Harmony Home Taiwan: 2014 Secret Santa Toy Drive


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.


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.

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.


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

Teacher’s Day

Teacher’s Day in Vietnam is on November 20th and I received a lovely girt this morning from my cuties in Phú Nhuận!


One from each kid and they made them themselves. So cute!

I’m really going to miss these guys when I head back to Taiwan next week. They brighten up my week, every time I see them.


Happy Halloween from Phú Nhuận English class!!!!

This morning I brought some candy and masks to school, they went crazy for them!

BUT, the absolute highlight was 10mins after class was over, spotting someone’s Grandma in one of the side streets wearing a mask and creeping up on her family. SOOO funny!

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Best Volunteer Teaching Programs in the World

Best Volunteer Teaching Programs in the World

Thousands of individuals are looking for volunteer teaching positions in areas around the world. Volunteering abroad not only exposes you to a different culture, but it also allows individuals to explore the world and give back to the communities that support them. Volunteer teaching, in particular, is a popular option for many people who are looking at breaking into the international volunteering arena because teaching is a valuable and rewarding career. Many employers also see it as a valuable job skill.

Here are some of our favorite volunteer teaching programs from around the world, in no particular order:

Experience the Republic of Georgia through Teach and Learn in Georgia

Why it’s the best: Experiencing local culture and making a real difference. Georgia is also one of the few places where non-native English speakers can find teaching jobs.

In recent years, Georgia has been working hard to reform itself into a modern and competitive nation. To further its progress, it has made English education a top priority. Schools throughout the country, from the urban and hip capital city of Tbilisi, to the rustic and rural mountain villages are looking for English speakers to come and teach English in Georgia. This is one of the few places where anyone who can demonstrate fluency in English—regardless of their home country and native language—can easily and legally find a teaching job.

Benefits include paid flights, and in-country assistance. Plus, there is a visa-free entry for up to one-year, that’s one less hassle that you have to worry about. Most teachers here live in a home-stay with a Georgian family. You won’t make a large sum of money teaching English in Georgia (teachers are compensated with what amounts to a typical Georgian salary), you’ll make enough to get by, as well as fund some travels during weekends and breaks. Most importantly, you will have a unique chance to be immersed in this culture and to be working in schools that really need qualified teachers.

Make a Difference with the English Opens Doors Program in Chile

Why it’s the best: Make a difference, jobs easy to find

Adventure, beautiful scenery, and friendly people all await ESL teachers in Chile. Opportunities to teach English are plentiful here, and often involve meaningful work with schools in rural areas. Chile’s unique dialect of Spanish is a big draw for those interested in linguistics, or just for those looking to improve their Spanish. Salaries for teaching English in Chile are not high, but you can easily make enough to live on, and still have some left over to travel around the country.

Travel A World Away – Teach in Bhutan

Why it’s the best: Getting paid to volunteer in the happiest country in Asia

Teaching in Bhutan works in partnership with the Ministry of Education in Bhutan to send certified native English speaking teachers to public schools across the country. Teachers are responsible for paying for their airfare, travel and medical insurance, visa and work permit and start-up costs. As an employee of the Government of Bhutan, you will be paid a local Bhutanese salary of 20,000 Nu ($400USD) at the end of each month. This salary is more than enough to cover your living expenses for the month, including your accommodation, food, and travel. Volunteer opportunities in Bhutan include positions in urban and rural settings. This beautiful Himalayan kingdom may be landlocked, but the beautiful mountain scenery, a strong sense of national identity and an isolated culture are bound to make your experience out of this world. Besides, what could be better than volunteering in the happiest country in Asia?

Teachers Without Borders

Why it’s the best: A variety of programs to choose from

Teachers Without Borders is an international non-profit organization that enhances human welfare by connecting teachers around the world with communities in need of help. TWB offers programs in Asia, Africa, South America and North America. They’re looking for teachers who can support, inspire and share information within communities across the world.


Why it’s the best: WorldTeach is often considered as an alternative to the Peace Corps.

Where in the world do you want to teach? WorldTeach offers programs all over the world. They accept applicants of all nationalities who speak a native level of English. They also accept married couples and friends, which is a draw for many young volunteers who are looking to get into the international volunteering arena. In short, WorldTeach is an excellent non-profit organization that can put you on the right path to volunteering abroad.

About Carrie Kellenberger

A Canadian expat that has been living abroad in Asia since 2003, Carrie began her career with Reach To Teach Recruiting in 2006 as an ESL teacher in Taiwan. Today, she and her husband are co-owners of Reach To Teach. In her free time, Carrie works as a freelance travel writer and photographer, providing regular content to several publishing companies and travel publications in Asia and North America. She writes about her personal travel adventures on Travel Asia – My Several Worlds. Follow Carrie on Google+ or on Twitter @globetrotteri.