September 7, 2023
“Tzu Chi heart” evident in scholars’ reapplication interviews
By Joy Rojas
When volunteers conduct reapplication interviews of Tzu Chi scholars each year, they just don’t focus on how well they performed academically.
“One of the qualities I look for in scholars is the Tzu Chi heart,” says Almalyn Russel Dinampo, a social welfare officer who handles the educational assistance program of Tzu Chi’s Charity Department. “After scholars attend our monthly Humanity classes, their family members notice a change in them. This shows that they adopted and applied the teachings they learned in their lives.”
The changes were evident in a majority of the 388 scholars who attended the reapplication interviews held on August 29, 31, September 1, 2, and 3 at the Buddhist Tzu Chi Campus in Sta. Mesa, Manila. “Especially among the scholars who have been with us for a long time,” says Almalyn. “You can see it in their gestures, etiquette, and the way they dress and present themselves in Tzu Chi activities.”
Still, a Tzu Chi heart can impact one’s studies too. While most scholarships require applicants to maintain an impressive general weighted average (GWA), a Tzu Chi scholarship is open to students with a GWA of 82. “They’re the ones with less opportunities when it comes to scholarship programs,” explains Almalyn. “But based on our previous experience, even the average students can excel. Last school year, one of our scholars graduated summa cum laude, and we had a lot of scholars who were recognized by their schools as magna cum laude and cum laude.”
In only his first year as a Tzu Chi scholar, Edrian de los Reyes already imbibed the Tzu Chi heart—or has it always been inherent in him? “Since I was one year old, I was raised by my mother, a solo parent. My goal is to make it up to her, to give her a comfortable life, so she doesn’t have to worry about daily expenses. I want to help her,” says the 23-year-old graduating BS Computer Science student from Divine Mercy College Foundation.
It’s an admirable goal considering Edrian is legally blind. Diagnosed with Lever's Hereditary Optic Neuropathy, he was 15 when he suddenly lost his central vision as he stood up to play basketball. Told that no surgery or pair of glasses would help restore his sight, he initially worried about how he was going to watch his favorite anime or play videogames.
“But I was graduating from high school at the time, and that’s when I wondered, ‘What about my studies?’” he says.
Despite his condition, Edrian coped well, entering a mainstream college and reaping academic recognitions in a demanding course. Though struggles with his sight persist, they don’t stop him from going about his day.
“Commuting is my biggest challenge,” he says. “I could get sideswiped by a vehicle or enter the wrong jeep or bus. But my mentality is, ‘If it’s your time, it’s your time. Just do your best and always be careful.’”
Edrian learned about the Tzu Chi Foundation and its scholarships through Criselda Valderama, deputy director of Visually Impaired Brothers for Excellent Service (VIBES), Inc. The group of blind massage therapists was among the beneficiaries of Tzu Chi’s rice relief efforts for sectors most affected by the pandemic.
“She referred me to Uncle Johnny Kwok,” says Edrian. “Even if my college isn’t among Tzu Chi’s partner schools, they considered my situation and status in life.”
What he does after graduating will not only be a big help to his mother, it will improve the lives of countless visually impaired individuals like him. “I’d like to develop technology that is friendly to the blind,” says Edrian who worked as a livestreaming technician for a mostly blind clientele during the pandemic. “Hopefully in the future, technology can be used to remove any barriers for the blind when it comes to education and employment.”
“Thank you for coming into our lives, Tzu Chi and Master Cheng Yen,” he adds. “You have made such an impact in our lives, especially for me, a graduating student. We have peace of mind knowing you are by our side, helping us. Even after I graduate and get a job, I’ll come back to reciprocate the kindness that you gave me and my family.”
Volunteerism and filial piety are now second nature to Michelle Jose, a Tzu Chi scholar for the past two years. “When we volunteer, we shouldn’t expect recognition or anything in return. What we should look forward to is how we can help others,” says the 21-year-old Bachelor in Early Childhood Education incoming senior from the Philippine Normal University.
At last July’s scholars camp, she did just that, readily accepting the invitation to be part of the activities team then co-emceeing on the last day. “I said, ‘Ok, go! Anything to help.” The tasks required her to speak and even dance before fellow scholars, things she would never have done if not for Tzu Chi’s influence.
“I used to be so pessimistic in life, an overthinker. Humanity classes and scholars’ camps changed me in a big way. I discovered different types of people, and I discovered myself and what I am capable of. Tzu Chi helped me get out of my comfort zone,” she says.
“Being a Tzu Chi scholar broadened my mind. It made me realize that there are people going through heavier challenges than me.”
The youngest of three kids, Michelle knows what it’s like to not have enough. Her father was a janitor, security guard, and bakery assistant before he lost his job during the pandemic. Her mother makes a living washing and ironing clothes. A sister works, but can only contribute so much as she has a child of her own to raise.
With her tuition take care of, Michelle can focus on her studies and future. “Since I was a child, I’ve always dreamed of being a teacher and having my own school. My mother inspired me because she’s always wanted to be a teacher. Growing up poor in the province, she gave up her dream to help her parents support the family.”
A touching way to honor her mother, Michelle’s goal is also yet another opportunity to extend assistance in any way she can. “What a great feeling knowing that you are able to help others using your own abilities,” she says of the teaching profession.
“Many, many thanks, Tzu Chi. Since you came into my life, there have been so many changes and improvements in the way I look at life and appreciate the people in my life,” says Michelle. “My heart is full of happiness right now because I’m with Tzu Chi. I feel loved and accepted.”