“Everyone can do it. It’s not just me. It’s not how much money you make that matters, but how you use your money,” she says.
Over the past two decades, Ms. Chen Shu-Chu has donated over 10 million Taiwanese Dollars ($350,000; £210,000) to building of a school library, a hospital wing, to a local Buddhist organization and orphanages. Ms. Chen does this by selling vegetables in the dark and damp Taitung Central market in Eastern Taiwan, 18 hours a day, six days a week. Wearing a thick support belt and hunched over thanks to back and leg problems, 63-year-old Ms. Chen says, “She hopes she can do this forever”.(1)
Born in 1950, Chen Shu-Chu lost her mother shortly after completing her primary school education. The older of her brothers she had to grow up before her time and help her father, at the vegetable stall, take care of the family. When she was 18, her brother got sick and the illness dragged on for several years, slowly depleting the family savings.(2) He died from the flu as the family was unable to raise enough money to pay for advanced medical care in Taipei, Taiwan’s capital city.(1)
Instead of making her angry, the experience motivated her to help other poor people.
Ms Chen, who has never married, also never forgot the kindness of her brother’s teacher and classmates, who had tried to raise funds for him.
“I feel I owe people a lot. I feel I have to make more money to help others,” she says.(1)
What’s so wonderful about Chen’s achievement is not its extraordinariness but that it is so simple and matter of fact in its generosity. “My wish is that I work till the day I collapse. Money serves its purpose only when it is used for those who need it,” she told a newspaper.(3)
She wakes up at three in the morning and makes her way to the market where she remains until seven or eight in the evening. She is the first one to arrive and last one to leave, which convinced other stall owners to give her the title of “market manager”. Chen Shu-Chu’s donations have made many ask themselves how a mere vegetable seller who makes marginal profits can donate so much money? “Spend only what you need, and you’ll be able to save up a lot of money!” Chen says. She lives a very modest life, without any luxuries. She doesn’t have any desire for material gain and says work is her only form of enjoyment. She says all she needs is work and a place to sleep, everything else is a luxury.(2)
Named among the 2010 TIME 100 most influential people in the world in the “heroes” category, at first Ms. Chen did not want to participate in the banquet in the US hosted by the magazine. She said she was encouraged by Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou and Minister of Foreign Affairs to travel to New York and attend the Gala.(1)
Ms Chen dreads the media attention her fame has brought, and only agrees to be interviewed if she thinks the reports will motivate people to donate. She challenges the common belief that you have to be rich to help others in a big way.(4) “Life is very short; you never know when it will end. Therefore, I believe we should accumulate virtue, rather than wealth.”(1)
The same year, Reader’s Digest named her ‘Asian of the Year’ and Forbes Asia selected her as one of their 48 heroes of philanthropy. In 2012, Ms Chen was also named one of six Ramon Magsaysay Award winners for helping the poor and given a $50,000 cash prize. The President of Philippine, Noynoy Aquino honored the awards to all the nominees at the Philippine International Convention center in Manila.(4)
She promptly donated the entire prize amount to Taitung’s McKay Memorial Hospital, which inspired an outpouring of donations and enabled the hospital to build a new medical wing.(1)
“Chen, Shu-chu- Extraordinary Generosity”, is Ms. Chen’s biography by author Yung-yi Liu. Liu spent about half year interviewing Shu-chu closely. She donates all royalties from the book to charities.
From the book:
“Too late to chase the dream” – When she was 20 years old, a fortune teller told her she will have 3 boys after marriage. After she had money and bought a house, she made 3 rooms and decorated them as boys’ rooms because having a sweet and warm family was her dream. She does not allow anyone to step in the rooms and says, “there are broken pieces of my dream.” But, she has long overcome and gotten over the feeling of loss. She finds herself a lot of joy and happiness when helping others, and she is fulfilled.(4)
“I feel very happy after donating money. I feel like I’ve done something right. It’s a feeling that comes from the inside. It makes me so happy that I smile when I go to bed.”(1)
There’s a Hero in all of us. Why do we then let it get distracted by the trappings of life so easily?
5. Feature image – http://www.juesatta.com/tag/chen-shu-chu/