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Taiwan's spirit of volunteerism evident worldwide: Ma (update)

2012/09/14 15:10:51

Taipei, Sept. 14 (CNA) President Ma Ying-jeou said Friday that Taiwan plays a strong role in the world in terms of humanitarian aid and volunteerism.

Each year, Taiwan donates between NT$5 billion (US$169.7 million) and NT$6 billion to help others around the globe, Ma said at the launch of a Chinese-language book on Taiwan's volunteers, published by CNA.

Taiwanese volunteers and the good work of the country can be seen everywhere in the world, the president said.

For example, Taiwanese volunteers are teaching people in Tuvalu how to recycle, while in Haiti they have helped to build some 200 permanent houses, he said.

"Being a volunteer is actually an extension of sharing," Ma said. A volunteer shares his or her time, energy, wealth, health, and even life, with others, he added.

The president called for more people to adopt such a spirit of sharing, saying this is the right direction for the country but it requires a concerted effort.

It is also a means of strengthening Taiwan's presence on the international stage, he said.

"Volunteerism can be seen as part of a nation's overall power," Ma said.

He noted that in the wake of the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan in March 2011, Taiwan donated around NT$6.6 billion in relief funds, which was more than the total amount given by 93 other countries.

In terms of individual charity efforts, Taiwan residents sponsor more 300,000 children worldwide through World Vision Taiwan and the Taiwan Fund for Children and Families, the president said.

He also noted that the blood donation rate in Taiwan is over 8 percent, higher than in many other countries.

Former Vice President Vincent Siew, who also attended book launch, supported Ma's views, saying that volunteerism is an indicator of the Taiwanese spirit.

"I'm deeply touched and would like to express great respect for the good deeds done by my fellow countrymen," Siew said.

The stories in the book will help to build Taiwan's image worldwide, he added.

The book "Reaching Out: Stories of Taiwan Volunteers" features 40 people dedicated to helping the needy in their own way. They include Taiwanese entertainers, foreign residents in Taiwan and Taiwanese people doing volunteer work abroad.

Among those featured in the book is South African Tobie Openshaw, a video production specialist at Taipei American School, who has lived in Taiwan for 15 years.

Over the past five years, Openshaw and his wife have been taking care of babies who are difficult to place in foster care because either they or their parents are HIV-positive.

The Openshaws, who have three children of their own, usually foster a baby for about a year until it is adopted or returned to its own family.

"We feel very blessed that we've been able to have this opportunity to help the children of Taiwan in a little way that we can," Openshaw said on the sidelines of the book launch.

Having made a comfortable living in Taiwan over the years, Openshaw said, he and his wife wanted to "give something back to the society."

He said he hopes the book will help "inspire other people to also give back to their society or to their community."

Wang Ching-feng, president of the Red Cross Society of the Republic of China (Taiwan), said at the event that the book is not just about the 40 people whose stories it tells.

Rather, it is a microcosm of the four million volunteers in Taiwan, said Wang, a human rights advocate and former justice minister who has long been devoted to helping victims of natural disasters.

(By James Lee and Elaine Hou)