With a long way to go in the global economic recovery, altruism is practiced by few, but among those few are a group of young women who have invested a great deal of energy into the gifting Web site www.Give543.com.
The site was founded in 2009 by Ma Yu-ju (馬玉如), a National Taiwan University Department of Chinese Studies graduate, who said that the inspiration for the site was an expensive cat cage a netizen she knew had given her.
Ma said that when she approached Lin Chiao-wen (林巧雯), a friend she had known since senior high school, Lin supported the idea.
However, not everyone was so supportive, Ma said, adding that when she went to a small Internet workshop and asked them to provide hosting for the site, the engineers at the workshop said that the idea was doomed to fail.
The moment you put a gift on the site, there will be 10 people waiting to grab it, they said.
The success of the site — launched in February 2009 — proved the naysayers wrong after it became popular on the Professional Technology Temple, the nation’s largest academic online bulletin board.
What happened was exactly the opposite of what the workshop staff had predicted — there were more people who wanted to give, rather than take.
Ma said there was on average someone willing to give something away every four minutes.
If one truly asks for nothing in return when giving, and receives thanks that are equally sincere, it is not hard to want to give again, Ma said.
However, the site does not operate without rules, she added.
“Some users ask for a reason why someone wants the gift. If, for example, they are told in reply that they need a necklace to attend a wedding, then they need to show the user the wedding invitation,” Ma said.
Ma said that others have asked to see proof the person asking for a gift is in need, adding that the givers are the ones who set the rules when donating gifts.
“I’ve merely provided them a platform on which to demonstrate their kindness,” Ma said.
Those who ask for gifts must also post either a text message or a picture on the Web site’s forums after they receive the gift as a show of thanks, Ma said.
Ma said that the Web site also benefits organizations in the countryside, adding that such organizations, though they may have Web sites of their own, often receive few visitors, either in the real world or in cyberspace.
Those organizations often have difficulty obtaining resources, which the gifting site helps solve, Ma said, giving as examples a netizen who gave a piano to the Taipei Parents’ Association for the Visually Impaired, as well as a recent request made by the Taisi Church of Christ in Yunlin County.
The Church posted on the site’s “gift seeking area” saying that it was short of resources as it was caring for 50 children from disadvantaged families.
It not only received shelves, desks and chairs for the children, but one netizen delivered two bags of rice and five crates of milk to the church in person, Ma said.
This kind of gifting site can make everyone into a volunteer to help those in need, Ma said, adding that the purpose of the site is to encourage more people to participate in acts of kindness.
In addition, Ma’s high-school friend Lin said the Web site did not just benefit organizations, but also individuals who are in need.
In one case, a mother living in Taipei’s Tienmu District (天母) left a post on the Web site asking for two dolls. Lin agreed to provide the dolls, but while driving to Tienmu, she decided that those who live in the area are often well-off and may not really need gifts.
However, on arriving and talking with the woman, she discovered that she was a 27-year-old widow, whose husband had died of brain cancer, and was bringing up two children with developmental issues.
“She was no different from any other parent and had an extremely optimistic outlook on life,” Lin said, adding that when she asked the mother what she needed most, the mother said that she needed basic necessities.
“I gave her the boxes of tissues that I received from a gas station,” Lin said, adding that the woman needed them more than she did.
“We’re still young and there is little for us to lose. We only have this one chance at life, so we should live it to the fullest,” Lin and Ma said, adding that as long as they are willing to make changes and take first steps, they are in a position to continue learning along the way.