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NCCU students offer free hugs for typhoon relief

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Students at National Chengchi University (NCCU) are giving typhoon victims in the Philippines a much-needed hug by giving free hugs to those who donate money to them.

Most of the donors, however, are too shy to accept the offer from an army of handsome “huggers” at a side entrance to the university campus in Muzha District in the outskirts of Taipei.

The Dec. 16-20 campaign, “NCCU Students for the Philippines,” is a collaborative effort between a group of students, mostly exchange students from abroad, and Tzu Chi Foundation, a charity.

“This is an opportunity to reach out and help a beautiful neighboring country,” Veronika Tomanova, one of the three student organizers and an international communication student from the Czech Republic, told reporters.

“Taiwanese are always willing to help people, and I want to initiate further action to get more people involved in the campaign,” she said, adding she was inspired by a grumpy local resident, who has complained the students “are too self-centered to lift a finger to help those in need.”

The student initiative came as response to government calls for donations to the Philippine people has remained lukewarm since Typhoon Haiyan devastated much of Leyte and Samar islands in the Southeast Asia country in early November. More than 6,000 people were killed in the Philippines alone, and thousands more were made homeless.

In a sharp contrast to the outpouring of sympathy for Japanese victims in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami that hit Fukushima in northeastern Japan on March 11, 2011, the country as a whole appears to be less willing to give to the Philippines, a country much less wealthy than the world's third largest economy.

The reluctance is apparently a result of the acrimony between the two countries after a May 9 shooting incident in which a Taiwan fisherman was allegedly gunned down by Philippine coast guards.

So far the largest amount of donation to typhoon victims has come from the government, US$200,000 and a shipment of relief materials.

However, the NCCU students believe that further aid is needed because the damage caused by the typhoon has been too severe and it may take a long time before the people in the Philippines are able to get back on their feet. On the first day of the campaign, a total of NT$5,000 was raised.

“Come and donate. Every little bit counts,” a volunteer said.

The three organizers are Sharon Medina from the United States., Veronika Tomanova from the Czech Republic, Adolfo Zambrana from Mexico, joined by 20 volunteers from Taiwan and other countries.

Donors can go to the on-campus campaign stand in person until this weekend.

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 Volunteer soldiers on Taiping to make NT$53,000 
A student at National Chengchi University (NCCU), front left, give a hug to a donor during the NCCU students' campaign to raise funds for typhoon victims in the Philippines in Taipei, yesterday.

(By Veronika Tomanova, Special to The China Post)

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