Landis Elementary School is located in a diverse, low-income area of southwest Houston. Most students do not speak English at home, and more than ninety percent come from low-income families. Many of the students’ parents are even unable to purchase the required school uniforms. So, on the eve of Thanksgiving 2008, Tzu Chi held a uniform distribution for ninety-eight students, beginning a close relationship with the school that continues to this day.
Building on the foundation laid by that first distribution, volunteers now distribute uniforms every spring and fall. On these occasions, volunteers also show students how to separate papers and bottles for recycling to turn trash into gold to help those in need. The students have been especially impressed with the story of how Da Ai Technology turns plastic bottles into blankets and clothing, a process that seems almost magical. Ever since volunteers first taught recycling methods, teachers have reported that many students very diligently collect and sort recyclables.
One staff member said that the volunteers’ recycling presentation opened her eyes to how much she wastes on a daily basis and encouraged her to change her habits. Volunteers also take these opportunities to explain the environmental benefits of a vegetarian diet and demonstrate some simple vegetarian recipes, even inviting teachers to help prepare dishes with them.
For the January 2010 distribution, volunteers also began to “adopt” two or three students. Each visit, the volunteers sit and chat for a while with their small group of “adoptees.” Since that distribution came just after the earthquake in Haiti, volunteers showed where Haiti is on the globe and encouraged students to write their blessings for earthquake survivors on note cards. Volunteers also shared the story of Tzu Chi’s bamboo banks, explaining that even a small amount of money can make a very big difference because the combined strength of everyone’s love is great.
Since May 2010, Tzu Chi volunteers have organized two teacher appreciation events each year. The volunteers give each teacher a copy of Jing Si Aphorisms, which many keep in their offices to read on bad days. One teacher has even taken her copy to church to share with friends there, while others report using the aphorisms to educate their children.
In the May 2012 event, volunteers showed teachers how to make elegant floral arrangements in vases made from recyclables. After completing their arrangements, the teachers visited other stations where they could taste teas, appreciate flowers, and read Jing Si Aphorisms.
Four years into Tzu Chi’s partnership with Landis Elementary, the impact on the Tzu Chi volunteers has been remarkable. Some who were once too embarrassed to speak English now joyfully greet teachers as soon as they step on campus. Others who struggled with organizing uniform distributions now provide ideas to make each interaction smoother than the last. Those who could not figure out how to introduce Tzu Chi culture to the teachers now see these teachers asking about the meaning of each Tzu Chi activity of their own accord. By stepping out of their comfort zones to support the teachers and students of Landis Elementary, these Tzu Chi volunteers have gained more than they ever imagined possible.
Acts of generosity are perceived as helping others when we ourselves are the true beneficiaries.
Jing Si Aphorism by Dharma Master Cheng Yen