German national Felix Firsbach, who two years ago worked with mentally handicapped children in Hsinchu through a Catholic missionary organization, has returned to the same care center to complete his alternative military service for the German military.
Firsbach first became acquainted with a French priest residing in Taiwan, Father Lung Jo-wang (龍若望), through the Catholic celebration of World Youth Day in 2006. Lung guided him during his two weeks of volunteer service in Hsinchu. Then after returning to Germany, Firsbach began learning Chinese and applied to complete his alternative military service abroad. With the help of the Society of the Divine Word and Missionary Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit, Firsbach arrived in Taiwan for a one-year period of volunteer work at St Joseph’s Center for Special Education (仁愛啟智中心).
Many of the children there treat Firsbach as their big brother, he says. They often clamber onto his shoulders and call him “Happy,” and other nicknames.
Firsbach admits that working with handicapped children is challenging in many ways, he says the love and patience shown by other teachers at the center fills him with emotion and keep him going.
Firsbach recounts his initial difficulties with changing the diapers of a child and his flustered attempts at securing the straps.
Now he gives the “OK” hand gesture when asked about the task: Even if the children have soiled themselves badly, he can easily clean them and change their diapers. Firsbach also says he feels increasingly confident with the children as they offer him more signs of trust.
Firsbach says the children at the center will always need the help of teachers and volunteers because of physical barriers, pain or mental challenges. However, he says that after seeing the willpower some of the children show, he believes that love can help heal them.
Although he says he’s slightly homesick, Firsbach is still enjoying his year of service, which ends in August.
He says he has developed a bond with Taiwan and will try to return as a university student so that he can continue to work with the children.