Wed, Nov 28, 2012 - Page 12 News List

With a little help from a friend

Vickie Chang, a former journalist with Taiwan’s China Times, has been chosen as the Reader’s Digest Asian of the Year for 2012 for her work with children in leper communities in China

By Ian Bartholomew  /  Staff reporter

When Chang first arrived in Liangshan, she took on the 70 children at an “educational depot” housed in two windowless rooms and taught to fourth grade level by a single teacher with no formal qualifications. By July 2005, the Dayingpan (大營盤) elementary school in Liangshan celebrated its first batch of graduates, and next year, Chang said, the organization might see its first student advance on to university. This year, the school at Dayingpan has 355 students, many drawn from outside the Liangshan district. The school is open to students from leper communities in all counties in the province, and remarkably, one in 10 students now come from outside leper communities.


Chang said that not only does Dayingpan have education through to middle school, but she has already helped set up a vocational training program. “When I first started, my goal was to help these children build a road on which they could find their way back into mainstream society,” she said. “Now, after middle school, it is not always possible for these students to progress to high school and university, but by providing vocational education, these kids can acquire a skill to ease the transition into society. It is a continuous process.”

Chang’s original work trying to rescue a limited number of children from a small area has expanded, reaching out within the region and ultimately, Chang hopes, nationwide.

“At the moment we can provide a reference, ideas and practical assistance, for other similar projects, but my eventual aim is to establish a foundation in China. I feel that from Taiwan, we have completed the first phase of dealing with this legacy of leprosy. In the next stage I would like to combine the talent and material resources from both sides of the Taiwan Strait, so that China can act independently in dealing with this issue.”

Chang is hopeful for the future, seeing leprosy gradually disappearing and the communities that have grown up around the disease becoming more empowered and self-sufficient. “As the children from the leper communities grow up, become educated and enter society, they will be able to bring benefits back to their community.”

More information about Wings of Hope and Chang’s work can be found at the foundation’s Web site

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