June 3, 2023
Former Tzu Chi Youth continue Master Cheng Yen’s missions
By Joy Rojas
If the 41 participants of the recent 20th Still Thoughts Summer Camp still need convincing that joining Tzu Chi Youth was a good decision, they can look to Kinlon Fan and Leo Villanueva for proof.
Kinlon, who served as the camp’s disciplinarian, and Leo, who documented the May 26-28 event on video, were once Tzu Chi Youth themselves, and after years of extending compassion and relief to so many people in need, they are all the better for it.
Kinlon, whose father is Taiwanese, learned of Tzu Chi after his dad passed away in 2000. Taking his dad’s ashes back to Hualien, his mom Terry visited the Jing Si Abode and upon her return to Manila, introduced the Tzu Chi culture to her family. “Daai TV was our family bonding time,” says Kinlon, 27. “Whenever we’d come home from school, we’d watch Daai TV.”
A charity bazaar commemorating Tzu Chi Philippines’ anniversary in November 2005 led his mother to volunteer with the foundation. Kinlon, all of 9 years old at the time, was by her side during her training. Eventually, he became part of the kiddie class, and when he was of age, joined Tzu Chi Youth.
Like any teen, Kinlon had his bouts of angst. “I kept thinking, ‘Why is my mom always going to this foundation?’ She doesn’t have time for us, and every time we go out it’s always, ‘Tzu Chi, Tzu Chi,’” he admits with a laugh. “There was a lot of ‘Why?’ in my mind.”
A Tzu Chi Winter Youth Camp 2011 would answer all his questions and more. “I was really inspired by Dharma Master Cheng Yen’s teachings. Her wisdom and compassion opened my eyes, and her vow to help all sentient beings really struck me,” he marvels. With his newfound affinity for Tzu Chi, Kinlon participated in the foundation’s numerous events. A memorable one was the January 2022 relief distribution efforts for victims of Typhoon Odette (Rai) in Cebu.
“Despite my being in Tzu Chi for a very, very long time, I never saw how volunteers mobilized relief efforts,” he says. “This was my first time to see the entire process of relief work, and I realized that there is still so much I can learn from this foundation.”
As such, Kinlon chose to leave his corporate job as a site technical engineer for Huawei to work full-time as Tzu Chi’s resident engineer since June 2022. He’s also traveling to Hualien in June for his certification as a member of Tzu Chi’s Faith Corps.
To the newest batch of Tzu Chi Youth, he would tell them “That they are on the right path, and they should stick to this path. This bodhisattva path has already been paved by so many volunteers, and Master Cheng Yen has also paved the way for our spiritual and mental wellbeing.”
For Leo, 31, it was a marble-sized cyst in his right eyelid that brought him to the Tzu Chi Foundation in 2008. Through a consultation with ophthalmologist Dr. Alex Sua in his Binondo clinic, he underwent the procedure for free at the Tzu Chi Eye Center in Buddhist Tzu Chi Campus in Sta. Mesa, Manila.
Grateful for this show of kindness and generosity, Leo only thought it proper to reciprocate by giving of his time and efforts. He assisted medical beneficiaries in Tzu Chi medical missions and helped distribute relief goods to victims of calamities. He also joined volunteers’ massive cleanup drive following Super Typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana) in 2009. “Marikina was really submerged in flood water. I experienced digging through mud to clear the environment,” he says.
Opportunities came his way as he continued to volunteer. He completed his Bachelor of Science in Information Technology at AMA Computer College as a Tzu Chi scholar. When he joined Tzu Chi Youth in 2012, he gave comfort and joy to the residents of orphanages and homes for the aged.
“That’s when I realized how lucky I am because my family is whole,” he says. “That’s also where I could relate Master Cheng Yen’s teaching on filial piety, to show love to your parents while they are still around.”
Today, he’s a Happy Volunteer, helping out in Tzu Chi events when he’s not working in Manila City Hall’s real estate tax department or covering weddings and debuts as a freelance photographer and videographer. Still, his goal is to one day wear the commissioner’s blue-and-white uniform and meet Master Cheng Yen in person. “It’s a dream,” he says with a smile.
For now, he’s content to fulfilling other people’s dreams of claiming compassion and relief from volunteers who want nothing more than to help.
“Tzu Chi is part of my life. I’ll never forget Tzu Chi for as long as I live,” he says. “It feels better to give than to receive. Tzu Chi didn’t just help me; it gave me the experience of being able to help others.”