Some young Taiwanese spent their summer months this year in Southeast Asia helping people with disabilities — including those left injured by land mines — to seek a better life quality.
Funded by a budget of NT$800,000 from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Eden Social Welfare Foundation sent three volunteers to Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia in partnership with non-governmental organizations (NGO) there.
Chiu Pin-ching (邱品親) is one of two volunteers who helped survivors of land mines.
The 23-year-old worked with Jesuit Refugee Services Cambodia in Siem Reap between June and September. She joined the group to distribute donated rice and wheelchairs.
As part of an anti-land mine campaign, Chiu and other group members wore T-shirts with anti-land mine slogans to raise awareness as they rode bicycles through Cambodia’s top tourist attraction, Angkor Wat. Their goal was to underscore the importance of banning land mines, which have continued to cause casualties in Cambodia and other nations years after their intended use.
“I was told that there are about 100 casualties as a result of land mines in Cambodia every year,” Chiu said.
Group members and volunteers also rolled up their sleeves to build restrooms for disabled people living in remote areas, Chiu said.
Most of the members in the group have been injured by land mines themselves, she said.
Sometimes it took them as many as three days to get to a remote village to deliver rice and wheelchairs, due to unpaved roads with poor conditions, but they had no complaints, Chiu said.
Instead she was impressed by “the positive attitudes of the people who had been wounded by land mines,” and their strength to move on with their lives despite the hardships they face.
Joyce Lee (李庭萱) spent three months in Vietnam, an experience she said made her decide to pursue a career in public health.
From May to August, the 24-year-old joined the Association for Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (AEPD), which is based in the central Vietnamese province of Quang Binh.
There, she worked with other association members to help civilians injured by land mines as well as people with other disabilities.
They visited people maimed by land mines to help them come up with proposals for subsidies from NGOs and international organizations.
“They were applying for subsides that they could use to raise pigs or chickens,” she said, adding that the idea was to help them find a sustainable way to make a living, rather than “just donating some money.”
Land mines still pose a serious threat to local people’s safety, Lee said, adding that some of her charity partners were land mine survivors themselves.
Their own painful experiences have helped them gain a better understanding of the needs of survivors, including teaching local residents how to take proper care of an amputated limb, Lee said.
“The experience there made me realize the importance of education,” she said.
Lee also played a part in mapping out proposals on behalf of AEPD to raise funds from other nations, such as the US.
Now back in Taiwan, Lee works at a Taipei-based organization aimed at promoting public health education.
Although Taiwan managed to clear most of the land mines planted along the coasts of Matsu and Kinmen islands in the 1950s and 1960s when tensions with China were high, people in many parts of Southeast Asia still face the threat of land mines sowed decades ago during times of war, the foundation said.