Sun, Jul 18, 2004 - Page 4 News List

Taiwan no stranger to foreign aid work

TAIWAN'S `MISSIONARIES' Since the 1960s, aid workers have been rolling up their sleeves to help the needy in those countries diplomatically allied with Taiwan

By Melody Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER

Nicaraguan peasants try to help an inhabitant of Musun to cross the river Bilanpi, whose stream is overwhelmed due to the heavy rains in this June file photo. Taiwan has established aid missions in several developing countries to help in natural disasters not unlike this one.

PHOTO: EPA

Santiago Huang (黃天行) loved listening to his friends' stories about working abroad when he was an employee in a Kaohsiung agriculture center more than two decades ago.

So in 1983, Huang, then 28, made a bold decision to join Taiwan's technical mission in Nicaragua, a country struggling with civil war. Since the 1960s, Taiwan has sent technical missions to help its diplomatic allies develop their agricultural industries.

"I was single at that time and did not have a family burden. I decided to work abroad out of curiosity," Huang said.

Huang was excited to go to Nicaragua even though it was a poor country. Two years later, Nicaragua cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan and the technical mission left. Huang was deployed to help in another technical mission in Ecuador, where his two children were born.

His real challenge came in 1999. That year, Hurricane Mitch destroyed farms owned by Taiwan's technical mission in Honduras. The hurricane had devastated most Central American nations.

"In Honduras, agriculture returned to what it was like 50 years ago," Huang said.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs' International Cooperation and Development Fund (ICDF) -- the body in charge of Taiwan's overseas technical missions -- appointed Huang leader of the Honduras mission after the hurricane.

Huang started rebuilding the farms from ground zero. Life in Honduras, listed by the UN as one of the world's poorest countries, has not been safe. Produce from the mission's plantation was frequently stolen. One day, several armed people stormed into the mission's pig farm and pointed their guns at two mission members, demanding money.

"One member managed to escape and the other hid himself behind our national flag," Huang said.

"The guy hiding behind the flag later told me if he was shot, at least he would have died with the national flag covering his body," he added.

Working with Taiwan's technical missions also means Huang moves frequently. "My son went to five different schools in his first five elementary school years," he said.

His children now study in a bilingual school in Honduras, which teaches subjects in English and Spanish.

"At home, my wife and I talk to our kids in Mandarin and Taiwanese," Huang said, eyeing photos of his children he keeps in his wallet.

As leader of the mission, Huang felt constant pressure from China. "[PRC] officials do everything they can to win over our allies," he said.

Despite the hardships he has experienced in his mission work, Huang loves his job.

"When I was a young man working in Taiwan, I busied myself all day long to earn a living ? I felt like getting lost in the sea," he said.

"But in my current job, I feel I really can help people. When you help someone, you feel that your life and your job mean something. I find joy in my job," he said.

After Hurricane Mitch, Huang began teaching local people to grow eggplant and bitter gourd -- vegetables enjoyed by Asian consumers in North America. "When they make money, they can buy cars and other things," Huang said.

Robert Pan (潘生才), leader of Taiwan's technical mission in the Solomon Islands since 2002, also began the mission's farm work from scratch. Farms there were heavily damaged during the Solomon Islands' ethnic conflict in 2000, which forced the mission to temporarily leave the nation.

Pan, a duck expert, was interested in working in third world countries when he was young. He was sent to Panama to help develop a duck-breeding project when he was 28.

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