Tzu Chi Collegiate Association: 30 Years of Fostering Compassion

National Headquarters  |  August 29, 2022
Tzu Chi Collegiate Association members and Tzu Chi USA Sacramento Service Center volunteers join forces for a river cleanup on the American River Parkway in 2017. Photo/TCCA Volunteers

Written and Translated by JuanMa Bonilla
Edited by Ida Eva Zielinska

Unity Through Social Service

Compassion and loving-kindness towards others are central values in Buddhism and within the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, and it’s essential to begin practicing them early in life. The Tzu Chi Collegiate Association (TCCA) upholds these principles. In recent years, many college students in the United States have become interested in joining, which has led to its growth.

Act with compassion and wisdom. Learn from and inspire each other.

Those were the words with which Dharma Master Cheng Yen inaugurated the TCCA on May 31, 1992. Her words capture the essence of the Association, which celebrates its 30th year in 2022.

The TCCA has a variety of programs where students participate in social service, giving them opportunities to develop leadership skills while building a significant contact network. The activities allow them to gain self-confidence and feel supported by a group of friends and colleagues with different areas of expertise and varying levels of experience. At the same time, they’re cultivating compassion and learning about putting it into action.

I feel like the more I gave, the more I grew as a person.

Their Experiences Speak for Themselves

Manpreet Badhan, now an emergency medical technician, was a college student looking to connect with other young people and join a club. She saw a group of students showcasing an eco-blanket made from plastic bottles, which caught her attention. This encounter marked the beginning of her adventure as a TCCA member.

Manpreet Badhan (center left) and Eduardo Rodriguez (center right), University of California, Davis, TCCA members, pose for a group photo at a Northwest TCCA Intercollegiate Graduation event. Photo/TCCA Volunteers

Manpreet, a TCCA member for eight years, fondly remembers good times doing various forms of community social service that all fulfill the TCCA objective of providing college students with a space to build character and cultivate compassion simultaneously. From volunteering in Tzu Chi disaster relief to programs aimed at protecting the environment, each activity was rewarding and is cherished.

One of my favorite [activities] was to go to the river and clean up. It feels like you’re hanging out at the beach, but you’re helping the environment.

TCCA membership can impact career choices as students become inspired to help others. The values Manpreet learned from being part of the TCCA influenced her choice of a career in medicine and advocacy for patient-centered care. At the same time, she confesses that TCCA helped her overcome depression thanks to the support of its membership.  

In 2019, Manpreet Badhan (right) and fellow TCCA volunteers help West Butte Fire survivors in California during Tzu Chi USA's disaster relief mission, providing emergency supplies and moral support. Photo/TCCA Volunteers

This sense of unity through social service is memorable for TCCA members. Recalling her TCCA times warmly, Manpreet acknowledges that they helped her develop empathy as she started to see the world differently and understand more about the people around her. 

Eduardo Rodriguez joined a TCCA chapter after participating in an event where volunteers brought joy and entertainment to the residents of a nursing home. The kindness of his fellows and the smiles of the elderly touched him deeply. Eduardo kept returning to be involved in the group’s activities and eventually became the chapter president in his junior year of college.

Eduardo Rodriguez (right) and TCCA members at the University of California, Davis, interpret in sign language during a Tzu Chi USA Sacramento Service Center event in 2017. Photo/TCCA Volunteers

Although Eduardo is no longer an active member, he remains interested in social service and wants to keep alive the values the TCCA instilled in him, which is why he chose to be a firefighter. He feels that his experiences as part of the TCCA and volunteering in Tzu Chi USA’s food and clothing distribution events prepared him and deepened his motivation to embark on this career path of helping people unconditionally.

As a firefighter, you basically dedicate yourself to serving the public in times of need. Tzu Chi is the same; dedicated to volunteer service, helping people, and changing your perspective of why someone is living in the streets or why they don’t have anything to eat. For me, it’s something that has always helped me in my career because I’m not here to judge people; I’m here to help them.

Naturally, Tzu Chi’s values apply to life in general. However, one of the professional sectors where compassion and kindness must be an anchor is medicine.

If it’s called ‘health care’ and there’s no ‘care,’ there’s only potentially health. I think that’s what made my brain spin; how can I get health care back to truly caring for someone?

Alice Jean, a family and preventive medicine physician in training, has been with Tzu Chi since kindergarten. Her parents enrolled her in a Tzu Chi Academy in Houston, Texas, because they wanted her to learn Chinese. Subsequently to this early introduction, Alice and several of her friends in high school in Houston formed a Tzu Chi Youth Group. She then joined the TCCA at the University of Texas at Austin.

At the University of Texas at Austin, Alice Jean and fellow volunteers register over 100 new bone marrow donors during a 3-day initiative. Alice had shaved her head to raise money for cancer research as part of the university's annual Brave the Shave event. Photo/TCCA Volunteers

Alice still remembers the first Tzu Chi charity care event she participated in when she was little. She recalls seeing a man who seemed sad despite receiving medical attention and a free haircut. She was giving out meals, and when it was this man’s turn, she greeted him with a big smile, “Hello! Here’s lunch, what would you like? I’ll gladly prepare whatever you prefer. I’m glad you came today!” The man smiled as he thanked her for asking what he preferred and told her that it made him feel cared for and important, something he hadn’t felt for a long time.

These are just three of many Tzu Chi Collegiate Association member stories. Manpreet, Eduardo, and Alice each expressed that the TCCA experience has shaped their views on life. As 2022 marks the 30th anniversary of the TCCA, perhaps the slogan of this year’s TCCA Leadership Conference, “One light shines bright, many lights illuminate the night,” best describes the core of what membership means. 

Alice Jean (right) takes part in a medical outreach event at Indian Springs High School in San Bernardino, California, on June 12, 2022. Photo/TCCA Volunteers

The lessons and values TCCA members learned will forever resonate like a bright light in their hearts. We can create positive global change by joining forces to help and support a better future for all. Kindness, love, and compassion must never end.

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