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

Volunteer Stories: Lorena Poitras

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Lorena Poitras: Canada

I met Lorena while living in Taiwan. She was very well known in the ex-pat community for her tireless efforts volunteering with Animals Taiwan and I was very excited that she agreed to write about her experiences.

This is a fantastic account of Lorena’s volunteer work with Animals Taiwan and an absolute must-read for anyone thinking about volunteering abroad. Lorena talks about culture differences and gives some really valuable advice.

You can read it here!

Ice Buckets; The Good, The Bad and The Viral.

KONY 2012, No Make-Up selfies, The Ice Bucket Challenge. Viral campaigning is gathering speed, and in my opinion, is here to stay whether we like it or not. So, can we make it better?

The Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS is the most recent of these viral campaigns and is causing a lot of debate. Despite its shortcomings (which I will discuss), I think its a great campaign. It has really gotten people talking, not only about ALS but also about the water crisis, animal testing, fundraising in general, and a whole host of other diseases. And while I am pretty tired of seeing a million new videos posted every time I check my phone, I am happy that these are the things we are talking about on social media at the moment and not trashy celebrity gossip. I don’t care who Taylor Swift is dating or which sports star is the latest in a cheating scandal but I DO care about fundraising, medical research and anything a regular Joe can do to make a positive difference in the world.

Some ALS Facts

(www.alsa.org)

  • ALS is not contagious.
  • It is estimated that ALS is responsible for nearly two deaths per hundred thousand population annually.
  • Approximately 5,600 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with ALS each year. The incidence of ALS is two per 100,000 people, and it is estimated that as many as 30,000 Americans may have the disease at any given time.
  • Although the life expectancy of an ALS patient averages about two to five years from the time of diagnosis, this disease is variable and many people live with quality for five years and more.  More than half of all patients live more than three years after diagnosis.
  • About twenty percent of people with ALS live five years or more and up to ten percent will survive more than ten years and five percent will live 20 years. There are people in whom ALS has stopped progressing and a small number of people in whom the symptoms of ALS reversed.
  • ALS occurs throughout the world with no racial, ethnic or socioeconomic boundaries.
  • ALS can strike anyone.
  • The onset of ALS is insidious with muscle weakness or stiffness as early symptoms. Progression of weakness, wasting and paralysis of the muscles of the limbs and trunk as well as those that control vital functions such as speech, swallowing and later breathing generally follows.
  • There can be significant costs for medical care, equipment and home health caregiving later in the disease.  It is important to be knowledgeable about your health plan coverage and other programs for which your may be eligible, including SSA, Medicare, Medical and Veteran Affairs benefits.

The Ice Bucket Challenge

The Ice Bucket Challenge began in June in the US and the original rules are; if you are nominated you have 24 hours to dump a bucket of iced-water over your head and donate $10 to ALS research., you then get to nominate three more people to take part. The video is shared on social media (usually Facebook). If you choose not to do the ice bucket, you must donate $100 to ALS research. The rules have varied from country to country. Some people are donating to a charity of their choice rather than ALS.

TONS of celebrities have jumped on board and played a key role in making this such a huge campaign. And there have been so many funny and creative ones keeping the momentum going.

The Debate

Having worked as a fundraiser in a few different environments, my experience is that the general public is living in a state of willful ignorance( some may call it bliss…..). Our media loves to use scare tactics, and shock value and we have become exhausted and apathetic to a lot of it. In saying that, when confronted with a worthy cause, people’s innate goodness becomes apparent and most have a genuine desire to do good. I worked for an NGO in Brisbane talking to people about donating all day long for months and 80% of people were interested, heart-broken and genuinely moved by the horrible facts. And most of them agreed that we should all be doing a little bit more.

Facebook, and social networks in general are built around narcissism and self promotion. Look at how good I look, I’m on an awesome vacation, here is my cute baby or my cute dog, here are 1000 examples of my cooking skills, here are my gorgeous friends, my nights out, my house etc etc (I am guilty of most of these for sure). Campaigns like this use that to shed light on their cause, and it’s effective. Social networking is a powerful tool, and I see no harm in using it for good every once in a while instead of the usual stream of cat videos and Buzzfeed quizzes (I’m also guilty of these). I know that some people think we should all donate quietly and not have any glory but, why not look at it from a different angle. Its not about “glory” its about spreading the message! the more people who watch, the more people who donate. Then its not only your $10 but also the people who you have inspired or motivated to do the same. If you don’t tell them, they will just spend their time scrolling through mindless crap all day. I was one of the first to criticize The “no make-up selfie” but then learned that it raised millions for breast cancer awareness. I am well aware that not everyone who posts a video or selfie is putting their money where their mouth is, but enough to raise millions that wouldn’t have otherwise been raised, do.

There are so many ways in which we get caught up in our own lives and the stresses of the daily grind that it is easy not to think of the suffering of others. And we need to be reminded. What better way to do that than our beloved cell phones and tablets? The element of fun makes it more appealing AND we don’t have to endure the “emotional porn”. (I will be writing another post about that very soon so watch this space…..).  I think the days of “oh look at this poor unfortunate soul” have been worn out.

However, there is no such thing as a perfect fundraiser. In the case of the Ice Bucket Challenge, the main issues I  have seen people have are concerns about wasting water, and the fact that ALS research still uses animal testing.

First of all, to the people who point out these negatives right away and totally dismiss the campaign as a result, I would like to ask you a few questions. Do you know how many other medical research projects use animal testing? Do you use make-up or cleaning products that have been tested on animals? Do you eat meat that comes from factory farms? Do you wear leather? Or, are you just looking for a reason to hate this style of fundraising?

Do you have a pool? Water your plants? Have long showers? Or again, are you just looking for a way to judge this challenge?

I am not dismissing these concerns at all, they are very valid. I have just seen a lot of comments that look more like “haters” than legitimate concern or constructive criticism.

On the flipside, I have also seen people use sea water, or pool water in place of clean drinking water and I have seen one or two people donate to water sanitation programmes in addition to their ALS donation. See? Constructive criticism is a good thing and helps improvement!

As for animal testing, that is a more complicated issue and one that I do not know enough to comment much on. I think animal testing is awful and disgusting and I regularly Google products to see if they are testing on animals so that I can make informed decisions about my purchases. I encourage everyone to do the same. I really hope that we can make more headway in that area and I’m glad that it has been pointed out. As far as I know, other research projects have moved on to more sophisticated and cruelty-free testing methods, and here’s hoping with all that extra money ALS research will be able to follow suit.

Every cause/charity gets its 15mins. It’s always something different being highlighted in the media. Some more often than others, and that is the nature of the beast. Constructive criticism is healthy and helps improve fundraising campaigns but I think that it is a little bit easy to focus on the negatives rather than the positives. This challenge is fantastic for ALS and it’s not really doing any damage to other causes. Maybe some people will choose ALS this year for their donation budget who would have supported something different last year. That already happens. Unfortunately, all causes are constantly competing for funds.

Volunteer Stories: Sarah Naughton

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Sarah Naughton shares her experiences volunteering in Rwanda with VSO.

You can read the full interview here, as well as some more volunteer stories.

Volunteer Stories: Jaclynn Joseph

I’ve decided to add a “volunteer stories”section to my blog. I want to give you guys first hand information from actual volunteers so that you have a better idea about the programmes featured and of course, helpful advice and tips.

volunteering at the Soi Dog Foundation in Thailand

volunteering at the Soi Dog Foundation in Thailand

The first volunteer to be featured is fellow Taipai expat, and friend of mine, Jaclynn Joseph who volunteered with The Soi Dog Foundation in Phuket Thailand last Chinese New Year.  Jaclynn is an animal lover, and very involved in animal charites as a volunteer and fundraiser. You can read the full interview here.

Indigogo Crowfunding page is LIVE!!!

I am very excited to announce that our crowdfunding page went live this morning!!

Please support these wonderful girls!

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We have set a target of US$20000 (half of the yearly budget). The campaign ends January 30th.

Please contribute, any amount great or small will make a difference and bring us closer to achieving our goal. Please share our page with everyone you know and spread the good word.

http://igg.me/p/601997

Thank you from everyone at The Shelter Collection and from me 😀

 

Time to Say Goodbye

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My last day in Saigon was bittersweet. I am excited to see my friends and get back to my life in Taipei but saying goodbye is never easy. It has been a rollercoaster ride! Sometimes it been very challenging but overall, an amazing trip. I have learned so much about development and fundraising and feel more determined than ever to pursue a job the charity sector. For the past few weeks I have been so excited to get home to Taipei but as it drew closer and the reality of what I’m leaving behind set in, I began to feel sad. I have met some really wonderful people here and will really miss them, and of course, all the projects I’ve had the privilege of working on.

This morning I bid farewell to my gorgeous class at Phú Nhuận  and introduced them to their new teacher, Michael, a teacher from Galway. They wrote me some beautiful letters, and the teacher made me a gorgeous bracelet. I also got a new keyring, a chicken. So, now I have a flower, a bag, a shoe and a chicken! (the chicken is my fave for sure!). I did get a little choked up but I held it together well and all in all it was a nice farewell with lots of smiles and hugs!

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  my assorted hand-made keyrings!

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my new arm candy

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saying goodbye!

After English class, I rode my bike to Little Rose to say good bye and to give them my bike as a gift. Ms. Thien said that she would give it to a girl who has just started vocational training and will need a bike to get to and from there. So, I’m really happy that they will get such good use out of it!

Ms Thien gathered all the girls into the office to say goodbye and thank you to me. I was totally overwhelmed and didn’t expect such a fuss! They sang a song and all said thank you.  I will really miss everyone at Little Rose and feel so honoured to have been part of their team for three months.

Our crowdfunding campaign is almost ready to be launched, to raise money to keep the shelter going of the coming financial year. I will be updating A LOT to make sure these girls get their funding and the centre can continue the amazing work they do!

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bye bye bicycle!

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with the girls from Little Rose

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purple fish! A gift from the girls at Little Rose

I often meet people who tell me they would love to go away somewhere and volunteer for a month/three months/ a year but work and life in general gets in the way. This is the third time I have gone on a extended trip to volunteer and I cannot emphasise how much good you can do if you do a little research. It doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg and the results can be incredible. Bite the bullet, book a flight and make a difference to someones life.

The latest goings-on at The Little Rose Shelter

Busy, busy week at the Little Rose Shelter;

Fundraising meetings, an open day to prepare for, new volunteers, website updates, and a really nice dinner all together. Staff, kids and volunteers.

On Tuesday evening we had dinner with the girls, and ice-cream! It was a really fun evening.

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stew, cooked by the girls. It was really, really delicious! And lots of yummy tiger prawns and french bread!

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I ate the ice-cream way too fast to take a picture!

Fundraising Update.

Ole has been working tirelessly on fundraising and had some very successful meetings this week!

We received a donation of $1000 from a very generous Japanese businessman.

Megan and I have been working on a crowdfunding page and will hopefully be able to get it up and running within the next week.

Paypal buttons have been installed to the WordPress and Facebook pages to make it easier for our supporters to donate.

The centre is hosting an information day on Tuesday for prospective donors, and anyone who is interested in learning more about Little Rose to come and see the great work they do. There will be some short documentaries, a demo lesson with the social and emotional learning program and a chance to talk to staff and volunteers about the centre.

Street Kids in Vietnam

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Traveling and volunteering in SE Asia, you will frequently come across street kids.

Every night on Bui Vien street two little boys breathe fire for tips, tiny little girls sell chewing gum as their mothers or older sisters watch from the road urging them to smile and entertain the drunken tourists giving them a peck on the cheek or a high five. They are being trained at a young age to give rich westerners whatever they want so you get paid. Its sickening and heartbreaking to watch.

A couple of evenings ago, I was sitting at a street restaurant drinking a beer and having dinner when a little boy came over begging. I always say no to street sellers and beggars, especially those with young kids, or kids themselves. This kid accepted that right away and then hopped on a scooter to chat! One of the other guys at the table played hakey sack with him and helped him practice his numbers in English. Then he went back to his perch on the scooter for a rest. A woman came out to mover her scooter. The kid jumped off the scooter they were getting out and straight into my lap. An eleven year old boy. I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable and as if it was completely inappropriate but I also knew this kid trusted me and just wanted some affection. 11 years old can mean many different things in different cultures and social groups, but this was a child, a young child, only concerned with playing games and having fun. He was clearly tired, and homeless. He told me in broken English “no mama, no daddy”. That was all I knew of his circumstance. I have no idea how long he has been on the street, how he survives, who he answers to, what his living conditions are but it was obvious that his childhood innocence was still intact. I asked the lady running the restaurant if she knew him, she said no and then spoke in Vietnamese to him. He quickly hopped up and left, disappeared into the crowd.

I can’t help but feel like I should have done something to help, but I don’t even know where I would begin!

Kids end up on the street for many reasons. They run away from abusive parents/guardians. They migrate from rural areas to get a job and send money home. Some are orphans. Some come to the city looking for a better life and fall through the cracks.

Street kids are some of the most vulnerable people in our societies. They are often taken advantage of by adults, especially adults who offer to take care of them. Many become shoe-shine boys or sell sunglasses, lighters and even drugs. But none of these items yield a high profit and some boys will end up selling themselves, maybe begin to take drugs themselves or drink alcohol. A study released at a conference in Hanoi  said that virtually all street children in HCMC (92.5 percent) have been victims of sexual abuse. The study also found that 98.3 percent of street children in the city have used substances like alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, heroin, meth, adhesive, or even gasoline at least once. As tourists, we see these kids and want to hep but the worst thing you can do is give them money. If they beg and make money, there is no incentive for them to go to school. They will eventually grow up and people are less willing to give older kids/adults money. Parents and “caretakers” will purposely use the youngest, sick or cutest kids to go and beg because people are more inclined to give money to them. The important thing to remember, is that begging is not a behaviour that should be encouraged. If you want to help, eat at restaurants that hire street kids or donate money to rehabilitation centres for trafficked kids. 

There are some fantastic organisations here in Saigon, and all over Vietnam who help street kids, give them a home and training. According to The Street Educators’ Club, the number of street children in Vietnam shrunk from 21,000 in 2003 to 8,000 in 2007. However, despite the success, there are still so many kids out there in need of help. This week Vietnam greeted its 90 millionth citizen into the world!

If you would like to donate, volunteer or learn more about street kids in Vietnam here are three great non-profits giving hope to former street kids. With your support, they can continue to do great work and help even more kids in need.

http://www.bluedragon.org/   http://www.sheltercollection.org/     http://www.sozocentre.com/

Read more;

http://www.thanhniennews.com/index/pages/20131009-vietnam-study-urges-help-to-keep-street-kids-from-sex-abuse-drugs.aspx

http://crs.org/vietnam/getting-vietnams-kids-off-the-street/