Two recent university graduates are spending their summer vacation in a meaningful way by trekking around the nation to help out a charity.
Lin Hsin-yuan (林信源) and Lai Hung-wei (賴弘偉), good friends since high school, are conducting a fund drive for the Sunshine Social Welfare Foundation through a walkathon around the whole of Taiwan proper.
They aim to walk up to 30km a day, carrying their gear and a donation box in handcarts affixed with boards promoting their fund drive.
The donation box is for store receipts or donations of money from people they encounter on their walk.
Donating receipts is a common way to raise funds in Taiwan, as each one has a government invoice number printed on it, and is eligible for a bi-monthly lottery draw.
The pair are raising funds for the Sunshine Foundation, a nonprofit organization established in 1981 providing services for burn victims and people with facial disfigurements, assisting them with their physical, psychological and social rehabilitation.
The two former students chose the walkathon as a way of celebrating graduation, as Lin recently received a bachelor’s degree from the Department of Healthcare Administration at I-Shou University in Greater Kaohsiung; while Lai graduated from the Department of Statistics and Informatics Science at Providence University in Greater Taichung.
They started their trek on July 5, heading northward from Chiayi County, where Lin’s family lives. In the first two weeks of their journey they received NT$20,599 in cash donations, along with about 1,000 receipts.
Wearing conical bamboo-straw hats to shield then from the sweltering heat with temperatures above 30oC on many days, the former students said they have one month left to complete their trip.
The two friends are modest and quiet, giving some people the impression that the pair are like modern-day equivalents of medieval monks on a pilgrimage.
Recalling the first day of their tour, they said they went into a convenience store to buy breakfast where a couple donated their purchase receipt and bought drinks for them, while a boy in the store dropped his change into the donation box.
“The boy dropped the coins into the donation box and we were not alert enough to react,” Lin said.
“I did not get a good look at him and we were not able to thank him as it happened too quickly,” added Lai, who is from Tainan.
The students said they try to walk on rural roads, keeping away from densely populated areas, adding that they have found that people in more remote places are often more hospitable.
With the intention of “roughing it” on their trek, they pitch tents to sleep in at night and take showers at elementary schools along the way.
Throughout their long journey, the pair have felt the warmth and goodwill of many communities and appreciated their assistance, with people encouraging them and providing them with drinks and meals.
As they walked the county road from Hsinchu to Longtan Township (龍潭), Taoyuan County, the former students were invited in for meals by three Hakka households, who also treated them to sliced watermelon for dessert. They were also given a meal by the owner of a teppanyaki restaurant.
While waiting at a pedestrian crossing on Dingzhou Street in Taipei, a shopkeeper gave them half a roast duck from his store, while other people have treated them to breakfast, army ration biscuits and sausages wrapped in sticky rice.
So far, all their needs for bottled drinking water have been provided by passersby.
“My father told me, the way to pursue your dream is first to take a round-the-island trip,” Lin said.
On checking its Website he found that the Sunshine Foundation provides donation boxes for fund-raising and to kick-start their charity drive his parents donated their store receipts.
During their walk, the pair’s shoes wore out and they had to buy new ones.
When the wheels on their handcarts broke, they fixed them themselves.
On reaching Taipei on Thursday last week, patient’s under the care of the Sunshine Foundation presented Lin and Lai with a certificate of appreciation, but trying to play down their efforts, Lai said: “They should not make a big deal out of it.”