Every year, about 4 million Taiwanese take part in some form of voluntary work, a number that observers say not only highlights the public-spirited virtue of Taiwanese, but also the nation’s increasing soft power.
Over the past decade, there has been a major increase in the number of people doing voluntary work. Some have taken part in neighborhood watch programs while others have worked for non-profit organizations (NPO) such as the Tzu Chi Foundation.
To celebrate the record number of voluntary workers — 1,848 — at national scenic area administrations around the nation, the Tourism Bureau recently held a gathering of volunteers on Siaoliouciou Island (小琉球), Pingtung County.
According to the Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics’ quadrennial social development survey (which was suspended in 2007), about 13.31 percent of Taiwanese, or 2.14 million people engaged in some form of voluntary work in 1999, rising to 14.5 percent, or 2.63 million, in 2003.
Government information indicates that the nation currently has more than 40,000 NPOs and more than 700,000 volunteers are registered with the Ministry of the Interior.
Commenting on the increasing popularity of volunteer work, professor Chen Chin-kuei (陳金貴) from the department of public administration and policy at National Taipei University, said that the level of volunteer work participation in Taiwan was gradually reaching that of other developed countries.
Chen, who has studied volunteer work for more than two decades, said that if the number of registered volunteers and “covert volunteers” was added together, then the total number could be as high as 20 percent of the population, or 4 million people.
“The 921 Earthquake [in 1999] motivated huge numbers of Taiwanese to serve as voluntary workers,” Chen said, adding that the cultural belief that “good deeds will be rewarded” also played an important role in encouraging people to do volunteer work and helped ensure the passage of the Voluntary Service Act (志願服務法) in 2001, which provided a legal foundation for voluntary workers and organizations.
In recent years, Taiwan had held several large-scale international events, including the 2009 World Games in Greater Kaohsiung, the 2009 Summer Deaflympics in Taipei, and the 2010 Taipei International Flora Exposition, where tens of thousands of voluntary workers took part.
The Taipei International Flora Exposition set a record for the enrollment of volunteers, recruiting more than 20,000 in a short period of time.
In discussing this desire to help others, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) highlighted his own philosophy of “sharing.”
Most volunteers enjoy the work they undertook and feel it is for a good cause, Taipei City Zhongqin Borough (忠勤) chief Fang Ho-sheng (方荷生) said.
Many residents had volunteered to deliver dinners to the elderly or to provide after-school tutoring for children, Fang said, adding that there were a large number of underprivileged families in the neighborhood.
“Seeing young students who used to wander the streets awarded prizes for making progress at schools is a joy I cannot describe,” Fang quoted a local volunteer as saying.
Taiwanese volunteers have also served as goodwill ambassadors overseas, promoting people-to-people diplomacy.
According to the National Youth Commission, more than 520,000 youngsters have taken part in its Youth Volunteer Service for Regional Peace program over the past three years.