A group of “problem students” from Youmu Elementary School in New Taipei City (新北市), who began working on a farm growing loofahs, a popular vegetable, while also taking up swimming, are set to take part in an annual mass swim across Sun Moon Lake (日月潭) in September.
The young “farmers,” who described the opportunity as a dream come true, are to take the trip to Nantou using money they have raised by selling bath sponges, one of the products they make using the loofah gourds they grow.
The trip, and the use of farming to raise funds to support it, are the result of a program that was launched by Jeffrey Lin (林峻丞), the chief editor and owner of Can magazine, six years ago.
Lin, himself a childhood victim of domestic violence, started the project as his way of thanking those who helped him in his past.
This year’s group of children consists of underprivileged students attending Youmu Elementary School in a mountainous area of New Taipei City. Some were brought up solely by their grandparents, while others suffer from hyperactivity disorders.
The children have been labeled as “problem students” by their schools, Lin said, but he and a group of volunteers have taught the children to swim every Saturday since March in a bid to bolster their concentration skills and to cultivate organic loofahs on Wednesdays to create a source of income.
As a result of their hard work, the students will be taking their trip in September to Sun Moon Lake, where they will face the challenge of swimming across the scenic body of water.
Funds from the sale of bath sponges, which are sold through Can as well as online, are also used to help students pay for after-school classes that their parents could not otherwise afford, Lin said.
In recent years, Lin has led the children on a round-the-island cycling trip as well as a field trip to Orchid Island (Lanyu, 蘭嶼) off the coast of Taitung County. One hostel owner there, who was deeply moved by their story, now places regular orders for sponges.
For Lin, the program and the swim challenge have given children who might have been left behind by the school system a chance. “Hope is the last thing to give up,” he said.