Willing and Able
Chang Shu-hui, red shirt, teaches oral hygiene to school children in Taiwan’s Central American ally Nicaragua during a mission for the Overseas Volunteers Service operated by Taipei City-based International Cooperation and Development Fund (TaiwanICDF). (Photo courtesy of Chang Shu-hui)
TaiwanICDF’s Overseas Volunteers Service is recruiting top talents dedicated to advancing development work in partner countries.
After a decade serving on the front line of Taiwan’s health system as a nurse, Chang Shu-hui (張淑慧) decided she wanted to use her experience to help people abroad without access to the world-class treatment on offer at home. In 2006, she began a master’s in international health at National Yangming University’s Institute of Public Health in Taipei City and participated as an overseas medical volunteer for the first time.
Since then she has taken part in missions to more than 10 countries spanning Africa, the Asia-Pacific and Caribbean.
Her most recent assignment was for the International Cooperation and Development Fund (TaiwanICDF)-run Overseas Volunteers Service (TOV) in Nicaragua. During her two-year visit to Taiwan’s Central American ally beginning in 2017, she conducted data compilation and analysis at a clinic, participated in rural community health promotion campaigns and taught oral hygiene at primary schools.
A group of children and Chang share a happy moment. (Photo courtesy of Chang Shu-hui)
“I’m immensely grateful for every opportunity I’ve had to share my expertise while experiencing different cultures,” Chang said. “Nicaragua was probably the most fulfilling volunteer experience of them all.” Tasks spanning from deploying information and communication technology (ICT) systems to raising awareness of public health issues will deliver far-reaching and long-lasting benefits for local people, she added.
Participating in TOV has made Chang more confident, having solved problems and dealt with situations that would never have arisen in Taiwan. She has also started learning Spanish after falling in love with the language during her stay abroad. “My time in Nicaragua gave me a renewed sense of purpose,” Chang said. “I can’t wait to get back overseas when the opportunity arises.”
Taipe City-based TaiwanICDF is the nation’s foremost foreign aid organization. Since establishment in 1996, it has dispatched more than 770 volunteers to serve in 42 countries as part of work facilitating economic growth and social development in partner nations. “We’ve been diversifying our projects in recent years to adapt to changing needs,” said Wang Hung-tzu (王宏慈), director of the organization’s Humanitarian Assistance Department. “So we’re always looking for volunteers who can bring something new to the table.”
According to Wang, the numbers and types of volunteers recruited are dependent on the needs of the host country or organization, but they tend to be drawn from fields in which Taiwan excels. These include areas like agriculture, education, environmental protection, ICT and public health.
Wang Hung-tzu, right, director of the Humanitarian Assistance Department at TaiwanICDF, is all smiles alongside TOV participants. (Photo courtesy of International Cooperation and Development Fund)
TOV has three operational goals: to dispatch qualified volunteers to projects in participating countries; to deepen Taiwan’s relationships with its allies and like-minded partners; and to promote cultural exchanges and mutual understanding. “From our perspective, we increase the effectiveness of aid delivery by expanding our capacity and expertise,” Wang said. “In return, volunteers get to broaden their horizons and burnish their resumes with experience in a well-respected position.”
Applicants must be aged 20-65 and hold at least a bachelor’s or a minimum of five years relevant work experience. Volunteers sign up for a period of one year, but this can be extended to two years subject to performance evaluations and operational requirements.
Meeting recruitment targets is not always easy, according to Wang. Modern lifestyles combined with concerns about safety and living conditions abroad have taken a chunk out of the numbers of young people willing to sign up, she said, citing organizational statistics revealing a drop in the proportion of volunteers under the age of 35 from 81 percent in 2018 to 64 percent in 2019.
For those who come forward, satisfaction remains high, with over 90 percent of respondents to a postplacement survey indicating they were willing to do the program again. “Participants tell us they’re delighted with the changes to their self-confidence after volunteering abroad,” Wang said. “Other benefits we hear about include improvements to cross-cultural communication, interpersonal relationships, language proficiency, problem-solving and self-awareness.”
Young St. Lucian table tennis players show off their medals next to TaiwanICDF volunteer coach Lien Ming-wei, left. (Photo courtesy of Lien Ming-wei)
Lien Ming-wei (連明偉) is another happy TOV alumnus after serving as a table tennis coach in Taiwan’s Caribbean ally St. Lucia for a year starting in May 2017. “Volunteering gave me an opportunity to be somewhere totally different, meeting new people and looking at things afresh,” the 37-year-old said.
A keen athlete throughout high school and university, Lien was always particularly adept at table tennis. When it was time to join the world of work, becoming a pingpong instructor came naturally to him. “Being a coach is physically demanding but rewarding,” he said. “It brings a smile to my face to see students improving under my tutelage.”
Lien’s skills were just what St. Lucia was looking for to level up its national team. The island nation has a proud history of athletic success but limited resources for maintaining world-class teams. After enrolling in TOV, Lien was assigned to discover and train primary and secondary school students with the potential to take up table tennis professionally.
According to Lien, the experience was profoundly positive, with the effects carrying on long after returning to Taiwan. “Volunteering has provided me with renewed creativity, motivation and vision that I can harness in my work and private life,” he said. “I think all young people could benefit from stepping out of their comfort zone for something like TOV.”
Chen Chih-wei, left, puts his information and communication technology skills to good use helping students in Tuvalu. (Photo courtesy of Chen Chih-wei)
It is not only younger people who TaiwanICDF is looking to attract, with roles available for willing volunteers across the generations. Chen Chih-wei (陳治偉) is a typical example of someone who committed himself later in life, joining TOV in September 2017 at the age of 50 after two decades working in ICT due to the program’s excellent reputation and his desire to make a difference helping others.
“For 20 years life was all about working to support my family and pay my mortgage, but after achieving financial security, I felt a longing for something more meaningful,” he said. “TOV was a chance to give back.” Chen’s year volunteering for TaiwanICDF took him to Princess Margaret Hospital in Pacific ally Tuvalu, where he helped ensure smooth operation of the institution’s ICT systems.
After finishing his volunteer contract, Chen went on to take up a job working as project manager for TaiwanICDF at an ICT center in Caribbean ally St. Kitts and Nevis. He is now heading a four-year land administration information system project designed to ensure efficient and transparent transactions that will help resolve land disputes.
“If I hadn’t participated in TOV, I’d never have landed my dream job,” Chen said. “International development is an exciting field where you know you’re making a difference.”
To get the message out about the transformative potential of volunteering, TaiwanICDF is undertaking a large-scale promotional campaign through films, lectures and presentations at universities and enterprises around the country. The organization hopes to recruit enough new talent to fulfill its ambition of expanding service provision to places that do not have official ties with Taiwan.
“Volunteers play crucial roles in virtually all of our international programs, which are tailor-made to the local needs of each partner nation,” TaiwanICDF’s Wang said. “TOV is special because all stakeholders can be sure of a positive outcome; it’s a win-win situation.”
Retrieve from TAIWAN REVIEW