In conjunction with the Qing Ming Festival, Tzu Chi Malacca volunteers initiated efforts to promote environmental conservation at the Malacca Memorial Park as a reminder to members of the public to not neglect the cleanliness of the environment while partaking in traditional customs and rituals that pay tribute to the dearly departed.
The Qing Ming Festival (also known as Tomb-sweeping Day) is a significant festival in the traditional Chinese calendar, and is usually observed by offering prayers to the dearly departed to commemorate their lives. The occasion also serves as an opportunity for family members from near and far to take time off from their hectic lifestyles to gather in remembrance of deceased relatives and impart the time-tested virtues of filial piety and respect for elders. However, some quarters tend to neglect the cleanliness of their surroundings while partaking in traditional customs and rituals to pay tribute to the dearly departed, leaving behind a trail of litter. In an effort to reverse this trend, Tzu Chi Malacca volunteers took the initiative to conduct various activities at the Malacca Memorial Park on March 30 and 31, 2019 to raise public awareness on the importance of environmental conservation.
On March 30, 2019, the CEO of Tzu Chi Malacca, Loh Siew Cheng, demonstrated her support for the cause by personally advocating for various environmental issues, speaking on topics ranging from the Earth Hour campaign to saturated landfills, and shared informative insights on recycling practices and environmental conservation. Despite being confronted with ridicule and even rejection from onlookers, she persisted in her mission to educate the public.
Her perseverance was rewarded when several onlookers showed interest in the cause and requested for further information. Siew Cheng opined, “Reaching out to members of the public is an ideal way of promoting our cause as it is bound to attract the attention of curious individuals.” She acknowledged that it is far-fetched to expect to leave a meaningful impact through education efforts over a mere two days, but at the same time, she was disheartened at the thought of recyclable waste being discarded indiscriminately or worse, being burnt to ashes. Hence, she would rather make do with the limited resources and manpower at her disposal, and encouraged the volunteers involved to give their best.
During her time at the memorial park, she had encountered some members of the public who had only a vague knowledge of Tzu Chi, as well as others who were well-acquainted with the organization. Among those in the latter group was Tan Chooi Ping, who had come across Tzu Chi volunteers while manning her refreshments stall during the Wesak Day procession at the Seck Kia Eenh Buddhist Temple many years ago. Chooi Ping recalled that back then, the volunteers were busy spreading the message of environmental conservation. She approached the volunteers and requested for a poster appealing to the public not to litter to be displayed at her stall in support of the cause. Now, a sense of nostalgia arose within her at the familiar sight of the volunteers, easily recognizable from their distinctive uniforms.
Chooi Ping has been travelling to various venues with her mobile stall, and is no stranger to litter strewn on the streets, leading her to remark that public awareness of environmental conservation is lacking, before admitting to falling behind in environmentally-friendly practices herself. Nevertheless, she has taken the initiative to provide a plastic disposal bag at her stall for her customers to dispose of their emptied beverage cans in order to keep the surroundings clean and reduce litter to a minimum.
She handed over the soft drink cans in her collection to a volunteer who was going around gathering recyclable litter into a sack, eagerly offering, “I have saved the recyclables I have collected for the volunteers, as I am aware that Tzu Chi would channel the proceeds from the sales of the recyclables towards helping the needy.”
She admired the volunteers’ humility and patience in communicating with members of the public without being intimidated by the risk of being confronted with hostile reactions. She, on the other hand, preferred to interact with children. She was confident that the volunteers’ tireless efforts would eventually bear fruit, and hoped for more members of the public to commit to environmentally-friendly measures to achieve a greater and more sustainable collective impact.
Taking timely action
Volunteer Lim Siew Man recalled being awed by a poster featuring the compelling image of a mother breastfeeding her child against a backdrop of a towering mound of waste. The poster first caught Siew Man’s attention many years ago, yet the visual impact it generated proved lasting. Siew Man dreaded the day when the mountain of waste depicted in the poster would materialize before her very eyes. To her, the prospect of living among heaps upon heaps of waste was catastrophic beyond imagination.
Siew Man not only strives to brush up on her knowledge on environmental conservation, but also actively incorporates it into her daily life. Whenever she eats out, she would opt to dine on the premises or prepare her own food container for takeaway orders. She also keeps a set of reusable cutlery handy. She found the practice cumbersome at first, but soon settled into the habit as she gradually became mindful of the potential impact her lifestyle choices would leave on the environment in the long run.
Siew Man was encouraged by volunteer Ng Kim Poh to make her first foray into promoting environmental conservation efforts. At the beginning, she was uncomfortable with foraging through garbage bins for recyclables and carrying out tasks that required constant interaction with members of the public, but the phase of initial awkwardness soon dissipated and she now dedicates herself wholeheartedly to the cause.
Siew Man has come full circle from being inspired by a poster advocating environmental conservation; now, she is the one influencing others, armed with a poster to spread the message of environmental conservation. Furthermore, she takes steps to commit to environmentally-friendly practices as she believes in the power of leading by example.
“We must step up our efforts to save the environment before it is too late. Change starts from ourselves, hence we should set an example to others by adopting an environmentally-friendly lifestyle, for actions speak louder than words,” Siew Man asserted.
Working together for environmental conservation
“I long for the idyllic natural landscape of my childhood, long before pollution took over. I used to wake up to cool, misty mornings, but now the air is choked with haze. The harmful effects of widespread environmental pollution are taking a turn for the worse. I worry for the well-being of our future generations,” lamented Tang Choon Seong, who was offering prayers to his deceased kin with his relatives at the memorial park.
The volunteers’ concern for the environment resonated with Choon Seong, prompting him to add that although constant development has inflicted extensive damage on the environment, he was comforted to know that Tzu Chi volunteers are willing to go the extra mile to save the Earth from total destruction.
Choon Seong, who suffered from heart complications, decided to embrace vegetarianism in 2010, in a bid to reclaim his health. He even started cultivating his own fresh produce, including cauliflowers, long beans, yams, corn, papayas, watermelons and pineapples. Besides that, the labour involved in growing his own fruits and vegetables gave him the opportunity to engage in physical activity. A nutritious diet, combined with regular exercise, led to improvements in his overall health.
Lean Qian Ru, 8, who visited the memorial park with her mother to pay their respects to departed elders, is familiar with environmental conservation efforts. At home, she often assists her mother in sorting recyclables before delivering them to the neighbourhood recycling point. At school, she is encouraged to manage classroom resources according to environmentally-friendly principles. In addition, she would prepare her own reusable lunchbox and utensils for school meals.
The team of 35 volunteers managed to collect 75 kg worth of recyclables over the span of two days. In an age where the effects of global warming and climate change are becoming ever more pronounced, it is high time to re-evaluate our priorities and spare a thought for our future generations, who will suffer the consequences of our inconsiderate exploitation of the environment. Traditional values and customs should be duly preserved, but not at the cost of incurring environmental pollution and wasted resources. When it comes to saving the environment, every little effort counts.