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: Lindy Mei

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Lindy Mei: USA
I met Lindy a couple of years ago when we both volunteered for TSPCA walking and caring for dogs. Lindy joined an excursion I planned for the kids at Harmony Home Taiwan and was amazing. The kids took to her immediately and had so much fun, Since then, Lindy goes to help out with the kids in the Xin Yi centre whenever she can. You can read her advice here. 
I have volunteered with Harmony Home for almost three years and continue to be involved with them from the UK. We will be continuing out “Secret Santa” toy drive this year so I’ll be updating you all about that soon.
If you are interested in volunteering at Harmony Home, you can e-mail me at volunteerasia@hotmail.com and I will send you an application form and guidelines.

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 😀

 

Lunch at The Green Bamboo Shelter

I finally got around to having lunch at the Green Bamboo today and it was so good I plan to go back tomorrow!

“The Green Bamboo Warm Shelter for boys houses up to 20 boys who have been separated from their families due to circumstances including parental imprisonment, abandonment, abuse, and runaways. The goal of the shelter is to reunite the boys with their families within a three to six month period. The shelter works in collaboration with the Ho Chi Minh City Children’s Welfare Association to care for, and provide short-term employment opportunities for boys from all parts of Vietnam.” (http://outreachvietnam.blogspot.com/p/green-bamboo-shelter.html)

Recently, The Green Bamboo was fitted with an industrial kitchen and opened a lunch restaurant. The boys who are interested, have been trained how to cook, how to run a kitchen and customer service skills.

Every day they have a meat option and a vegetarian option for around 30000vnd, super cheap!

Upon arrival we were greeted with smile, the service was friendly and fast and the food was delicious.

veggie spring rolls, noodles, cucumber and yummy dipping sauce.

veggie spring rolls, noodles, cucumber and yummy dipping sauce.

fresh fruit served with ever meal, today we had watermelon!

fresh fruit served with ever meal, today we had watermelon!

The Green Bamboo restaurant is at 40/34 Calmette Street, Nguyen Thai Binh Ward, District 1, HCMC and is open for lunch from 11.30-1pm Mon-Fri.

Trafficking in Asia: Modern Day Slavery

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The Little Rose Shelter helps girls who have been sexually abused or trafficked, or who were in high risk situations. I wanted to research trafficking in Vietnam to see how big the problem is. What I found was pretty shocking. Human trafficking is the third most profitable illegal activity, right after drugs and arms dealing, and business is booming.

The Facts

-An estimated 2.5 million people are in forced labour (including sexual exploitation) at any given time as a result of trafficking

56% are in Asia and the Pacific

10% are in Latin America and the Carribbean

9.2% are in the Middle East and Northern Africa

5.4% are in sub-Saharan countries

10.8% are in industrialised countries

8% are in transition in countries

-161 countries are affected by trafficking

-the majority of victims of trafficking are between 18-24 years old

-an estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked every year

-95% of victims experienced physical and/or sexual violence during trafficking

-43% of victims are used for forced commercial exploitation, of whom 98% are women and girls

-32% are used for forced economic exploitation, of whom 56% are women and girls

-In 46% of cases, the victims knew their trafficker

-Estimated global annual profits made from human trafficking are US$31.6 billion

-In 2006 there were only 5,808 prosecutions and 3,160 convictions worldwide. This means that for every 800 people trafficked, only one person was convicted.

(data from UN)

Trafficking in Vietnam

Vietnam is known as a “source country” for women and children trafficked for sexual exploitation and labour. This means the women are “sourced” here and then exported to other countries. They are often trafficked to China, Cambodia and other surrounding countries. Some men and women actually migrate willingly and legally for work and subsequently face forced labor and debt bondage. “Domestic trafficking” is also a huge problem in Vietnam, where victims are lured from their rural towns into the city in hopes of a job which will enable them to send money home to their families. Vietnam is also a destination country for Cambodian children trafficked for forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation. Vietnam, as well as many South East Asian countries is fast becoming a popular destination for pedophiles, with from all around the world coming here.

Between 2004 and 2009, Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security (MPS) reported nearly 3,000 Vietnamese victims of human trafficking.Traffickers prey on the poorest and most desperate of families, they sell them promises of money, jobs, and a better life and parents send their children with them clinging to the hope that their children will have a better life than they did. Traffickers are skilled liars, and they know how desperate these people are to believe.

Unfortunately, the government response has been to  focus on “awareness” rather than more action on the ground actually rescuing trafficking victims. So many organisations consider this kind of rescue work too dangerous. The result being that many kids remain to be held hostage in factories and brothels.

Someone who IS on the ground, is Michael Brosowski who runs Blue Dragon, an NGO based in Hanoi that has rescued more than 300 kids from trafficking since their doors opened in 2005.Once rescued, they are brought to the Blue Dragon centre to speak with a social worker. They are provided with a place to stay, food and access to education and training. Michael originally came to Vietnam to teach English but quickly recognised the plight of street kids and wanted to help so he set up his own NGO. Blue Dragon has become very well know in Vietnam due to their hands on approach and phenomenal results. In a short number of years, they have sent 2,686 kids back to school and training, provided accommodation to 153 girls and boys and so much more. To read more about Michael and the Blue Dragon you can check out their website, http://www.bluedragon.org.

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/

Sozo Cafe, Bui Vien St

If you are visiting Saigon, you will inevitably spend some time on Bui Vien st. It is the busiest street in the heart of the backpacker area in District 1.

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“SOZO was established in 2005 to help underprivileged Vietnamese families & their kids break the cycle of debt, be trained for employment and have the opportunity of a new start in life. 100% of all profit is used for staff training, development and education.”

They have lots of delicious cookies, cakes, western and Vietnamese food. You can get a great coffee, a fresh coconut, smoothies. Everything I have tried there so far is great.Their Oreo truffles are to die for!!

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And the best part is,  that they are working with families and children who used to be on the street. They send the children to school, and the older ones to college. They teach them how to bake, handle money, and basic business skills. The currently have around 15 staff training at their cafe. Sozo work with Cacet (Child Abuse, Consultancy, Education, and Training) to make sure the children are safe and properly cared for. They create a safe and happy environment for the kids. All volunteers and staff must have a police clearance check before they can work at Sozo and are required to familiarise themselves with Sozo and Cacet’s child safety policy.

Delicious, affordable food for a good cause!

the Oreo cheesecake is divine!

the Oreo cheesecake is divine!