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Hotseat - Sandra Cheung

837_hotseatBusinesswoman and Tzu Chi St. Maarten founder Sandra Cheung and her team of volunteers and supporters have been doing many good things in St. Maarten over the years. Born in Hong Kong and living in her adopted home St. Maarten for many years, the mother of three sons says the foundation has touched the lives of thousands in St. Maarten. Cheung gives insight into her life and her humanitarian work in this week's Hot Seat.

How would you describe yourself?

A simple person. I love my husband Wing, my family, Mother Earth and I am very grateful to be in St. Maarten.

How did you end up in beautiful St. Maarten?

In 1979, I came to St. Maarten with my then boyfriend Wing to help my brother at his grocery shop for about one year. We left the island in 1980 and went to Canada for four years and returned in 1984 for business at Cake House Supermarket. We have been here ever since.

How did your affiliation with Tzu Chi Foundation come about?

It started in 2000 when my husband and I were very stressed in business. It reached a point where I gave up and went to see my parents in Canada. At that moment, I really wanted to give up everything just to get peace of mind. My parents sensed my problem, but they could not help me. One day, my sister took me to a vegetarian restaurant where they gave out free Buddhist books. I took one to read. It appealed to me and in some ways even shocked me. It was as if I was reading my own karma, suffering from endless desires and expectations. I realised the cause of all the sufferings in business, relationships with families and with people around me. I shared it with Wing and we came to an understanding that we needed to repair our lives. We needed to share and we needed to create more good deeds in order to receive good results. Since then, we have visited a lot of temples and read a lot of Buddhist books and stories. The more we read, the happier we became and had more peace of mind. We decided to share this beautiful information with others by printing the Buddhist books locally or shipping them from Hong Kong. We did this with a pure mind to share what was good, but it did not happen the way I thought. There were criticisms from all around. I was never really involved with religion and did not know what we shared was a religious issue. I found out there is a boundary when it came to religion. I continued to search until I found Tzu Chi Foundation. Master Cheng Yen put all the Buddhist philosophy into action. She put compassion and love into action. There were no more religious boundaries; only love to heal hatred. Since then, my life became more active with the joy of giving. I do not go to a temple often; I visit the old home or schools instead. We used to make donations to the temple, but we now make donations directly to people in need. I believe all religions teach love and giving. If everyone applies it, the world will be a paradise. I am thankful for all Tzu Chi volunteers and supporters as they make the work we do possible.

Why did you decide to start this foundation in St. Maarten?

Tzu Chi provides the teaching that improved my life, communication with my family and staff members and relationship with everyone. Tzu Chi Founder Master Cheng Yen says where we live is our home. We are blessed in St. Maarten, and St. Maarten is blessed to have Tzu Chi.

What makes Tzu Chi different from other foundations in St. Maarten?

Tzu Chi is more than a charity foundation. It is a place to learn to be a good person, to take responsibility to fulfil our tasks in life and is a place for cultivation.

How does the foundation decide what projects to take on?

We take action to do whatever is right to do within our abilities and with a mind willing to do so.

About how many persons has the foundation helped?

The foundation has helped 43,435 persons from 2003 to 2013.

Major annual activities of the foundation?

We visit St. Martin Home every year for New Year's Day and Mother's Day; we also have Buddhist Day and Tzu Chi Global Anniversary celebrations; ACE School graduation, July blessing month relief and Year End Blessing. We also visit the prison.

What impact would you say the foundation has had on St. Maarten over the years?

Not much, but we were able to keep ACE school doors open and some 90 pupils off the street and give them a chance to be educated.

Outside of Tzu Chi, you are also a businesswoman. What is your approach to business?

I learned from Tzu Chi to practice the disciplines of sincerity, integrity, trust and honesty, and I apply these with the action of love, compassion, joy and unselfish giving to everything around me, including my business.

How do you juggle your life as a businesswoman and Tzu Chi?

Tzu Chi helped me to become a better person as well as a better businesswoman. Joining Tzu Chi gave me the opportunity to realise a lot of mistakes done in the past both in business and personally that needed to be rectified.

Your one wish for St. Maarten?

I wish people can start to practise the three Rs: Reuse, Reduce and Recycle. These three Rs can lead us to cherish Mother Earth, and St. Maarten will be blessed with harmony with no disasters.

Future goals for Tzu Chi in St. Maarten?

Society depends on children, and children depend on education. Our goal is to achieve a humanitarian school for children and apply four missions: Charity, medicine, education and humanity.

Hobbies?

My hobbies have turned to action: Seize the moment; do what is right to do now.

Biggest fear?

I have not put effort to do what I should do that leads me to bad karma.

What is your favourite type of music?

Soft types of music with meaning along with sign language.

If you could invite three famous people (dead or alive) for dinner, who would they be and what would you cook for them?

I would invite the leader of Heaven, the leader of Earth and the leader of Hell. I would prepare the most natural, powerful and delicious plant-based dinner so that they could introduce to their people.