Ten juvenile delinquents on probation have found a new outlook for life after completing a volunteer program in Japan this summer, according to local media reports.
The Chinese-language United Daily News reported on Sunday that the boys had volunteered to work at an elementary school in Ichinoseki City in Iwate Prefecture, one of the regions hit hardest by the devastating earthquake and tsunami that rattled northeastern Japan on March 11 last year.
Ho Mei-hui, a volunteer at the Probation Office of the Shihlin District Court in Taipei, took the initiative of involving the young delinquents in the school’s restoration program.
However, the difficulties she encountered when raising funds for the trip almost forced her to abandon the project.
At first, she received NT$80,000 (US$2,730) from Chiang Li-hsiang, a judge at Shihlin District Court’s juvenile division, to help finance the project, which required at least NT$1 million to get off the ground.
Chiang told Ho that the NT$80,000 was contributed by private donors who were hopeful that the young offenders would learn from their experience as volunteers.
“However, when I checked the prices of plane tickets on the Internet, I almost decided to give up the project,” Ho said.
“[However], the closing remarks of the classic movie Schindler’s List inspired me to persevere,” Ho said, referring to the protagonist’s regret that he had not made more of an effort to rescue just one more Jew from Nazi forces during World War II.
“I did feel regret for the future and decided to do my utmost to realize the plan,” Ho said. “Seeds will grow into crops after being planted and I believed the project would help them to enjoy the taste of life’s possibilities.”
Thanks to generous donations made by the parishioners of the Shihlin Elim Church, Ho managed to raise enough funds to finance the program within 45 days.
Led by Ho and two Elim Church volunteers, the 10 teenagers embarked on their journey to Japan on July 26.
During the 10-day trip the volunteers worked at an elementary school in a mountainous region of Ichinoseki City, where they had to wake up each day at 6am.
Their daily work included cleaning ditches, transporting materials, assembling furniture and sawing timber.
“They did all the manual jobs that Japanese youths did not want to do,” Ho said.
Wearing helmets, facemasks and gloves, the Taiwanese teenagers worked tirelessly in the scorching sun. Despite getting sunstroke, being bitten by insects or getting injured while working, none of them ever complained, Ho said.
The teens ended their day’s work at 5pm, but faced another challenge when they went to shower. Temperatures drop steeply at night in the region and there was no hot water. After a hard day’s work, the boys could only use water melted from mountain snow to wash themselves.
One of them, identified only by his family name, Chiu (邱), said that he enjoyed breakfast time the most because that was when they could all eat together, which made him feel warm and part of a group.
Another of the volunteers said he liked working with his companions because it built a feeling of mutual trust.
A third member, identified by his family name, Yeh (葉), said he found working in such a remote place an unforgettable experience.
Yeh said that the following four words best summed up the journey: sour, sweet, bitter and spicy.
“Sour” referred to working in a place nobody else had wanted to go to; “sweet” referred to seeing the bright smiles of Japanese residents in the area; “bitter” referred to the hard labor the job required; and “spicy” referred to the icy baths.