Wed, Sep 23, 2015 - Page 5 News List

FEATURE: More Taiwanese doing military service overseas

By Elaine Hou  /  CNA

Robert Wang, center, takes a rest with farm workers in Belize on Aug. 29.

Photo: CNA

Teaching people in Africa how to take medicine properly and advising them to get tested for HIV are not the typical tasks young Taiwanese men perform when they serve their mandatory, typically one-year, military service after graduating from college.

Many Taiwanese are allowed to perform alternative military service by working in government offices as clerical staff, but for an increasing number of young men going to less-developed countries to help the people there is a preferred alternative to fulfilling their conscription in Taiwan.

Two Taiwanese who recently finished serving their alternative military service overseas said they learned a lot during their time in Burkina Faso and Belize respectively, and that those experiences have changed their plans for the rest of their lives.

Instead of performing ordinary military service in Taiwan, Hung Sheng-kai (洪聖凱) and Robert Wang (王柏荃) were among the 86 Taiwanese sent overseas last year to help with Taiwanese foreign aid programs.

Taiwan has many programs to help its diplomatic allies in Latin America, Africa and the South Pacific.

Hung said that he chose to serve in Burkina Faso because he was inspired by the story of Lien Chia-en (連加恩).

Lien, a graduate of National Yang Ming University’s medical school, is known for his work in Burkina Faso, including helping build wells and orphanages, during his military service in 2002.

Lien was among the first group of Taiwanese in the program, which was initiated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2001 to promote international youth exchanges and provide opportunities to cultivate talent for international cooperation projects.

Under the program, draftees who passed the selection process and had the desired skills were allowed to perform their military service overseas to help with Taiwan’s technical and medical missions, or other aid programs.

Since it was launched, the program has seen more than 1,000 Taiwanese go abroad to provide assistance to people in the fields of agriculture, medical services and public health, among others, the ministry said.

Before departing, the recruits receive six weeks of training that includes courses on the language and culture of the country, said the Taipei-based International Cooperation and Development Fund, which is commissioned by the ministry to organize the pre-departure orientation.

With growing interest in the program, the number of spaces available each year has been gradually expanded, from 36 in 2001 to 86 last year.

After hearing Lien’s story, 26-year-old Hung said he wanted to follow in his footsteps: enter a medical school and perform his military service in Burkina Faso to help the people there.

After graduating from Tzu Chi University’s School of Medicine, he realized his dream when he departed for the African country in November last year.

Hung said the challenges he faced went beyond trying to help patients with the less-advanced medical equipment available.

While serving at a hospital in Koudougou, a city in central Burkina Faso, he encountered cases in which patients failed to take the prescribed medicine correctly because the literacy rate is low and many people could not read the instructions.

He started to ask his patients to come back to the outpatient clinic after obtaining the medicine from the pharmacy and he would explain to them how the medicine should be taken, to make sure they knew the dosage to take and how often they should take it.

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