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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Volunteer Stories: Cátia Lúcio

Catia Lucio

Cátia Lúcio: Portugal

I met Cátia in Thailand a number of years ago when we were both volunteering with Globalteer with Wildlife Friends of Thailand. It was the first time for both of us to volunteer overseas.

WFFT is about 6 hours north of Bangkok in the Petchaburi province and is a rescue centre for abuse and abandoned animals.  It is a beautiful location and I loved hearing all the sound of nature at night when we were sleeping. Cátia and I were in different programs, I was on the team who worked only with elephants whereas Cátia worked with many other animals. There were bears, crocodiles, monkeys, a horse, dogs, cats, iguanas and so many more I don’t remember.

It was a fairly expensive program, with a large donation to the centre but accommodation and three meals a day are provided. They cater for vegetarians too. Accommodation was shared rooms and pretty basic but you are right in the middle of the jungle and it was an experience like no other. I loved it! Your duties are mainly feeding and cleaning and there was lots of extra time for relaxing and socialising. It is also close to Cha Am and Hua Hin where you can go to the beach on your days off.

Before going: 

Visa: you can get a landing visa on arrival in Bangkok airport.

Vaccinations; I was vaccinated against rabies, typhoid, Hepatitus A and B

Medication: Malarial medication is a good idea in this area.

 

These are some pictures I took while volunteering at WFFT;

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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.

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 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.

Making Your Time As A Volunteer Count

Aid work, volunteering and development are very complex subjects. At the end of the day, we all have the same goal – to eradicate extreme poverty and to improve the lives of the disadvantaged and vulnerable. If you are thinking about donating or volunteering, you want to know that you are maximising your money and time.

I recently heard the term “voluntourist”. When I first volunteered in Asia 5 years ago, I was on my way to Australia for a working holiday and wanted to travel SE Asia but was a little nervous to go alone. Volunteering was a great option for me at the time; I met fantastic people, saw things off the beaten track, did something worthwhile and had a great time doing it. I didn’t do nearly as much research last time and from what I have seen, most people who volunteer have a similar story. However, as I have gained more experience and knowledge of the complexities of international development, my ideas about volunteering have changed. Of course, I want to see as much of Vietnam (my current location) as I can in my free time and get a good understanding of their culture and people but what is much more important to me is that I would like my time in Saigon to have a lasting effect. I would like to start something or contribute to something that can continue, and grow. The people of Vietnam deserve long-term solutions to poverty and sustainable projects. That’s not to say that short-term volunteer work doesn’t work, of course it does, but there are many important things to consider. I am here for three months; some people come for longer, some for less time. The amount of time you spend here really matters when you choose what kind of work you do.  One of the most important things to consider if you are thinking about volunteering is your skills and expertise. What can you share?

I recently met two girls here in Saigon for six months volunteering at an orphanage. I asked them what they do. They said their main role was to care for the children, to play with them and to help the younger kids with them with basic things like changing diapers and feeding time. My immediate thought was, when you leave it will be devastating for the kids who you leave behind. Six months is a pretty long time, especially for very young children and if you are their primary caregiver, they will bond with you very quickly. And then you leave. Then, most likely, someone else comes for one, or two, or six months and another bond is formed. Then another adult who loved and cared for them leaves. It is not fair to the children. As orphans or children who were abandoned by their parents, who may have even suffered abuse, they probably already have issues with trusting adults, and will eventually build up walls and stop trying to get close to people. This is something that devastates me. Children need stability, they need routine, and they need people in their lives who will not leave them after a short time. Now, I’m not suggesting, we all drop our lives and go live in Vietnam, but what I am saying, is that volunteers need to be utilized more effectively and in a way that will not be counterproductive. The permanent, Vietnamese staff should be the primary care givers, the ones who form bonds and trust with the children and the volunteers should have different roles. Maybe a volunteer can be teacher who comes an hour a day, or a couple of times a week, or even a little more often, but in such a way that when they leave, the kids still have their main caregiver and they don’t have their routine upended. So, if an orphanage volunteer placement is something you would like to do, please ask the management about this so that you know you are going an institution who has the children s best interests and welfare at the heart of what they do. An amazing example of this is Allambie, a place where orphans have a real home, and a family. (see my previous post, and their website, www.allambie.co.uk )

Teaching English is just one way to help. As long as the children are getting Vietnamese lessons and a balanced schedule, then teaching is English is great. It will definitely help them to get better jobs. But, I really feel that NGOs and charities need to take on teachers with TEFL certs, or experience. Or lacking that, you should at least have to perform a demo, or be able to show your pre-planned lessons so that it is clear you can do the job well. The thing about teaching English is that it must be built up to and will only be effective when the basic needs of the children/adults have already been met. So, if you are planning to teach English, you must consider whether the organization you choose has already built that up. The people they are helping are healthy, they have food and shelter and stability. Then education is the next step. Of course, just chatting to them in English is also effective so they will likely learn some from you regardless of the type of work you are doing.

If you don’t think teaching is suitable for you, think about your talents and interests as this can be a fantastic way to volunteer! Art projects, I have seen amazing projects set up by artists, photographers and dancers. The sense of pride that one feels when they finish a project and can show it off is such an amazing confidence builder. Art classes, dance class, small performances, these are also creating happy memories and wonderful ways to share your talents. This is a perfect option for short term volunteers and many NGOs will ask whether you have specific talents you would like to share.

This is an example of what I mean! It is a parody of Gangnam Style done by performed by 160 children from the slums of Phenom Phen. I love it!!!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7pUYda59wcQ&feature=share&list=UUcwQOn4ggwW6jjmSuQTn7MQ

Also, along these lines is sport. Kids love to play sport and a short term sport camp would be an amazing experience for children. It’s great exercise and a lot of fun.

IT and social media is another area where volunteers can make a big difference. Most office staff in NGOs are so busy they don’t have the time or know-how to keep their websites updated. Teaching the staff how to use the internet effectively, how to update blogs and websites will help keep their organisation in the lime light.

Fundraising and event planning is another excellent way to make a real difference.. Fundraising and event planning can be done both from your home country, and wherever you volunteer. If you have experience in sales and marketing, PR, customer service or event planning at home, this is the perfect way for you to make a real difference! NGOs and projects will always need more money, and this way you can use the skills you already have to help them, you can also teach locals and staff the basics so they can continue after you leave. The aim of development is to enable the locals to help themselves.

Volunteers play an integral role in the survival of development projects and do amazing work. My aim is to just help potential volunteers to choose the right project, to maximize their efforts and to avoid any counterproductive activities.

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!