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June 29, 2017

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From rebel to Taiwan's first 'doctor without borders'

But that did not deter him. In a 2007 interview with the Taiwan Blue Magpie Culture & Education Development Association, Soong described his almost stubbornness to join MSF as a "pursuit of a dream that's similar to falling in love — once you start you are obsessed with it." He returned to Taiwan where he received two years of training in inpatient surgery. After that he went to Liverpool to study tropical medicine. In 2004, Soong was on an MSF mission to Liberia.

In the ten months he was stationed in the West African nation, Soong experienced the cruelty of war and what "extreme pressure resistance and adaptability" means. In the first two months in the nation he found himself working in a looted hospital so deprived of resources that he had to double as electrician to setup the power system.

Little did he know that the blackout hospital was in fact a luxury compared to what he would have to work with in times to come. On one occasion, he even operated in a 40 degree Celsius room without an anesthetist and respirator. He used only the most basic anesthetic on the patient for the three-hour surgery. Flies were hovering over the surgery apparatus, sensing the blood, and the patient began to regain consciousness at the end of the operation but before it ended. The nurses had to hold on to the struggling patient as Soong stitched the patient up.

Challenging working environments, however, are not the biggest and the most revealing trial for Soong. After returning to Taiwan in 2005, he joined another MSF mission to Yemen four years later, serving on the front line of a nation in civil war. It was in Yemen when he realized the tragedy of war and the human limitation.

"There was a time when government artillery hit a park full of playing children," Soong recalled in a 2010 interview with the Epoch Times. "Kids were sent in one by one, some were coughing blood, some had their guts blown open, the faces of some were not recognizable."

Soong tried hard to save the children and their mothers but many were lost. When he told the bad news to a deceased girl's father, he saw the emptiness and sadness in his eyes. "Who is worse? The dead or the living? Everyone loses," he said.

It was then he realized how limited his power to change the world or help others was. "I gradually realized that the purpose of giving yourself to others is not to change them. Panic in disasters is not easily changeable," Soong said in a Commonwealth Magazine interview. "What gives us the right to change other people's course of life? Then if all seems to be hopeless, do we still continue to serve and to give? My answer is yes, because only when we give to others can we realize how small we really are, and only then can we humbly face the difficulties in our lives."

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