease the collective grief by collecting money and distributing it to those it deems needy.

In the letter she mentioned the pain she has felt after natural disasters such as "earthquakes, drought and typhoons" and stated, "The pain I feel increases every day."

In addition to the letter recitation, the audience watched a slide show of some of the organization's charitable work.

Yen's ambassador, Steven Huang, narrated the slide show.

He described and showed examples of the odd spate of diseases the foundation encountered in Vietnam.

He showed pictures of a giant Buddhist shrine that Yen's followers visited years ago that has since been destroyed.

He showed the audience pictures of sad-faced children — usually smeared with layers of dirt and grime — and told how their lives were changed after the Tzu-Chi foundation gave the children rice or built a school in their village.

Then Huang showed some particularly graphic shots.

One photo showed a woman resigned to begging on the streets of Jakarta because of the huge — 14.5 kilograms — tumor on her back.

Another slide showed a man and a boy with bloody brain tumors sticking out of their right eyes.

The next slide featured Huang and a little girl mugging for the camera. The girl's face was contorted and warped by a freak accident.

Following the gruesome before shots, Huang showed the "afters."

The woman with the tumor — healed.

"See how pretty she is now>" Huang asked.

While the boy with the eye tumor did not survive, the man did. He was shown post-surgery with an eye patch.

In one of the final shots, the girl — her hair replete with pink bows and her face surgically altered by a plastic surgeon— is held by Huang.

Calexico Mayor Victor Carrillo applauded the organization's charitable aims and said he is "proud and grateful" that Yen chose Calexico for the site of the office.

Mexicali Mayor Victor Hermosillo Celada followed Carrillo and explained how he became associated with Tzu-Chi.

He said Tzu-Chi follower Grace Lee joined forces with his wife, Maria Christina Ramos de Hermosillo, to help the homeless children of Mexicali.

The two worked together for more than a year before Ramos de Hermosillo died this year.

In a tearful moment for some at the ceremony, Lee and other Tzu-Chi followers vowed to continue supporting Ramos de Hermosillo's work.

Following the mayor's speeches, Tzu-Chi followers presented the scholarships.

IVC President Gilbert Dominguez said to be eligible for the scholarships students have to maintain 3.0 grade-point average and exhibit a Tzu-Chi-esque spirit of giving.

The students received their checks to applause, a group of volunteers sang a song and then the Tzu-Chi followers served dinner.

The Tzu-Chi office in the Hacienda Plaza off of W. Imperial Avenue is the 431st Tzu-Chi office throughout the world, Huang said.

Yen, a Taiwanese Buddhist monk, founded the charitable organization in 1966.

She started with 35 followers who spread their message of "kindness, compassion, joy and giving."

The organization now boasts more than 4 million followers and a worldwide mission to "help the poor and educate the rich," according to Huang.

Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or

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