Harmony Home Taiwan: 2014 Secret Santa Toy Drive

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I first heard about Harmony Home a few years ago on a Taiwan expat forum, Forumosa. I had been looking for somewhere to volunteer and it sounded perfect. Harmony Home has become very dear to my heart and I have such respect and admiration for the staff that work tirelessly to run the centre and to care for the kids.

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It all began in 1986…

 when Nicole Yang welcomed her friend, the renowned Taiwanese theater artist, Tian Chi-yuan to her home with her two children.  He had nowhere else to go because he was HIV positive. It was the time when there was no proper medical treatment available and there was insufficient understanding of the disease. The rapid increase of AIDS patients has caused negative responses in the society. This further induced withdrawal of people living with HIV/AIDS (PLHA) out of fear of being discriminated. Being aware of this sad situation, Nicole opened up her home to PLHA to provide them with a secure place to live in. Out of compassion, she established Harmony Home with the hope of fully reintegrating them to the society.
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As is usually the case, it took a couple of e-mails to get a reply but when I did, it was friendly and enthusiastic and I couldn’t wait to get involved. My first visit was a little chaotic, there were kids running around everywhere, my Chinese was almost non-existent and everyone looked far too busy to be bothered with me. It took a few visits to get used to the way things are done but every time I came the kids would jump up and come to hug me. I taught English there with two friends, one person with all those kids was just not enough!! They have a classroom upstairs with lots of arts and crafts supplies. After a few months, I decided to organize some outings for the kids. It would be a nice break for the nannies and great for the kids to get out and let off some steam! They are often cooped up inside and end up fighting over toys and the TV. Our first outing was a hike in Xin Yi and the kids absolutely loved it! A group of friends came, with their dogs and toddlers in tow and everyone had a great afternoon.

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After that, we started going to the park regularly. The kids had the freedom to run around and play with adult supervision. Some of the kids were curious about the volunteers, others were too shy but either way, they were out and about and getting fresh air and exercise. One particular Saturday, we had a lot of dogs with us and the kids loved them! They were fascinated and took turns walking them and feeding them snacks. For some of the kids, it was their first experience with a pet because they have grown up in the centre. It was so lovely to see!

My favourite outing, however, had to be the trip we took to the public swimming pool. It was in the middle of a melting summer and the park was just a bit too hot. The kids were exhausted and hiding under the slide for shade so we took them to the outdoor pool instead. The LOVED it! For a lot of the little kids, it was their first time swimming and they had so much fun.

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I have continued to be involved with Harmony Home as a fundraiser and coordinator even though I can’t go and see the kids any more and will keep doing so for as long as I can. Recently, Harmony Home have been on the receiving end of a horrible campaign to remove them from their centre on Xin Yi due to neighbours complaining and it is really heartbreaking to hear about it all. They really need support this year and thanks to my amazing friends and the Harmony Home volunteer network I think 2014 is going to end of a very positive note.

Throughout my time volunteering with Harmony Home we have had so many fun events, two VERY successful drag shows at Dalida, my Black and White birthday, two Halloween parties, Pride parade and two Christmas parties. On top of that, we have had more clothes, books and appliances than I can count as well as tons of new volunteers and patrons. The generosity of the community in Taipei never fails to amaze me!

Our current event is the annual Secret Santa event which is in its third, and what looks to be biggest, year! Here’s the basic idea:

Dear volunteers and supporters,

I am sure you are all familiar with “secret santa” concept. You pick a number out of a hat and buy an anonymous gift for that person.
I’d like to do something similar this year for the kids at Harmony Home.
It will be all the kids name in the hat and you guys will be buying a gift for one of them.
I have a list of each of their names, ages and genders.
All you have to do is let me know you would like to take part and I will allocate you a kid. I’ll give you the info and then you go and buy them a gift, wrap it and put their name on it.
This way, each kid in the centre will get a lovely gift, chosen just for them.
I’d like to set a spending limit because everyone has different budgets and we don’t want some kids to receive really extravagant gifts. Rather, if you would like to give more or you have extra cash, I can allocate you more children!

Lets say, around 500NT.

This year, we have had such an overwhelming response that we have so many more donors than kids!!! For anyone who wants to get involved from now, you can make a donation via PayPal or credit card here or make a donation in kind (list here)and drop it off either at the centre 1F No.262-1, Jiaxing St., Xinyi District, Taipei City 110 or at the Christmas show Santaland Diaries.

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VSO: The Volunteer Experts

VSO-logo1I’ve been thinking about adding a section with details on specific organisations. I’m going to start off with an excellent volunteer group- VSO. If you are a skilled professional and you are looking for a way to use your skills and expertise where it is needed most, VSO are a fantastic organisation to get involved with.

A while back, I featured Sarah Naughton, a friend of mine who volunteered in Rwanda a few years ago, in the ” volunteer experiences” section and she described her volunteer placement with VSO. I was really impressed with how Sarah described VSO, and I’ve always been a big fan of how they operate. Here’s why:

– they are dedicated to long term solutions

-they send experts in their fields, to ensure that projects succed

-they ask volunteers to commit for at least 6 months, non of this ” gap year” two week business.

VSO is one of the world largest volunteer networks in the world, and like the UN, they want the best of the best for the projects. They advertise their placements the same way the advertise paid positions and if you want to apply, you will need to send you CV and a covering letter. It is competitive and they want the right person for each position. You must commit to at least 6 months, and fundraise for your trip. This is volunteering done right.

If you cannot commit to a longer term placement overseas, VSO encourage you to volunteer for them at home where you can campaign and fundraise. They have lots of ideas on the website to help get you started.

Do you know another great volunteer group that you would recommend for someone wanting to volunteer overseas? Please comment or e-mail me volunteerasia@hotmail.com

The Damage done by Orphange Tourism

Orphanage Tourism is something I have wanted to talk about for a while.

Recently, Unicef and Friends International have launched a new child safety campaign and it is EXACTLY what I am talking about;

Children Are Not Tourist Attractions.

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It is a very powerful image and is being promoted heavily, I hope that it will help create awareness of this disturbing trend, and deter potential travelers from part taking in the exploitation of children.

I first experienced “orphanage tourism” when volunteering in Cambodia in 2008 and since learned that the problem has been rapidly growing since then. So called “orphanages” are popping up all over Cambodia, with an estimated 600 currently, and only 21 of these run by the government. And while Cambodia is without doubt the leader in this huge problem, it exists all over South East Asia. I was sad, but not surprised, to learn that is also becoming a booming business here in Vietnam.

I recently read this great article focusing on orphanage tourism in Cambodia, written by a fellow volunteer and blogger.

Orphanage tourism:

What usually happens?

Orphanage tourism can mean visiting an orphanage for a few hours as part of scheduled tour that also includes sightseeing. People read to, play with and photograph the children before hopping back on their bus for the next “life-changing” experience.

Whats the harm?

Most orphanages rely entirely on donations from rich, Western tourists. In so many cases, directors keep children looking dirty and malnourished in order to gain more sympathy, and of course, more money. By donating, tourist’s are merely lining the pockets of the management, and in the worst case scenarios, fueling abuse. Neglecting to properly vet volunteers also leaves the children vulnerable to sexual abuse. Though the (completely misguided) goal is to help, volunteers sometimes confuse their own experiences with that of the children. The emphasis is placed on the volunteer’s emotional response, rather than the effectiveness of the help itself. The “feel-good” factor. In reality, no child benefits from spending intimate time with a total stranger, especially those who are uneducated in social work and education.

In most developed countries this would be a clear violation of children’s rights and there are laws to protect them from such exploitation. Children in developing countries are no different from those in the developed world. They should be afforded the same basic rights.

‘Ask yourself whether a similar situation would be allowed in your own country: busloads of tourists pouring into a children’s home for fleeting visits, being allowed to interact with and photograph the children? No it wouldn’t,’ said Ngo Menghourng, the Cambodia communications officer for the NGO Friends International.

Though Lonely Planet does provide some very good information on how to spot and avoid these types of places , it also has a “Do’s and Don’t of Orphange Tourism” list. My list would be much smaller.

Don’t.

I came across this article in the Sydney Morning Herald while researching for this:

“Orphanage tourism provides a feel good moment but a lifetime of regret. by Jen Vuc”

It is an article written by an Australian woman who, when on holiday in Vietnam, visited one of these orphanages with her husband and children.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/comment/orphanage-tourism-provides-a-feelgood-moment-but-a-lifetime-of-regret-20130721-2qcgm.html#ixzz2iVit9oIS

This story, in typical fashion, starts out with great intentions. Jen and her husband wanted to teach their children the very valuable lesson that they are fortunate and many of the the worlds children are not. They left with a feeling of unease and looked back at their visit as more of a hindrance than a help.

If you would like to help orphanages in Vietnam but don’t have time to volunteer, cash donations or donations in kind are the most practical. They will always need things like, diapers, bottles, blankets, school supplies, etc. Many tech-savvy organisations will have a list on their website, or you can call and ask what they need. With a little research and pre-planning, your good intentions can actually yield good results.

Versatile Blogger Award-Thank you for the nomination!!!!

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THE RULES:

1. Display the Award on your Blog.
2. Announce your win with a post and thank the Blogger who nominated you.
3. Present 15 deserving Bloggers with the Award.
4. Link your nominees in the post and let them know of their nomination with a comment.
5. Post 7 interesting things about yourself

A big thank you to Deborah, http://myriad234.wordpress.com/, for the nomination!!!

7 things about me 

1.  I have lived and worked in 5 countries. Most recently, as an ESL teacher in Taipei, Taiwan.

2. I am currently in Vietnam volunteering, and have previous experience in Cambodia, Australia and Taiwan.

3. I studied Dance Studies at the University of Wolverhamption in England. I still love to dance as a hobby, and recently had some salsa lessons!

4. I love to travel and have visited almost 20 countries, I hope to add at least two new places a year!

5. I am new to blogging, and writing in general and finding it both challenging and rewarding. 

6. I love tattoos, I have three but want lots more! 

7. I love music, epecially going to concerts and festivals.

Since I am so new to this I have chosen my Top 5 Blogs (instead of 15), all focusing on development and volunteering;

1.http://orphanagetourismcambodia.wordpress.com/?wref=bif

2.http://littleroseshelter.wordpress.com/

3. http://aidspeak.wordpress.com/

4.http://kimnguyenbrowne.wordpress.com/

5. http://how-to-volunteer-overseas.com/

Congrats to the nominees!

New Challenges

After an unsuccessful application to study at NCCU in Taipei, and with my job contract finishing in August, I was left feeling a bit lost. I had prepared myself for life as a student in Taiwan and naively (or just stupidly!) forgot to think about a Plan B. So, I had a choice, find another job exactly the same as the one I was about to leave and continue teaching for another year, or come up with something a little more challenging and exciting. As much as I enjoy teaching, it was beginning to become a little mundane and I felt I was losing my enthusiasm. I had been thinking about volunteering for the summer between semesters at university, so it was the obvious choice to just go and do that now. I figured since I couldn’t study right now (I had applied for a Master in International Development), some on the job training was the next best thing-if not better! I had money saved for university fees, no job and was ready to travel again, so I booked a flight and started packing! I decided to leave this trip relatively unplanned and just to go with the flow, which has proved to be the perfect plan so far.

Why Vietnam? (apart from the fact that I have never been here but have only heard amazing things!)

(from http://www.globalvolunteernetwork.org/vietnam/)

Development in Vietnam

Vietnam launched an economic reform programme in 1986. The core of Vietnam’s economic strategy has been rapid integration into the world economy.  Despite an initial improvement, with integration into the global market Vietnam struggles with strengthening its resilience to global fluctuations.

The Vietnamese economy suffers from inflation, which increases the price of goods and services putting further pressure on families.

Fifty per cent of the population still lives on less than US$2 a day. On top of this, large portions of the population remain vulnerable to sliding back into poverty as a result of either economic shocks or natural disasters such as typhoons and flooding.

Education of Vietnamese youth is an extremely important foundation for lifting their generation and their family out of poverty.

Volunteer Impact

The mission of our partner in Vietnam is to reduce poverty and provide better quality of life for disadvantaged children in Vietnam. This builds cross-cultural education and understanding between Vietnamese people and people around the world.

Volunteers provide assistance to disadvantaged socio-economic groups within Vietnamese communities, focusing primarily on displaced, destitute, disabled and orphaned children.

As a volunteer in Vietnam you can provide love, affection, education and support to orphaned children.  You will help to improve their living facilities allowing them to be self-sufficient and providing a safe and secure environment in which they flourish. 

I was due to arrive in Saigon on September 1st, but I was having such a great time in Chiang Mai, Thailand visiting a friend that I decided to stay a couple of days longer. I was also burning through money quite quickly I took the long way here, Bangkok->Siem Reap->Saigon. After an awesome week of massages, beers, buses, various flights, sightseeing and delicious food, I have finally arrived. Now what? To be honest, I am feeling a bit overwhelmed by the size of the city!

I decided to dedicate 3 months of my life to volunteer in Vietnam (although, I am three days late now :P…). When I was still in Taiwan, I sent e-mails to four different agencies, and to my surprise, heard nothing back. I even e-mailed one of them four times! So, I’m off out to the city to talk to as many people as I can and find an organization who needs my help. Wish me luck!!