Foreign youngsters given chance to volunteer
By James Lee, CNA
September 9, 2012, 12:06 am TWN
CNA--Walking in the high mountains and breathing the fresh air, a group of foreign college students from eight different countries enjoyed a rare opportunity to experience Taiwan in a way that few tourists can. They are on a two-month program that allows them to stay for free in dormitories operated by the Forestry Bureau, while volunteering their services in Taiwan's forest recreation areas.
"Even before I leave Taiwan, I've already started to miss it," said Maya Le of Vietnam, one of the 16 college students who participated in what the volunteers called the "insightful volunteer tourism" program on the island between July 1 and Aug. 31 through the global youth organization AIESEC.
Taiwan has long been noted for its delicious cuisine and its food culture, but during her stay, what impressed Le the most was its "breathtaking" scenery, said the 20-year-old English major.
"I have fallen in love with the mountains," Le said, adding that she used to be a city girl but her stay in Taiwan has convinced her to spend more time in nature.
The Forestry Bureau under the Cabinet-level Council of Agriculture kicked off the volunteer program in 1996 and since then has recruited some 1,500 volunteers to work as tour guides across the country. But this year is the first time the program has been opened to overseas youngsters.
"We would like to attract more young people to join the effort to maintain the forests and, at the same time, promote Taiwan's nature," Weng Li-hsin, a section chief at the bureau, told CNA.
This year, 16 foreign and 34 local volunteers have been recruited. They were assigned to eight different district offices of the bureau and were asked to mainly do manual labor. Part of their work includes learning from experienced volunteers to help bureau maintain the forest recreation area, organize summer camps and sometimes give guided tours.
As part of the program, all the young volunteers were encouraged to post articles and pictures of their experience on the Internet, with the aim of promoting Taiwan tourism, especially its forest recreation areas to overseas visitors, said Weng.