Written by: Michelle Young, Phil Huang
Edited by: Patrick McShane
The Great Kindness Challenge is an annual event hosted around the world dedicated to promoting peace and helping children view kindness as a strength that will help them thrive in life. Each year more than 18 million school children participate in this wonderful event, and since 2021, the children educated by the Tzu Chi Education Foundation have happily participated in the Challenge events. This year, the Tzu Chi students worked to spread kindness in their daily lives by designing a compassionate vegetarian meal program that incorporates Tzu Chi’s concept of vegetarian care. In all, Tzu Chi put on five events under the theme of “Friends, not food” which inspired 9,517 teachers and students to participate and influence families and communities to become vegetarians.
Animals Are Friends, Not Food
The compassionate vegetarian diet promotion planned by the Tzu Chi Education Foundation differs from past challenges. This year, children learned that all life is precious and unique from watching videos about the happy interaction between humans and farm animals. This lesson directly and immediately inspired a love for animals and a desire for equality for all beings
Debbie Lee, CEO of the Tzu Chi Education Foundation, happily introduced the results of the activity: “After the children watched the five videos about animals, many students took the initiative to declare that they would no longer eat meat, and even persuaded their families to eat vegetarian together. They also spontaneously shared with their new knowledge with their neighbors, warmly trying to persuade them to adopt vegetarianism. The children of Tzu Chi have indeed gained ta lot of knowledge and passionately believe in compassionate care for all sentient beings!”
The teachers adopted different, age-appropriate teaching methods to advance the goal of protecting lives and promoting vegetarianism. After watching the videos, the teacher inspired students to think compassionately and express their thoughts on seeing animals as friends or reasons to become vegetarian through drawing or writing. This activity inspires students to transform classroom knowledge into their source of compassion and even spread that energy to friends and family.
Many students divided their drawing paper into two halves, putting a positive tick mark on one half with accompanying drawings of people playing with animals, and putting a negative x mark on the other half with a drawing of humans holding a knife and fork preparing to eat animals. Such a simple and direct composition planted seeds of kindness in their hearts to protect and love life in all its forms.
A Happy Vegetarian Class
After-school tutoring teacher Matthew Perez said: “In class, we introduced the concept of a new vegetarian lifestyle and explained that vegetarianism is divided into lacto-ovo vegetarian and vegan; we explained the vegetarian diet to students and led them to explore more different ways to respect the lives of animals. “
After watching the videos, the students shared what they learned. The children felt that animals should be treated like humans. Madeline Weng, a fifth-grade student at a Tzu Chi Primary School, said: “I am a little sad because some animals are killed for food every day; it’s cute to see them running around and playing. Now my friends at school already know about vegetarianism and we will share it with friends outside of school. “
Alicia Yuan, a second-grade student at a Tzu Chi Primary School, remarked: “The videos taught me that you shouldn’t eat animals because they are cute and instead we can get cow milk and goat milk from them. Animals are not our food.”
Teacher Maria Navarro expressed: “I think some students in the class will happily try not to eat meat for a few days, and half of the students will try to participate in vegetarian activities after watching the videos and having discussed them.”
Vegetarianism Feels Good
Grace Li, a staff member in the Finance Office of the Tzu Chi Education Foundation, vowed to become a vegetarian after last December’s organic soil distribution where vegetarianism was promoted. She recalled that one time she bought some lobsters home, and her daughter cried after seeing the lobsters turn red: “I was very moved at that time. I felt that my child has a heart full of compassion for animals. From then on, we stopped fishing and did nothing related to eating meat. Following Tzu Chi’s vegetarian activities, I vowed to have at least two vegetarian meals a day; slowly, over a long time, I ate vegetarian meals three times a day, because when I was vegetarian, I felt particularly good.”
In Turkey, Tzu Chi opened the El Menahil International School for Syrian refugees, and even in such trying circumstances the children also spread love in their own way. A teacher at El Menahil International School remarked: “After participating in this compassionate challenge, students’ emotions and behaviors have improved.” All children have hearts full of compassion, and parents feel it deeply in their daily lives.
Through participation in the Great Kindness Challenge and through spreading the word on social media connected to the event, the concept of vegetarian compassion promoted and espoused by Tzu Chi will have the opportunity to influence teachers and students in more than 30,000 schools in 115 countries around the world. All this work is done to spread love and kindness toward all life on earth and in hopes that more people will vow to become vegetarians and live in a more compassionate way.