A “loofah gourd team” formed by a group of volunteers and students from Youmu Elementary School have finally enjoyed the fruits of their harvest after eight months of hard work.
The team was organized by The Can, a venue for art and music exhibitions in New Taipei City (新北市) to mentor and guide disadvantaged children who come from lower-income families or have been brought up only by their grandparents.
Jeffrey Lin (林峻丞), the owner of The Can, has been spearheading the project for four years and has led 11 students from the school in growing loofah gourds, from which bath sponges are produced.
The “loofah members” have spent every Wednesday together organically farming on a plot of land owned by the school.
In February, five children began planting seeds and weeding, fertilizing and watering the crop until finally harvesting the gourds with their own hands, Lin said.
The final produce have been sold at The Can and over the Internet, Lin said, adding that the money raised is used as an educational fund for the students, as their families cannot afford to send them to after-school classes.
For example, two of the “little loofah farmers” who have hyperactivity disorders have often been kicked out of regular classes at school, so volunteers from The Can have been tutoring them to bring them up to speed on their lessons, said Chu Yu-han, a member of The Can.
Learning farming, as well as swimming, can actually help them to concentrate, Chu said.
The art venue has also hired art and science teachers to organize a series of summer programs as educational therapy to help the children explore their own interests and obtain life skills, Chu added.
However, it was not easy at first, Lin said.
“These kids, who were ostracized by their school peers and sometimes stole from convenience stores, were not opening up to anyone,” he said.
“It took long-term commitment to build their trust and make them believe that I would always be around,” said Lin, who himself was a victim of domestic violence when he was a child.
He said that one of the students once told the Chinese-language Business Weekly magazine that “I was like a father to him.”
“[That] moved me to tears and I realized how important I am to them and how much I could do for them,” Lin said.
Lin also led the “loofah team” on an 11-day round-the-island cycle trip and a field trip to Orchid Island (蘭嶼) off the coast of Taitung County, where the team got a sponge order from the owner of a restaurant who was deeply touched by the story.
Lin produced a video with volunteers featuring their story as a present for some of the students who graduated from the school this year to express their best wishes and encourage the young people to deal with life’s challenges bravely.
Lin said he would take his little loofah farmers, who have now become very good swimmers, to take part in the annual mass swim across Sun Moon Lake (日月潭) next year.
“I was lucky enough to receive a lot of help from good people when I was growing up, and I wanted to share my experience and do what I could to be with these kids and help them grow up happily,” he said.