Ukrainian students recently served as volunteers at nearby Fu-Jing Temple Elderly Care Center in Bei-Chang Village. Ukraine and Russia are still at war, and the community’s elders asked the students whether they had a place to stay in Taiwan; if not, they welcomed the students to live with them. The elders’ enthusiasm caused the students to feel their warmth.
University volunteers have served the Center’s elders for many years. Due to the epidemic, the University discontinued service for three months, until several days ago. Every month, University volunteers offer simple exercises and activities, wishing that the elders stay physically and mentally healthy. Wen-Xian Liu, the head of Bei-Chang Village, said: “The elders feel very happy to see Tzu Chi University students and enjoy being with them, as if they were with their grandchildren.”
“Making a Cinnabar Peace Bracelet” was the project of the month. Students provided tools for the elders, but they still had difficulties in completing the complex threading work. Fortunately, they had help from Ukrainian students; despite the language barrier, they were determined to get things done and worked happily with the students.
One Ukrainian student, Alona, pointed to the numbers and helped a grandma to put the thread on the plate. Grandma said numbers in Chinese “six, five…” An hour later, Alona could say numbers in Chinese. Alona said: “I couldn’t speak Chinese before, but now I can. I told grandma the steps to make her bracelet. The grandma did the work herself, and we did the last part together. We had a lot of fun working together.”
Knowing that Ukraine and Russia are still at war, one 95-year-old grandma recalled her memories and said: “When I was 16 years old, World War II was ongoing. Many men joined the armed forces, and the women needed to work at the farms, which had been the men’s jobs. Whenever we heard the air raid sirens, we rushed to shelters….” Grandma shared her memories in Japanese and Taiwanese.
Twenty-two year-old student Dina told one grandma that she was taking exams in Ukraine when the war broke out. She started fleeing without a chance to meet her parents. She did not know how her hometown and family would be, and her mother told her not to worry about them. Dina wishes to cherish and take the opportunity to learn Taiwanese culture and enhance her Chinese here. She also looks forward to flying back to Ukraine from Taiwan to see her family one day.
The bracelet project shortened the distance between Ukrainian students and elders in Hualien. One Ukrainian student was very good at putting beads together, and his Taiwanese “grandma” was thrilled to have his assistance. “He has a special way to do it,” said the grandma.
This Ukrainian student shared that when he fled Ukraine, staff taped up the windows of the entire train to prevent the lights from shining out and the train being discovered by the enemy. He said: “I feel very safe in Taiwan. My grandma in Ukraine loves me very much; now I am surrounded by these Taiwanese grandmas, and I feel their love.” His Ukrainian grandma is 75 years old, and in his eyes, his Taiwanese grandma looked younger. Thinking about his family members in Ukraine, he made a bracelet for them.
Mr. Zhong was the ship’s captain and visited Ukraine twice before 1991. Seeing Ukrainian students, he took the initiative to greet them and said, “We welcome you to come to Taiwan and pray that the war will end soon. I am sure you will gain skills, knowledge, and atrium from studying here and one day return to Ukraine to spread Tzu Chi’s Great Love there.
Tzu Chi Foundation has assisted many Ukrainian students in coming to Taiwan to continue their studies, and ten of them have joined Tzu Chi University. To most Ukrainian students, this is their first time to come to Taiwan. Some had basic Chinese listening and speaking skills, while others knew nothing about the Chinese language.
To assist students in enhancing their Chinese language skills, the University’s Chinese Language Center attended to their needs and offered Chinese language courses during the summer break.
Yi-Zhong Liu, director of the Office of Humanistic Culture, said, “I wish to invite Ukrainian students to participate in various voluntary services, for them to enhance compassion and wisdom, and understand how Tzu Chi volunteers address the needs of people around the world.”
The village head, Mr. Liu, introduced the temple’s history before expressing his gratitude to the Ukrainian students. All attendants prayed that the COVID-19 pandemic would be over soon and may the world be free of wars.