Planting Seeds of Change: Tzu Chi’s Efforts to Promote Vegetarianism and Humanistic Education

May 24, 2023
Tzu Chi Academy, Los Angeles launches a fundraiser for Turkey. Image source/Education Foundation

Edited by Andrea Barkley

In 2023, the Tzu Chi Education Foundation again participated in “The Great Kindness Challenge”, an annual initiative promoting kindness and compassion among schoolchildren. As part of their involvement, the Education Foundation designed a unique program to foster empathy towards animals. Through a series of videos, schoolchildren were introduced to the concept of “friends not animals,” highlighting the relationships that can exist between humans and farm animals. As a result, Tzu Chi hoped to inspire a new generation of individuals committed to protecting and preserving the natural world by instilling a sense of compassion towards all living beings.

Affecting Family and Friends

Tzu Chi Academy, Chicago abides by Master Cheng Yen's words and teaches students to be kind through compassion. Image source/Education Foundation
Tzu Chi Academy, Long Island rushes to aid survivors of the earthquake in Turkey and Syria. Many school children bring their red envelope money that they received for New Years. Image source/Education Foundation

In 2021, the Tzu Chi Education Foundation partnered with US non-profit Kids for Peace to launch “The Great Kindness Challenge”, a program encouraging students from Tzu Chi elementary schools and kindergartens in the US to implement 50 kindness challenges in their daily lives. By promoting Tzu Chi’s humanistic values, the initiative sought to instill a sense of compassion and empathy among students.

Speaking about the program, Phil Huang, project leader of the Tzu Chi Education Foundation’s Great Kindness Challenge, shared some staggering statistics. “This year, nearly 40,000 schools and more than 19 million students from 115 countries participated in the event, making its influence very, very large,” he said. “In addition to students, more than 40,000 school principals and teachers also participated in the event and responded to the charity challenge. Tzu Chi invited students from eight countries, about 10,000 members of the Tzu Chi Youth Association (known as Tzu Shao), and even the Long Island Symphony Orchestra, as well as 50 other organizations to join us.”

Inspiring Children’s Compassion

This year, the Tzu Chi Education Foundation’s Compassionate Vegetarian Plan took a new approach to promoting vegetarianism. Rather than preaching about the benefits of a plant-based diet, the program focused on inspiring compassion and empathy towards animals.

Phil Huang, the project leader of the Tzu Chi Education Foundation’s Great Kindness Challenge, explained the approach: “We must have confidence in children’s compassion, and only when their compassion is truly inspired can they be spontaneous and willing to become vegetarians for themselves, not for any other reason.”

The program involved showing five videos to students, each about four minutes long, featuring animals rescued from slaughterhouses or raised on farms and befriending humans. After watching the videos, students were encouraged to draw or write down their feelings.

The results were impressive. Many students drew a clear line between humans harming animals and animals living happily in nature. Phil noted, “The point of this activity is to let children establish a viewpoint on what we have been talking about. It is also very important that they know animals are friends, not food. We also really see it in their drawings. Children were really moved by this.”

Overall, the Compassionate Vegetarian Plan successfully inspired empathy and compassion towards animals among the students.

I believe that after such an event, children begin to have compassion for animals and love for animals. I only hope that one day in the future, as they mature, they can embark on the path of becoming a vegetarian.

Promoting Vegetarianism Worldwide

At the Tzu Chi El Menahil International School in Istanbul, Turkey, students spread love in their own way. A teacher from the school shared, “After participating in the Great Kindness Challenge, the students’ emotions and behaviors have improved significantly.”

Tzu Chi’s commitment to kindness and compassion was recognized in 2023 when the Education Foundation was awarded the “Compassion Certification” medal. The organization continued its efforts by launching the Great Kindness Challenge worldwide at the end of January. During the monthly staff meeting on January 5, 2023, the concept of “Vegetarianism for environmental protection” was promoted to the teaching staff team. The staff watched a video showcasing farm animals and their unique friendships with humans, reinforcing the belief in “friends not animals.” The video also highlighted celebrities who are vegetarians and their thoughts on the benefits of a plant-based diet.

During a recent Tzu Chi event, a long-time vegetarian member prepared a special winter melon soup for everyone. Using a mix of winter melon, goji berries, mushrooms, beans, and vegetables, she created a delicious vegetarian soup that she hoped would inspire others to adopt a plant-based lifestyle.

Another volunteer who recently moved to California shared her story of becoming a vegetarian. She had been called upon by Tzu Chi’s vegetarian campaign to make the change. She was happy to share the reasons behind her decision with everyone. These heartwarming experiences helped reinforce the importance of Tzu Chi’s ongoing efforts to promote vegetarianism to foster compassion and preserve the environment.

During an organic soil distribution event jointly organized by Tzu Chi Education Foundation and Argyle Garbage Company in 2022, the volunteer was moved by the hard work of the volunteers in promoting vegetarianism and decided to become a vegetarian. She praised the creativity and taste of the winter melon soup.

Praise and Affirmation

Tzu Chi’s after-school tutoring class joined in on the Great Kindness Challenge, with teacher Matthew Perez introducing students to the concept of vegetarianism and showing them videos that emphasized the importance of loving and respecting all life.

Tzu Chi’s efforts were recognized and commended by Assemblyman Phillip Chen of California and Joe Baca Jr., the supervisor for San Bernardino County. In addition, Debbie Lee, CEO of Tzu Chi Education Foundation, shared the good news with family members of the Great Kindness Challenge, noting that Tzu Chi’s ongoing efforts in humanistic education have profoundly impacted the next generation.

Following the event, nearly 1 billion acts of kindness and good deeds were shared and reshared on Kids for Peace’s official website and social media networks. Through a butterfly effect, Tzu Chi’s message of compassion, good deeds, and love will continue to expand and affect more people, inspiring them to become vegetarians, protect life, and preserve the Earth.

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