Seeing the good in humankind


Dr. Carlo Nasol diagnoses a patient. (Photographs by Sonny Espiritu for Daily Tribune)
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Somewhere in the heart of Manila, in the old Sta. Mesa district, stands an edifice that pays tribute to the goodness and generosity of the human spirit.

The Buddhist Tzu Chi Eye Center is a haven for the young and old, the needy and underprivileged, men and women, Filipino or a national of other countries who are suffering from eye disease.

I had the privilege of seeing for myself this monument to love and compassion when I visited the Center recently. I became aware of this well-equipped, state-of-the-art eye hospital because of the wonderful stories that a Tzu Chi commissioner shared with me.

Founder of Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation Dharma Master Cheng Yen.

The visit a few days later confirmed all the good things she said about the Buddhist Tzu Chi Medical Foundation Philippines and the Tzu Chi Eye Center.

On hand to welcome us, the Daily Tribune team that included my co-writer Pauline Songco and our photographer, Sonny Espiritu, were Alfredo Li, chief executive officer of the Eye Center, and Michael Siao, who is the  head of the Volunteers’ Affairs Department.

Michael Siao is the dynamic volunteer affairs department head.

Both shared fascinating stories of how they discovered the foundation, and realizing its role in society, chose to be active members and eventually leaders of the foundation. Li guided our group through the various facilities of the eye center, and explained to us the functions of the state-of-the-art equipment used for the diagnosis of patients and the surgical procedures performed by the country’s top ophthalmology specialists, all of whom have received training at prestigious hospitals and medical centers abroad and the Philippines.

Address illness first

A common thread that weaves through the volunteers of the Tzu Chi Foundation is their belief in, and respect and admiration for Dharma Master Cheng Yen, who was born in 1937 in a small town in Taichung County, Taiwan.

A long queue of patients waits to be assisted by the Tzu Chi staff.

Li shared that Master Cheng Yen left home when she was 23 years old to become a Buddhist nun.

The organization’s publication, Light Up Lives, says Cheng Yen, “after years of doing charity work, came to realize that poverty is the result of illness or vice versa. She concluded that to end poverty, illness needed to be taken care of first.”

“In 1972 she started a free clinic to provide medical services to the poor twice a week and then set out to build a hospital.” Today, there are seven such hospitals across the length and breadth of Taiwan.

Alfredo Li, head of Tzu Chi Eye Center

In 1966, she founded the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation “to help the poor and educate the rich,” by bridging the gap between the two as the rich become more compassionate, realizing that among their key roles in life is to share their resources with the needy, economically challenged and downtrodden members of society.

What binds these two sectors are the teachings of Dharma Master Cheng Yen, whose Jing Si aphorism affirms: “Life is happiest when you are needed by others and can do things for others.”

Doctors and nurses at work inside a world-class, fully-equipped operating room

First-class eyecare

Fast forward to 2007 — the Tzu Chi Clinic was established in Bacood, Sta. Mesa and offered free dental and eye care services to patients from various parts of the Philippines.

Right at the Eye Center, the eye specialists, the management and staff, all volunteers, share their belief in the love that Dharma Master Cheng Yen espouses.

Alfredo Li, head of Tzu Chi Eye Center, listens to Dr. Carlo Antonio Nasol as he discusses the salient points of his next surgical procedure.

Interestingly, her teachings transcend the challenges brought about by human differences, whether in creed, color, political affiliation, age or economic capacity.

At the same time, as Li pointed out, “While the foundation benefits from its many donors, including a number of well-off and caring volunteers, and therefore shoulder the cost of medical assistance, it nevertheless asks Philhealth members to use the financial benefits to which they are entitled.”
The Eye Center addresses the various needs of its patients. Its world-class operating rooms are completely equipped with the latest ophthalmic surgical machines.

Patients with forehead tags are awaiting their turn in the operating room.

To ensure patients’ first-class eyecare, the Center continuously upgrades its surgical and clinical machines, thanks to its generous donors and volunteers. Of late, added to its inventory of world-class equipment are the Stellaris PC, which utilizes advanced technology for both vitreoretinal and cataract surgeries; additional unit of general anesthesia machine that provides safe and comfortable surgical procedures for both doctors and patients; and an upgraded Argon laser machine that helps patients suffering from glaucoma, diabetic eye diseases and retinal holes and tears.

The Center’s other projects are: assistance to dialysis patients with eye problems, surgical missions in rural areas, and solicitation of pre-loved wheelchairs for distribution to needy mobility-challenged patients.

Delicious vegetarian foods are served to patients and guests.

These charitable undertakings reflect the insightful wisdom in the words of Darma Master Cheng Yen who firmly believes that suffering in this world is caused by material deprivation and spiritual poverty. She felt that a “lack of love for others” has been the root of many problems in this world. “To save the world, we must begin by transforming human hearts.”

(More about Tzu Chi next week.)

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