Sun, Jul 25, 2004 - Page 18 News List

NGOs give Taiwanese a voice to the world

Nongovernmental organizations have become increasingly important locally and internationally

By Diana Freundl  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

Founders of the youth-run and youth-serving NGO, Vision Youth Action, executive director Klaus Ding, left, and Antonio Chen stand with intern Eva Wu, in their new office in Taipei.

PHOTO: DIANA FREUNDL, TAIPEI TIMES

"It's unbelievable how many people still ask me, `How do you make enough money to live?' Most people don't want to get involved in NGOs as their life career, because they worry about making a lot of money," said Klaus Ding (丁元亨), the executive director of Vision Youth Action.

After attending an international conference on youth leadership in the US, Ding, 30, and colleague Antonio Chen (陳建銘), 24, were so inspired by the participation of so many youngsters in NGOs they decided to create their own organization.

In March 2002 they formed Vision Youth Action (VYA), a youth-run and youth-serving NGO. It organizes seminars taught by senior members of international NGOs, as well as sponsoring volunteer exchange programs with NGOs in the US.

NGOs are nonprofit organizations that typically promote local or global social justice and environmental issues. Also referred to as the "third sector" (the first and second being public and private), or civil society sector, NGOs have grown to become a vital part of the international community.

While the number of NGOs in Taiwan is increasing, as is the number of young people interested in short term work experience, society's attitudes regarding NGOs as a viable career path have yet to catch up.

A study by the Ministry of Interior showed there was a total of 30,699 NGOs registered in Taiwan last year, which accounts for 2.2 percent of the world total (placing Taiwan second behind the US).

Despite strong global business ties Taiwan's international diplomacy is officially limited to a short list of allies. Since 1971 when Taiwan lost its seat in the UN, the island's diplomacy has been under the watchful eye of China, making it difficult for Taiwan to participate in international government organizations.

The formation of NGOs after the lifting of martial law in 1987, however, has become an important channel for Taiwan to participate in the international community, said the director of the third sector of the National Youth Commission (NYC) under the Executive Yuan, Li Chen-chang (林辰璋).

The future development of Taiwan's civil society, he said, depends on the participation of the next generation. "There are four distinct characteristics of young people: energetic, creative, passionate, idealistic. These are the exact qualities NGOs need. NGOs provide an important stage for young people to show those characteristics and at the same time those people further develop this sector," Li said.

Recruiting young persons to work in NGOs is easy, said Wu Yi-ming (吳英明), a political economics professor at Sun Yat-sen University, who witnessed an increase in interest among university students over the past five years.

"I see the young generation take more responsibility in terms of volunteering in, and organization of civil society," Wu said. A staunch supporter of Taiwan's third sector, he feels NGOs not only strengthen Taiwan's diplomatic position, but also provide a vehicle for youths to gain valuable work experience.

"Nowadays students need more involvement in extra curricular activities to get into university, it's not only about entrance exams anymore. Volunteering for NGOs is a useful tool for these students to get valuable life and work experience," he said.

Curiosity and the prospect of building up their resumes might attract interns and short term employees, but the stability of NGOs depends on long-term commitment, said Lu Huang Li-juan (劉黃麗娟) of the Taiwan branch of International Medical Alliance.

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