TIMA USA Southern

Part 2

Written by Shioubih Yang
Edited by Chenglin Li


On March 17, 2002, the first TIMA chapter in Tzu Chi USA’s Southern Region is established. Pictured from the fourth left to right are Dr. Samuel Chen, the convener; Shioubih Yang, the medical team leader; Dr. William Keh, then Director of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Free Clinic; and then Tzu Chi USA Southern Region Executive Director, Simon Shyong. Photo/Tzu Chi USA Southern Region


TIMA Houston

On March 17, 2002, the Houston chapter of the Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) was established to increase access to medical care locally. This day also marked the 11th anniversary of Tzu Chi USA’s Southern Region. Dr. William Keh, Board Director of the Tzu Chi Medical Foundation at the time, introduced the services TIMA had previously provided at free clinic events in California and discussed the prospects of the medical industry in the United States during the inauguration tea ceremony. Dr. Jiying Zeng shared information about Tzu Chi’s international disaster relief efforts. At the same time, Simon Shyong, Executive Director of Tzu Chi USA’s Southern Region, introduced TIMA USA Southern Region’s preparatory committee members: Dr. Samuel Chen as the convener, Dr. Mingtong He as the vice convener, Shioubih Yang as the general secretary, and Dr. Juimin Su as the deputy general secretary.

Dr. Chen explained to everyone that, according to the inaugural five-year plan, they would gradually expand their work in the community. The plan included establishing a free clinic, acquiring a mobile medical unit, and promoting health education and the concept of preventive medical examinations. He stated that this was a daunting task, but volunteers guided by the Tzu Chi spirit would ultimately realize it to serve patients who lacked medical insurance and urgently needed treatment.

Volunteers measure blood pressure of participants
On March 16, 2002, the Tzu Chi USA Southern Region celebrates the 11th anniversary of its founding with a free clinic event. Photo/Tzu Chi USA Southern Region

TIMA Houston gathered professionals from various medical fields as well as other specialists, including several Western medicine disciplines, Traditional Chinese Medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, and nursing staff. They all wanted to contribute their efforts to medical volunteer work. In addition, many volunteers without medical backgrounds joined to assist in organizing administrative tasks and event preparation.

Discovering Specific Needs

Tzu Chi USA’s Southern Region serves a diverse community where there is great need, and unfortunately, many neighbors lack medical insurance and are unaware of the importance of disease prevention. TIMA Houston and the medical team at the Southern Region Office in Houston decided to start providing free clinics. They began with the statistically underserved schools in the city, as judged by the participation rate of students in the free and reduced-price lunch program offered to students from low-income families. They chose Smith Elementary School, which also happened to be located near the Southern Region Office. The school has a very diverse student body, with many immigrant students and many from low-income families. Dr. Mingtong He, the vice convener, and Shioubih Yang, the general secretary, negotiated with Principal Helen Welk after they decided to hold the free clinic. Notices were sent home with students a month in advance, and a reminder was sent a week before, so community residents arrived early to line up for care. 

TIMA dentist conducting oral check up to a kid
On January 25, 2003, Tzu Chi USA’s Southern Region and TIMA hold their second free clinic event at Smith Elementary School. Photo/Tzu Chi USA Southern Region

On January 25, 2003, the Tzu Chi USA Southern Region and TIMA Houston held a second free clinic at Smith Elementary School. Based on the information provided by the school and the needs of the community residents, the clinical consultations included family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, dentistry, ophthalmology, and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), as well as consultations on blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, and various health-related topics. Whether it was in the registration area, the form-filling area, or the waiting area, volunteers were present to guide and accompany. Principal Welk remarked, “I’ve never seen so many volunteers come to serve, and the smiles of the volunteers make people feel warm.” On that day, 140 volunteers and healthcare workers were mobilized, and over 380 people came for consultations. Twenty-six healthcare workers were so busy they had no time to rest. Two Chinese medicine doctors were particularly surprised since Americans from all walks of life were interested in TCM treatments.

The Southern Region’s TIMA members initially planned to join hands with several schools to host large-scale free clinical consultations in the autumn after accumulating experience from these two clinics. However, volunteers observed a phenomenon during the process: Over half of the children were not brought by their parents. After inquiring, it was understood that this was because the parents needed to go to work, and almost all the parents who couldn’t bring their children were single parents. Shioubih Yang recalled her feelings at the time: “This made me realize that while we are doing this free clinic and the doctors can only provide consultations without prescriptions, how much help does it really provide to the patients who come for treatment? If I were a single mother, what would my choice be between work and this free clinic?” After discussions among TIMA USA Southern Region members, they unanimously decided to pause this free clinic project.

The Southern Region and TIMA gained valuable experience and unexpected outcomes from these two free clinics. Volunteers saw that many low-income families in the community did not have medical insurance. Some of them had not seen a doctor for several years, or even over a decade, and were unaware that their bodies were already or soon to be ill. Although the free clinics only provided medical consultations without prescriptions, they helped these individuals seek medical attention early and raised awareness of disease prevention.

Thanksgiving Free Clinics

On November 27, 2003, the Southern Region’s TIMA Houston members hosted their first Thanksgiving Free Clinic event. Every Thanksgiving, the Citywide Club of America in the Houston area holds a Thanksgiving turkey dinner celebration at the George Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston, providing support for unhoused and low-income residents. Starting as early as November 27, 1997, the Southern Region has participated in this large-scale Thanksgiving event, which feeds nearly 1,000 participants each year. After the formation of TIMA Houston, the chapter’s volunteers decided to invite the Southern Region’s medical team to provide free healthcare services at the event to ensure that those partaking in the Thanksgiving feast could also receive medical care.

healthcare workers administer flu vaccines to the public
On November 13, 2004, healthcare workers administer flu vaccines to the public. As early as 1997, when the Tzu Chi USA Southern Region was still a support group, it organized free flu vaccine injections, health checks, and consultations for the community. Photo/Tzu Chi USA Southern Region

TIMA USA Southern Region members brought together various medical specialties, including pediatrics, internal medicine, cardiology, ophthalmology, dentistry, and TCM, to provide free check-ups for children and adults. TIMA also offered dental care, vision checks, blood pressure, blood sugar and lipid profile tests, electrocardiograms, and influenza vaccinations, among other services, to all participants of the free clinic. Health education was also provided during the clinic, aimed at helping people experiencing homelessness and low-income residents access healthier lifestyles to prevent illnesses. For patients who needed follow-up or emergency care, TIMA offered additional support.

Thanksgiving is a major national holiday beloved by many families and a special day for Americans around the world to reunite and share in their gratitude for one another. And so, every Thanksgiving in Houston, there is a parade, and local TV stations are sure to cover it. Tzu Chi USA Southern Region’s participation in this event on this special day helps more people learn about Tzu Chi’s work in the community, and perhaps even sign up to be a part of the effort to serve their neighbors in need. Beginning in 2003, TIMA conducted clinics at the George Brown Convention Center until October 2014, when the new Jing Si Hall at the Southern Region Office in Houston was built, providing enough space to hold biennial health consultations and administer flu vaccines. The Southern Region TIMA then began providing services to low-income families in the vicinity of Jing Si Hall. Despite a temporary suspension due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as the threat of influenza and COVID-19 grew significantly in the fall of 2021, volunteers carefully planned the space for proper air circulation, and organized free flu and COVID-19 vaccine administration services, safeguarding the health of local uninsured residents. In 2023, the volunteers resumed biannual free medical services.

Tzu Chi USA Southern Region volunteers listen attentively as Shioubih Yang, the medical team coordinator, gives detailed instructions.
On November 23, 2003, Tzu Chi USA Southern Region volunteers are busy with pre-event preparations for the Thanksgiving Free Clinic. They listen attentively as Shioubih Yang, the medical team coordinator, gives detailed instructions. Photo/Tzu Chi USA Southern Region

Hepatitis-B Screening

On August 4, 2004, the Tzu Chi USA Southern Region and TIMA Houston chapter joined forces to organize a hepatitis B awareness and screening event at the Southern Region Office. Prior to this event, TIMA Houston had participated in the annual All-Community Health Day, organized by Houston-area Chinese community organizations and institutions as an invited guest. Dr. Samuel Chen, the convener of TIMA Houston, used research funds obtained from these events to provide more hepatitis B virus infection screenings for the Chinese-American community. The Southern Region also collaborated with the Houston Department of Health to assist the local Asian-American community with hepatitis B screenings. They visited Vietnamese churches, temples, and other locations to carry out health screening activities and events.

At the hepatitis B screening event, TIMA volunteers in Tzu Chi USA’s Southern Region offer instructions in many different languages
At the hepatitis B screening event, TIMA volunteers in Tzu Chi USA’s Southern Region offer instructions in many different languages to help more communities in the neighborhood. Photo/Roger Lin
An ophthalmologist conducts eye exams
An ophthalmologist conducts eye exams on May 30, 2015, when the Tzu Chi Southern Region holds its first community medical outreach in the Jing Si Hall at the Region's office in Houston. Photo/Penchi Liu

The hepatitis B awareness and screening event helped many people living with the virus detect liver function abnormalities early, enabling them to better protect themselves from the potential of developing liver cirrhosis and liver cancer. In 2019, the Southern Region hosted a free community health event that included hepatitis B screenings. Subsequently, Dr. Samuel Chen gave a health lecture on “Hepatitis-B and Its Relationship with Me and My Family” and offered individual consultations regarding blood test results. 

On that day, a local neighbor, Ms. Wang, attended the lecture after reading about it in the newspaper. She was already a liver cancer patient who missed the previous hepatitis B screening event because she wasn’t aware of it. Upon learning of her situation, Shioubih Yang asked Dr. Chen for help with blood tests, and Tzu Chi provided partial financial assistance. Chen referred Wang to The University of Texas Anderson Cancer Center for treatment. Volunteer Meiling Yen, responsible for health lectures, approached a Tzu Chi family member who had successfully undergone a liver transplant and introduced them. The family member’s attending physician accepted Wang’s case, providing her with the opportunity for a liver transplant and a chance to regain her health.

Tzu Chi USA’s Southern Region holds health lectures every three months at the regional office, with supplementary lectures when possible. They feature speakers from various fields of both Western and traditional Chinese medicine. This event has greatly benefited the community and helped countless individuals. Volunteers Emily Ho and Meiling Yen were responsible for organizing these activities. Ho, a cancer survivor herself, shared her personal experience battling cancer, undergoing surgery, and receiving 20 rounds of radiation therapy. She is an optimistic and cheerful volunteer who has visited the community tirelessly to seek out medical experts and doctors in both Western and traditional Chinese medicine for over a decade.

The final chapter of an illness is not necessarily one of grief. And yet, the Southern Region observed the need for comfort and introduced the Love and Companionship: End-of-Life Care Reading Group program. This program offers spiritual care and companionship to patients, walking with them during their journey.

Seeing a Doctor at Home

In 2015, the newly refurbished, spacious, and convenient facilities of the Jing Si Hall at the Southern Region Office in Houston became the new location for free community clinics, and events previously held elsewhere now took place here twice yearly. Tzu Chi volunteers and the community praised the new clinic space because of its ease of access and warm atmosphere. Moreover, Tzu Chi USA Southern Region and TIMA volunteers had matured over the previous decade, gradually refining the medical outreach activity in terms of specialties available, the number of doctors volunteering, and the scale of the community clinic events.

healthcare personnel measure blood sugar levels
On May 30, 2015, healthcare personnel measure blood sugar levels during a Tzu Chi free clinic event. Photo/Penchi Liu

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the United States, compelling Tzu Chi USA’s Southern Region and TIMA to suspend all community medical activities until they could gradually resume in 2022.

TIMA in Texas is a versatile medical organization that can mobilize for free clinic events and provide professional volunteer training. Dentists Dr. Wender Jiang, Dr. Jiumin Su, and Dr. Anna Chen collaborated to offer courses, helping train Tzu Chi USA Southern Region volunteers interested in becoming dental assistants, thus enabling them to assist during dental clinics.

Because of my involvement in Tzu Chi medical activities, my life has become much richer. I have learned and grown amidst busy days. I have always had a slow learning curve, and it was indeed through the process of involvement that I met many good mentors. The experiences I went through became the most colorful chapter in my life.

Since establishing Tzu Chi USA’s Southern Region TIMA chapter in Houston, many past and present volunteers have contributed to the growth of activities and accumulation of experience and expertise. Everyone involved is immensely grateful for the people they met and the events and lectures they attended, participated in, and enjoyed through the years. Together, through this shared action for the betterment of humanity, the team members have had the opportunity to become good mentors and friends, always hoping to do more. 

Southern TIMA Houston

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