Following the return of 72-year-old Taiwan-born urologist Jong Chen (陳榮良) from the US on Wednesday last week for a 12-day stay to pay respects to his ancestors, Chen’s former schools — Chiayi Senior High School and Kaohsiung Medical University — invited him to address their students.
Chen, who immigrated to the US in 1970 and began practicing medicine in Sacramento, California, in 1977, came to the media’s attention earlier this year after helping Mike Williams, a medical technology inventor, get back on his feet after Williams fell on hard times and was living on the streets.
Chen’s reputation in the US for helping the disadvantaged led to the fateful encounter with Williams.
Despite holding 20 patents, including one for the first intra-oral camera and another for a wire catheter camera for heart surgery, Williams hit rock bottom after his home went into foreclosure in 2009 and he lost a large part of his savings in a scam.
Forced to live on the streets, Williams was assaulted in Sacramento Park and was referred to Chen’s clinic for treatment by the Salvation Army.
Seeing that Williams was well-educated, Chen told him that he could recover from his bad luck and be of service to society.
The words profoundly affected Williams who had not heard such kind words since his downward spiral began in 2009.
Chen learned Williams’ history and encouraged him to start inventing again.
One day, Chen contacted Williams at a Salvation Army shelter and treated him to breakfast.
During the meeting, Williams hit upon his latest idea: self-contained survival pods that could provide a secure space for homeless people to rest. The pods are made from fiberglass and include a single bed and a chemical toilet, Williams said.
Water would be produced inside the pods from renewable sources and the pods also contain battery-powered fans and heaters, Williams said, adding there would also a charging dock for computers and mobile phones.
The estimated cost per unit is about US$3,000, Williams added.
Out of his own pocket, Chen leased an apartment for half a year that Williams could use as a work place.
According to Chen, 95 homeless people have already signed up for the pods, adding that as a devout Christian, he plans to raise US$2 million from a local church to raise funds for the project.
The pods could benefit more than 600 homeless people, Chen said, adding that once the first batch was produced in the US in the middle of next month, he would relocate production to Taiwan.
All the materials and manufacturing would be handled in Taiwan, Chen said, adding that he hoped it could boost Taiwan’s economy.
Chen’s altruism has earned him high praise from the US government, with the White House chief of staff saying he was a model for the US.
The California governor even asked both Williams and Chen to stand witness when he signed a petition for a piece of legislature on homeless laws.
Chen said his altruistic tendencies had been greatly influenced by his youth.
Chen said that despite the pressures of raising 10 children, his mother never turned a beggar away from the door.
“It left an indelible mark in my mind,” Chen said.
Chen said his mother often told him that “people were never certain what life had in store and you should be kind to everyone because people that give were happier than those who received.”