The Taiwan-based Buddhist volunteer relief organization Tzu Chi has been much in the news lately, from expanding its Canadian operations to helping families of passengers in Malaysia cope while the search continues for flight MH370, and featuring in a study of how innovations in social media use are allowing its reported 10 million members to stay connected.
Last week Tzu Chi members joined Richmond, BC, Mayor Malcolm Brodie and other officials to cut the ribbon on their new headquarters, an upgrade from 800 to 3,000 square feet. The Richmond Review reported Mayor Brodie as saying, “Anytime there is any kind of disaster, you can count on the Tzu Chi organization to be of great assistance.” The report also noted that Tzu Chi’s activities were not limited to disaster relief: “Locally, volunteers supply edibles to the food bank, help seniors in assisted living, offer educational courses in their facility and have donated over $170,000 to Richmond General Hospital.”
Since its founding in 1966, Tzu Chi has extended a global reach, with well more than 400 offices in nearly 50 countries and regions. With its stated mission to provide “Charity, Medicine, Education, and Humanistic Culture,” Tzu Chi volunteers are often quickly on the scene after disasters strike. For example, the Malaysian New Straits Times reported earlier this week that Tzu Chi volunteers have been “taking turns to render moral support to family members of the Chinese passengers aboard the missing MH370 flight,” as well as offering translation service between the families and Malaysian Airlines staff, many of whom do not speak Mandarin.
The far-flung Tzu Chi staff and members have embraced online social media platforms, tweaked with some of their own innovations, to keep information flowing, as well as to develop a broader feeling of connectedness, according to a study led by Pauline Hope Cheong, Associate Professor in the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication at Arizona State University. “The use of new media not only helps to advance the spiritual knowledge, but also helps to increase a sense of unity, belonging and commitment to public service among community members,” Cheong said.