Tzu Chi Merit Association’s Free Clinic for the Poor was established in 1972.
Establishing a Free Clinic for the Poor
September 10, 1972
Tzu Chi Merit Association borrowed the property located at 28 Ren’ai Street in Hualien City to set up Tzu Chi Merit Association’s Free Clinic for the Poor. Twice a week, the clinic diagnosed illnesses and prescribed medicine for care recipients. This continued until Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital opened in December of that year.Tzu Chi Merit Association borrowed the property located at 28 Ren’ai Street in Hualien City to set up Tzu Chi Merit Association’s Free Clinic for the Poor. Twice a week, the clinic diagnosed illnesses and prescribed medicine for care recipients. This continued until Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital opened in December of that year.
November 12, 1972
Tzu Chi held its first medical outreach since the clinic’s establishment.
December 24 - 25, 1972
The Tzu Chi Merit Association held a medical outreach during the Constitution Day holiday in Taiwan.
September 6, 1986
On August 17th, Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital began operation. Starting September 6th, the Tzu Chi Merit Association’s Free Clinic for the Poor was supported by the hospital’s doctors.
Due to the lack of manpower, the free clinic on Ren’ai Street in Hualien City closed down at the end of December. The clinic gave poor households “free clinic vouchers” so that they could receive free medical treatment at Tzu Chi Hospital.
Tzu Chi Monthly Issue 71
Medical treatment for impoverished households is provided every Sunday morning. Doctors will diagnose illnesses and prescribe medication free of charge. The clinic is located on 28 Ren’ai Street.
In order to advance our service to society and benefiting the poor and ill, the Hualien Buddhist Tzu Chi Merit Association will provide free medical treatments. Starting on the 10th of this month, we have hired renowned physicians from public hospitals to treat patients from impoverished households, as well as to provide medication.
The Free Clinic for the Poor is temporarily located at 28 Ren’ai Street, Hualien City, inside the Lay Buddhist Practitioner Association. The clinic is open on Sundays from 9 am to 11 am, and if necessary, hours may be extended. Poor households who need medical attention should first apply for a “medical treatment voucher” from the Tzu Chi Merit Association or the Lay Buddhist Practitioner Association on Ren’ai Street. Medical exams and medication are all free of charge.
Provincial Hualien Hospital’s attending surgeon, Dr. Huang Boshi, and internist, Dr. Zhang Chengwen, have already generously agreed to help on Sunday mornings, giving free medical care for the poor every Sunday morning at the free clinic. There are many nurses at the hospital, and they have also agreed to help patients at the clinic every week.
Dr. Huang, Dr. Zhang, and the nurses are compassionate and have formed aspirations to dedicate their medical expertise to the poor afflicted by illness. Their efforts are not only praiseworthy but will also bring infinite merits and virtues!
Tzu Chi Monthly Issue 72
The free clinic for the poor provided many patients with care and was widely praised for its kind service. Medical treatment is provided every Sunday and Wednesday.
This September and October, the Hualien Buddhist Tzu Chi Merit Association began holding free clinics for the poor every Sunday and Wednesday at the Lay Buddhist Practitioner Association on Ren’ai Street in Hualien City, helping ninety patients over the past three weeks. These good deeds have been widely recognized by the public.
It has been almost one month since the association began the free clinic for the poor with the support of people from all walks of life. In particular, some pharmaceutical businesses have donated medicine to help the poor and ill. There truly is warmth in all parts of society! From their visits with impoverished households, Tzu Chi commissioners learned that, aside from the seniors who live alone and the disabled, most people became poor from falling ill and being unable to work. Therefore, we feel that the free clinic alone cannot adequately provide relief; we must help eliminate the root cause of their poverty!
Through rare affinities, we received the support of Hualien Hospital’s internist, Dr. Zhang Chengwen, and surgeon, Dr. Huang Boshi, who compassionately dedicated their medical expertise to treat the poor. The hospital’s nurses, Miss Lin Biqi, Miss Wu Sulian, Miss Deng Shuqing, and the hospital’s staff, Miss Lin Yijun, volunteered their expertise in nursing and dispensing medication. Mr. Zhang Xichi of Zhang’s Pharmacy on Nanjing Street, Hualien City was also a great benefactor to the free clinic. He traveled all over to help Master Cheng Yen prepare everything needed for the free clinic, and donating medicine for all kinds of illnesses. Furthermore, he comes to every free clinic, which takes place twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays, to help with nursing and dispensing medication. Thanks to the compassionate and enthusiastic medical personnel mentioned above, the association was able to fulfill its wish to establish a free clinic for the poor. Master Cheng Yen and everyone at the association are infinitely grateful.
Provincial Hualien Hospital’s internist Dr. Zhang Chengwen, surgeon Dr. Huang Boshi, nurses Lin Biqi, Wu Sulian, Deng Shuqian, staff member Lin Yijin, and others supported our free clinic by providing their medical expertise to serve the poor and the sick who need our help. They have enabled us to successfully take action to help the poor. Their compassion and their drive to serve society are worthy of praise and admiration.
Another notable person is Mr. Zhang Xici. He is 46 years old, and is a local from Hualien. He works as a health education instructor at Hualien County Health Bureau. He has worked in the government’s health office for twenty-six years, and started Zhang’s Pharmacy on 51 Nanjing Street, Hualien. When we were organizing the free clinic for the poor, he wholeheartedly supported us and went all over to help handle many different matters for us. On the days when the free clinic was held, he would always be there to help; his enthusiasm is truly admirable.
Tzu Chi Monthly Issue 75
Our free clinic for the poor helped nearly 500 people last month. With devotion, doctors and nurses helped their patients. Zhengsi Hall in Taipei donated large amounts of ingredients for making medicine.
489 people received medical treatment at our free clinic in December, which set an unprecedented record.
The free clinic for the poor is still held every Wednesday and Sunday at the Lay Buddhist Practitioner Association on Ren’ai Street. December 24th was on a Sunday, and the 25th was Constitution Day. We used these two days of vacation to host medical outreaches at multiple locations. At Ruisui and Yuli on the 24th, we saw eighty-two patients. At Guangfu and Fengtian on the 25th, we saw 212 patients. During the medical outreaches, Master Cheng Yen and the commissioners were there in person to help out.
The doctor presiding over the medical outreach on the 24th was Dr. Zheng Huixiong of Provincial Hualien Hospital, and on the 25th, it was Dr. Zhang Chengwen of Provincial Hualien Hospital. At the medical outreach on the 25th, there were so many patients that we had to organize two separate stations to provide medical care at the same time. One was at the Da’an Village office, and the other one was at the unified office for Futian East, South, West, and North Villages. Hualien Sugar Factory Hospital Superintendent Li Ding also took part in the medical outreach.
Nurses Lin Biqi and Deng Shuqing from Provincial Hualien Hospital both took on nursing duties during the two days of medical outreach.
The doctors and nurses displayed great enthusiasm in their services. They happily helped the poor and ill. The work was difficult, yet they all did it voluntarily, a spirit which was greatly praised by the locals.
There is a philanthropist who frequently helps others but who wishes to remain anonymous. In particular, they provide care for those who are suffering from both poverty and illness. They often host free clinics in Taipei, Taichung, and other places, giving medical care and medicine to countless people who are tormented by their illnesses but have no money to seek medical care or buy medicine. Those who received help did not know who their benefactor is, but they all felt boundless gratitude and sent their blessings to this person!
Out of compassion for the impoverished patients in eastern Taiwan, this anonymous benefactor provided the association’s free clinic with all the necessary medicine and equipment.
In the middle of last month (December, 1972), medicine was mailed to the association in two packages. Master Cheng Yen gave it to the pharmacy department to check and inventory. The package arrived during the free clinic hours, and there were dozens of doctors, nurses, commissioners, and patients present. When the doctors and nurses saw the medicine that was being inventoried, they unanimously said, “These are all high-quality medications. Our patients in eastern Taiwan are so blessed!” One commissioner said, “This great benefactor has created so much blessed karma and must be constantly accumulating blessings.” Another said, “Of course! The Buddha said, ‘Of all fields of blessings, the merits and virtues for giving medical care and medicine are the greatest.’ This person of great virtue will certainly have blessed retributions!” In this way, everyone rejoiced for the anonymous donor, and the free clinic concluded its services in an atmosphere of harmony and blessings.
Tzu Chi Monthly Issue 130
Dr. Lai Jinwang from Ruisui Treats the Poor for Free
The free clinic has been going on for five to six years now. During this time, many kind people donated money and medication, and virtuous doctors and meticulous medical personnel have voluntarily provided their expertise and hard work in the midst of their busy lives. In addition, the foundation’s commissioners and donors have also used their free time to help others. As a result of these various virtuous karmic conditions, countless patients have been treated over the last few years. This is a Dharma door for compassionately providing relief to sentient beings.
In addition to holding the noontime free clinic in Hualien on Ren’ai Street every Tuesday and Saturday, volunteers periodically travel even further to Taitung or the countryside to provide medical care. As the free clinic moves throughout the entire province, medical volunteers travel great distances to treat the poor. All of this shows the courage and magnanimity of the doctors, as well as their benevolence and talent. Their medical skills go far, and their virtues are admirable.
Ren’ai Hospital’s Dr. Lai Jinwang was practicing medicine in Ruisui when he heard and witnessed how the Tzu Chi Merit Association was helping the poor and holding free clinics for those suffering from illnesses. So, he joyfully set out to emulate our doctors’ spirit of helping the world through treating illnesses by putting his benevolence and medical skills to work in the countryside. When he joined Tzu Chi, he vowed, “I will provide all care recipients of Tzu Chi with free medical treatment.” A Tzu Chi commissioner in Ruisui, Lin Qiuying, reported this update on July 3rd at the monthly Tzu Chi commissioner meeting. Upon learning of this, all commissioners joyfully applauded and expressed their praise. This was certainly good news for the association and a great blessing for the poor and ill in Ruisui!
On behalf of those who received aid, Master Cheng Yen and the commissioners sincerely express their deepest gratitude to Dr. Lai Jinwang, wishing him endless blessings and virtues!
Tzu Chi Monthly Issue 85
Master Cheng Yen’s Thank You Letter—One Year Anniversary of the Free Clinic
Time has passed by so quickly. The Hualien Buddhist Tzu Chi Merit Association has been holding free clinics and providing medicine for one year now. With the tremendous support we have received from all over, we have achieved something incredible.
According to our statistics, starting September 10th of last year to the end of August this year, we have helped a total of 3,266 cases of people suffering from illness and poverty. In addition to the NT$100,000-worth of medicine sent to us by Taipei Zhengsi Hall, we also bought about another NT$70,000 worth of medicine, bringing the total value to around NT$170,000.
In the past year, in addition to regularly operating the free clinic at the Lay Buddhist Practitioner Association on Hualien’s Ren’ai Street every Wednesday and Sunday, we have also travelled through different towns to provide medical outreach, going as far as Taitung. We have helped everyone further understand that we truly are a charity organization that aspires to help those who are suffering and facing difficulties. Yet, everyone at the association will not stop at this; we will continue to give all of our strength.
As for myself, to ensure the success of this work, I have been tirelessly working and worrying night and day, and sometimes I can’t help but feel physically and mentally exhausted. However, under the compassionate light of the Buddha and upon witnessing those in poverty recovering from their illnesses one by one, the comfort I feel is indescribable.
I must also call on everyone to continue to support us. Please give monetary support if you have money to give and lend us your strength if you are able. I hope that the work we do with the free clinic will continue to advance and achieve even greater results!
Tzu Chi Monthly Issue 477
Respecting the Value of Life and Unearthing the Spring of Love
I came to Hualien over forty years ago, with its tall mountains, expansive ocean, and blue skies. But although this place was very beautiful, transportation was not convenient at that time. Whether traveling via the Suhua, Lishan, or Nanhui highways, the journey to the western side of Taiwan was very long and the mountainous roads were narrow. The car ride from Hualien to Taipei took eight hours on a one-lane roadway. This was perhaps a major reason why people from eastern Taiwan had difficulty getting an education and finding work, and many of them relocated elsewhere to expand their careers. Meanwhile, the remaining population continued to age.
Since its founding in 1966, Tzu Chi Merit Association has delved into charity work and witnessed the many difficulties faced by those on the lowest rungs of society, and as a result, I deeply comprehend the pain caused by poverty. At that time, Eastern Taiwan greatly lacked medical resources. Many young people were on long-term bed rest due to injuries sustained from accidents, which not only negatively affected their family’s income, but which also led to a lack of education and more severe social problems.
Poverty is caused by illness, and illness comes from poverty; this was the vicious cycle that I observed. Because of this, I came to believe that we can prevent poverty and stop illness only by developing the health care system. Therefore, about six years after the Merit Association was established, Tzu Chi began holding free clinics in September 1972.
The Tzu Chi Free Clinic for the Poor was located on Ren’ai Street, in front of Chenghuang Temple in Hualien City. It was the storefront below the house of Mrs. Huang A’nai, the mother of my first disciple, De Tzu.
The first person to form the aspiration and join the free clinic effort was Provincial Hualien Hospital’s pediatrician, Dr. Zhang Chengwen. Afterwards, a surgeon, Dr. Huang Boshi, a gynecologist, Dr. Zhu Longyang, an internist, Dr. Zou Yonghong, and many other kind-hearted medical professionals joined in one by one. At the free clinic, which was held twice a week, the doctors, nurses, and pharmacists all volunteered.
Those who came to our small clinic included seniors with bent backs and canes, who lived alone, and breadwinners of households who were suffering from illnesses. The stories that we heard from them all told of unbearable suffering.
At the time, there was widespread poverty in the society. Many people who were ill could not bear to spend their money to get treated. The tragedy of “having money to buy a coffin but no money to buy medicine” was an oft-told tale. So, once Tzu Chi’s free clinic opened, those seniors who had no one to depend on and those plagued by long-term illnesses came to us in droves. Some people were worried that we could not handle the number of patients and proposed that Tzu Chi only treat those who held government-issued “poverty verification,” or conduct background checks so that only those who were truly poor would be treated.
I responded that Tzu Chi’s goal of establishing the free clinic was to help those suffering from illness, and to prevent further complications due to poverty. People with a healthy body are able to work and can naturally sustain their living. People who are already extremely poor and are then tormented by illness truly experience unbearable suffering. My hope is that everyone who is ill can receive medical care in time so that their minor illnesses will not drag on and develop into major illnesses. When this happens, such an illness can exhaust all of a family’s means and cause the entire family to fall into poverty. So, regardless of whether or not someone has proof of their poverty status, as long as they are ill, we must treat them.
I am grateful that the doctors, nurses, and volunteers not only regularly hold free clinics, but also often travel by bus on their days off to provide free medical care in the remote countryside of eastern Taiwan. Every time they travel to a rural place and hang up the red banner that says “Tzu Chi Medical Outreach Team,” hundreds of patients surround the doctors, nurses, and volunteers.
Thinking back on those early days of the free clinic, I still feel so much warmth; the love gathered at the free clinic was the starting point of Tzu Chi’s medical mission.
The free clinic’s resources were limited and could only help improve the condition of people with colds, chronic illnesses, or malnutrition. Those with more complicated illnesses or needing additional medical examinations were transferred to a bigger hospital in western Taiwan.
In the early days of helping the poor, we encountered many cases where we had no choice but to send the patients outside of Hualien for treatment. When we sent someone to Taipei, they would need their family to accompany them. In such cases, who would take care of the children? After sending them to Taipei, there might be additional issues such as doctors requiring them to be hospitalized but not having any hospital beds available. The volunteers would help them find a solution for every challenge they encountered.
Sending them to the hospital in a timely manner was also a big problem. There were no easy means of transportation out of eastern Taiwan, making it difficult for even the wealthy to go to Taipei for medical treatment, to say nothing of those who were poor, severely ill, and living in the mountains. Even if the patient had a treatable illness, the delay caused by the long journey to Taipei could result in the loss of precious life. Furthermore, the majority of the hospitals at that time enforced a deposit system, which meant that patients unable to pay a deposit would not receive timely care.
These numerous troubles and difficulties allowed me to deeply comprehend the suffering caused by illnesses. Those who are poor and ill are truly lack any means to carry on! I realized that people in eastern Taiwan did not have the privilege of becoming ill, and thus their lives were not safeguarded.
Medical care in Hualien was extremely insufficient. However, since the younger generation continued to move away, it seemed impossible that the population would grow to the level required for the government to allocate the funding needed to build a hospital. And if we were to rely on entrepreneurs to invest in medical care, would Hualien, with its population of 300,000 at the time, ever meet their expectations for investment? Because of this, in 1979, the idea of building a hospital slowly formed in my mind. I hoped to build a hospital in Hualien with complete facilities so that those with minor illnesses could quickly receive treatment before they grew worse, while those with severe illnesses could seek treatment locally and receive care in time.
The Footprints of Master Cheng Yen Fall 2005 Volume
Just as towering buildings rise from the ground, footprints overlap and accumulate over time, resulting in a broad road for future generations to follow. Looking back, Tzu Chi’s mission of medicine began in 1972, in the form of a free clinic on Ren’ai Street in Hualien City. This was also the precursor to the Tzu Chi International Medical Association that can be found around the world today.
In 2005, the annual Tzu Chi International Medical Association conference began on September 15th at the Tzu Chi Banqiao Campus. In the past several days, we held lectures, seminars on special topics, meetings, sharings, and other experience exchanges at locations such as the Humanistic Culture Center in Guandu and Xindian Tzu Chi Hospital. Tomorrow, they will return to Hualien for the Mid-Autumn Festival gathering.
“There is no present without the past.” During the morning assembly, Master Cheng Yen recalled the time, forty years ago, when the Tzu Chi Merit Association was first established with the initial goal of doing charity and helping the poor. She gradually realized that, among the care recipients who needed help, many were individuals in their prime whose families were brought into poverty due to their prolonged illness. Laster, Master began to feel that passively providing relief was insufficient to help those who were suffering. So, she proactively tried to eliminate illness as one of the root causes poverty.
People in poverty oftentimes are unwilling to pay to see a doctor, which results in their minor illness developing into a major one. Through her observations, Master Cheng Yen came to understand their mindset, and she resolved to hold a free clinic and provide medical treatment for the poor. Master De Tzu’s mother formed the aspiration to use her store on Ren’ai Street as a free clinic location.
“Two commissioners, Deng Shuqing (Dharma name: Jing Shan) and Lin Biqi (Dharma name: Jing Liang) happened to be working at Hualien Hospital. So, they were responsible for handling medical affairs, and they recruited Dr. Zhang Chengwen, a pediatrician; Dr. Huang Boshi, a surgeon; Dr. Zhu Longyang, a gynecologist; and Dr. Zhou Hongchuang, an internist, to start holding free clinics twice a week.”
Among the patients seen at the free clinic, there were people with severe medical conditions who needed further examinations. Because Hualien lacked precise medical instruments to test for conditions such as brain tumors, heart diseases, and other major illnesses, patients with these conditions had to be sent to northern Taiwan for treatment. This shortage of medical resources planted the idea of building a hospital in Master Cheng Yen’s heart.
In addition to seeing patients at the weekly free clinic, the group of medical professionals would travel to Guangfu, Yuli, Shoufeng, and even Taitung, to hold free clinics. Zheng Bo, the former Director of Guanshan Forestry Bureau, had twice lent out the space at the director’s residence to hold the free clinics.
“I have been a ‘tour guide’ before, too!” Master joked about the many times she sat in a tour bus when conducting medical outreach.
Today is possible because of the past. Beginning with the regular free clinics at fixed locations and medical outreaches in the remote countryside, TIMA volunteers now provide services in many locations, as well as in the countryside of Taiwan. In the north, Tucheng Public Health Center worked with TIMA to carry out comprehensive screenings, with the goal of entering the community and caring for the public’s health.
In a crowded evening marketplace, TIMA volunteers in southern Taiwan worked with Nanzi Public Health Center in Kaohsiung City to host screenings for colorectal cancer, and examinations for oral mucosa, blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, and more for those 50 years of age old and older. These meticulous health services yielded resounding praise from the elderly!
On Saturday afternoons, many families go out to buy groceries together. Tzu Chi volunteers enthusiastically and earnestly promoted the free check-ups. Dr. Hong Hongdian turned the marketplace into a classroom, setting up posters and providing health education to local residents. He hopes that everyone understands the importance of preventative medical services.
TIMA volunteers in Kaohsiung and Pingtung hold medical outreaches on Liuqiu Island every two months. On Mother’s Day, in addition to holding free clinics, they also worked with the public health center to carry out colon cancer screenings and heavily promoted the safe use of medications. Pharmacists, doctors, and volunteers travel by foot on the island to visit ten households, checking one by one to see how patients in each household have been taking medicine, as well as the condition of those with chronic illnesses. They helped them organize their medications and take their blood pressure, and they provided information and advice on the correct ways to take the medicine. This all demonstrates the spirit of caring for their neighbors.
“TIMA doctors in every location can take on such missions for me. They dedicate themselves so sincerely, so how can I not love them? How can I not be grateful? These doctors and nurses are all Living Bodhisattvas who wear the blue and white volunteer uniform. Every place where they mindfully and lovingly practice giving is a blessed place in the world! They are the benefactors in everyone’s lives.”
The autumn moon is almost full. Master Cheng Yen joyously looked forward to welcoming the return of the TIMA members. These volunteers, who selflessly dedicate themselves every day to relieving sentient beings around the world of illnesses and pain, were returning to their spiritual home to celebrate the holiday together.
The Footprints of Master Cheng Yen Fall 2008 Volume
Master Cheng Yen said, “Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital has been operating for twenty-two years, and I have been in Hualien for almost fifty years now. Over twenty years ago, Hualien was truly lacking in medical services. Forty-two years ago, I founded the Tzu Chi Merit Association, and six years after that, we held our first free clinic in front of Chenghuang Temple on Ren’ai Street. When the free clinic was up and running, we were grateful for Huang Boshi, Zhang Chengwen, Zhu Longyang, and more from Provincial Hualien Hospital, as these doctors held free clinics twice every week. It was also due to the free clinic that I truly realized the lack of medical resources in Hualien. Not only did the poor not have medicine when they were ill, but even if people had the money, it was difficult to be treated in Hualien.”
In a place with such poor resources, many people became impoverished due to illness and became ill due to poverty, helplessly trapped in this vicious cycle. Seeing the suffering of people in Hualien and the convergence of many karmic conditions, Master appealed to Tzu Chi volunteers to gather every bit of strength and raise funds for every brick and tile, slowly building Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital and walking on this bumpy and challenging path.
The Footprints of Master Cheng Yen Fall 2008 Volume
On September 10th, 1972, the Tzu Chi Merit Association’s Free Clinic for the Poor was established on 28 Ren’ai Street, Hualien City. This was the precursor to Tzu Chi’s medical mission. Today, thirty-six years later, the Tzu Chi University Medical Simulation Center opened, setting yet another milestone for medical education.
During the morning Dharma talk and volunteer assembly, Master Cheng Yen talked about the footprints of the Four Missions over the past thirty-six years. She is thankful for the many Tzu Chi volunteers who supported the missions along the way, and, at the end of their lives, donated their bodies for medical education to help future doctors develop their skills. Although our physical lives are limited, wisdom-life is everlasting.
“At that time, the free clinic took place twice a week. On holidays, we held medical outreaches in rural areas. Provincial Hualien Hospital had four doctors from the surgery, internal medicine, pediatrics, and gynecology departments, respectively, as well as two nurses, all of whom followed me to the rural areas to hold medical outreaches. Once, we even went as far south as Taitung.”
“The roads were very simple then. There were two sections of roadway that were actually shared by the highway and the railroad track. When crossing the bridge, our bus drove on the railway. We were really afraid that a train would suddenly come, so we were very nervous. We hung red banners that read “Tzu Chi Medical Outreach” on both sides of the bus. There was one time when we happened to be on the bridge, and the wind blew the red banner away, so we had no choice but to stop the bus to go get the red banner back. It was very exhilarating.”
Recalling the past, Master Cheng Yen expressed how, although resources were scarce and everything was simple, everyone in Tzu Chi was very diligent. At the free clinics, the doctors and nurses were busy serving the patients. In those few years while holding free clinics, her wish to build a hospital in Hualien continued to grow.
October 3, 2003
Three-Day Buddhist Retreat for Taiwan Unity Teams
Before Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital was built, Tzu Chi held free clinics starting in 1972. The location was on Ren’ai Street in Hualien City, at Master De Tzu’s mother’s house. They had eagerly provided the storefront on the first floor for Tzu Chi to use as a free clinic. Some people said, “Should we first give patients a background check to confirm they are in poverty before allowing them to come for exams and medicine?” I said that there was no need. As long as they were ill, we were to treat them, even if they had the money but did not want to spend it seeing the doctor and preferred to get the medicine from us. This is because we knew that we were safeguarding their health and thus protecting their family’s financial wellbeing. When everyone is at peace and without illness, they will naturally live well. If they become poor because of an illness, their families will experience problems. So, we saw every patient that came and gave them the medicine they needed.
At that time, in addition to the free clinics twice a week, I would also occasionally give a sutra teaching there. We had designed the small space of the free clinic with multiple functions in mind. For example, I did not wish for the pharmacy to take up space during our spiritual gatherings, so I designed a mobile U-shaped pharmacy that was fitted with wheels. We would pull it out when we needed to use it and package the medications on the inside. When we were not holding free clinics, we could push it against the wall, but the medicine would still be there. It was like a medicine cabinet. When pulled out, it was a big space where we could receive patients, give shots, and dispense medicine.
We also designed a chair that is similar to the ones in the Jing Si Hall. When the elderly would come see the doctor, we could fold it up and use it as a chair. During our spiritual gatherings, we could push the seatback down and prostrate before the Buddha. Although it was difficult at that time, we were very mindful of the kind of space we designed. It was very sweet, thinking back to it. We were inspired, so we mobilized our creativity amidst the hardship. Whenever we had holidays, we would hold medical outreaches in Guangfu and Fengtian, and once, we went as far as Taitung.
I am very thankful for the surgeon, gynecologist, pediatrician, and internist from Hualien Hospital back then. Every time, three to four doctors would take turns holding the free clinic. They would use their time off to hold medical outreaches elsewhere, going together with a large team. Later, all of the doctors and both nurses became Tzu Chi commissioners. Back then, they would sit with the commissioners on the bus with red banners on both sides that read, “Tzu Chi Medical Outreach Team.” I remember one time, when we had to go to Taitung, there was a bridge on the road from Hualien to Yuli that was used by both the highway and the railroad. The bridge was very long, and as the bus drove along the railroad tracks, it made us very nervous. In the beginning, we were really scared; what if the train were to come rushing towards us?
Of course, they must have made arrangements so that that would not happen. However, looking back, that period of time was very memorable. We went to many places between Hualien and Taitung. The free clinic made me realize how greatly eastern Taiwan was lacking in medical resources. Many families became poor as a result of illnesses, and a free clinic alone could not solve the problem at its root. We could help people with colds or chronic illnesses by providing medicine and proper nutrition, but for those who needed further treatment, we had to send them to Hualien Hospital or the Mennonite Christian Hospital for examinations. For even more complicated cases, the doctors would suggest sending them to Taipei for treatment.
We also received cases where we had no choice but to send them to Taipei. At the time, I thought, “Why must it be so inconvenient? There is great inequity between the people in eastern and western Taiwan. People’s lives in the east are not protected. Every time patients needed to be sent to western Taiwan, commissioners first had to go and make arrangements. Someone had to first communicate with the medical facility there to ensure a hospital bed could be arranged. Sometimes, it was hard to get a bed. Also, families in poverty are the ones for whom going to work is most urgent. If we send one family member to Taipei, then another must also go along to take care of them. In this case, who would take care of the children or go out to earn money? So, we also had to help them find solutions, to see if there were relatives who would help take care of the children or see if there was a way for them to take the child to Taipei with them.”
In summary, there were many difficulties for a patient to get the care they needed, including emergency care, hospital deposits, and more. All of this made me realize that the suffering of illness is a critical matter of life and death. We could only look on helplessly as the patients without a deposit were carried away. And without proper hospital equipment, nothing could be done. So, starting from 1979, the idea to build a hospital slowly took shape in my mind.