Sat, Aug 03, 2013 - Page 5 News List

Students paint their faces in solidarity

INNER BEAUTY:Volunteering in Swaziland has helped senior-high student Chang Meng-hung — and his friends — learn to look beyond the marks on a person’s face

By Wu Wei-kung and Jake Chung  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Students from Changhua Municipal Senior High School pose for a photo in Changhua County on Thursday after they applied red paint to their faces in an attempt to understand how people born with birthmarks — such as their fellow student, Chang Meng-hung, center — feel.

Photo: Wu Wei-kung, Taipei Times

Born with a birthmark on his right face, Changhua Municipal Senior High School student Chang Meng-hung (張孟宏) said he used to be ashamed of it because of the strange looks that it attracts.

“Most people seem to think that I got burnt, not knowing it was something I was born with,” Chang said.

However, since going on a volunteer mission to Swaziland last year, Chang has turned from a recluse into a confident young man, having learned the value of helping out in the community and society.

Lu Hsing-chung (呂興忠), the school’s chief librarian, lauded how Chang has become much more open and social.

Seeing the change in Chang inspired Lu to organize a two-day event called “Facial Equality,” in cooperation with the Sunshine Social Welfare Foundation, a nonprofit organization that helps burn survivors and people with facial disfigurement.

The event was held on Thursday and yesterday, with students being instructed to paint their faces with a red mark and keep it on for two days to share in the day-to-day experience of people with birthmarks on their faces.

One of the participating students, Nien Chang-lin (粘長霖), said on Thursday that he felt “embarrassed and unused to the constant attention because everyone was staring at him.”

Another student, Wang Yi-hsing (王奕翔), said: “I believe that birthmarks are angelic marks, and as such should not be discriminated against.”

Lu said he had also sent letters of invitation to junior-high schools, senior-high schools, vocational high schools and elementary schools across the country, asking students with visible birthmarks to join Changhua Municipal Senior High School’s “African Swaziland International Volunteer” program last month, the International Youth Leadership involving 10 schools and six countries in October and the “Visit Japan” theme event in February.

Lu said he was hopeful that they could subsidize these events by launching a fundraising event with school alumnus Stan Shih (施振榮), founder of Acer Inc, and other prominent businesspeople.

“We hope everyone who attends these events may become more confident like Chang,” Lu said.

About 1,000 babies with facial birthmarks are born each year, said Chuang Li-chen (莊麗真), a project manager at the Sunshine Social Welfare Foundation.

Most of these children go through a process of being ostracized by their peers and being made fun of, and many of them develop an inferiority complex and seek different forms of escape, she said.

Chuang said the foundation had offered Chang financial assistance for surgery to remove his birthmark, but Chang had declined, saying if he had the birthmark removed, his friends might not recognize him.

Taiwanese go champion Chou Chun-hsun (周俊勳), who also has a facial birthmark, described the “Facial Equality” event as a “great and very meaningful” experience.

Having a facial birthmark and drawing strange glances is a “lifelong problem,” Chou said.

“It is difficult to change people’s minds about certain issues within a short period, so instead of feeling downcast about things that we cannot change, we should find our own niche, which should help us deal with out own ‘inner demons,’” Chou said.

“In so doing, we are actively changing the perspective of others and helping them to view us in a more favorable light, instead of drawing fear or loathing,” he added.

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