Three Taipei American School (TAS) students will be recognized tomorrow for their charitable efforts for underprivileged people in Taiwan and Cambodia.
Lauren Wang, Garrette Hu and Jennifer Lien -- all of them children of well-to-do Chinese-American business executives -- are among the 30 recipients of this year's Prudential Spirit of Community Awards for outstanding teenage volunteers.
Wang and Hu joined forces to sell handicraft items brought back by their mothers from Cambodia last year to raise funds to foot travel bills for 35 TAS faculty members and students to fly to Phnom Penh to build two wooden houses for impoverished Cambodians.
Lien, who is co-president this year of the Orphanage Club -- the largest student club on the TAS campus -- has led the 200-plus club members in fund-raisers through every possible means to help orphans and young children who are in temporary foster care.
When Taiwan was rattled by the 921 earthquake, the club managed to raise NT$1.3 million (US$37,143) to help finance relief work in Nantou County, one of the hardest-hit areas.
Lien also takes time out of her busy schedule to help blind students study English every Friday, another Orphanage Club activity.
Lien said her friends at municipal Taipei senior schools, baffled by her busy daily schedule, once asked her why TAS requires its students to do so many hours of voluntary services.
"They are wrong. TAS has never demanded its students volunteer their services," Lien said. "When helping others becomes mandatory, it would become homework and lose appeal."
Hu and Wang echoed Lien's view, saying that they themselves have learned much through voluntary services.
"The Cambodian experience has made me become more thankful and grateful for what I have," said Hu, a 12th-grader.
Hu recalled that his mother joined with seven other local Christians, including Wang's mother, in traveling to Cambodia last September to build a house for Cambodian people under a charitable program launched by the Tabitha Foundation, which was founded by a Canadian Christian, Janne Ritskes. They also bought US$900 worth of handicraft items made by Cambodian women.
"At that time, I was attending a course called `innovation, action and service' which requires practical community service experience. Wang and I organized a bazaar to sell the handicraft items brought back by our mothers. We managed to raise more than US$2,000 to buy flight tickets to Phnom Penh during the Thanksgiving Day holiday," Hu recalled.
The 35-member TAS group arrived in the Cambodian capital Nov. 8 last year. Ritskes immediately led the group on a tour of a village on the outskirts of Phnom Penh to see for themselves the living conditions of Cambodians.
"We saw that many people live under banana plants as they couldn't afford to build their own houses. More heart-rending was that there were many children who were either without legs or hands. They were victims of decades of Cambodian civil war. A lot of teens were unable to enter schools due to lack of money," said Wang, a 10th-grader.
With the assistance of the Tabitha Foundation staff, the TAS group built two wooden houses.
"In fact, we just needed to cut wooden boards and fastened them onto walls and floors. As few of us had ever used saws and hammers, we had hard time completing the work," Wang said.