Simple Video Flash Player Module

Get the Flash Player to see this player.

time2online Extensions: Simple Video Flash Player Module

My Time Volunteering Has Begun With a Departure...

ping ping

It is my 3rd day and I gather with the others to say goodbye. Ping Ping sits on the stairs, sobbing bitterly, petrified. She is surrounded by her "family." One of her "big brothers" in the home tries to comfort her. Even the babies and toddlers who normally crawl around and squabble over toys can sense something is wrong for they sit and play quietly by themselves.

Ping Ping was brought to Harmony Home after she was born and has lived here ever since; she is now 4 years old. The mother, who arrived only a few days ago having been released from prison, sits and waits with her older sister who has come to pick them up. They will go live with this woman, a relative who only visited Ping Ping twice these past 4 years.

A baby tugs at my pant leg and I pick her up and hold her. She somberly plays with my hair. The mother loses patience. Bribery with gifts and talk of her new home over the last few days has not worked. Frustrated, she threatens discipline. Ping Ping wails. Hana calmly tries to smooth things over.

Hana is my contact with Harmony Home. She has worked for Harmony Home these past 3 years. For 3 years she has seen Ping Ping grow up from a baby to a bright, happy girl in a loving, stable environment —infinitely better than being lost in foster care. The emotions Hana must be feeling. Yet outwardly she remains soothing and positive. To calm Ping Ping down, she offers to take her to McDonalds —just the two of them. No, no mother. Just the two of them. It takes a while for Ping Ping to be coaxed but eventually she makes her way slowly down the stairs and across the room, the whole time her back against the wall, eyes fixed on her mother, a stranger.

I will volunteer at Harmony Home daily until I depart for Nepal. It is an independent organization. I am still trying to understand how it all works. It has a big heart and its scope is therefore wide.

Referrals come from hospitals, non-government organizations, social services or directly from the women who come seeking help, found by word of mouth. It is primarily a halfway house and shelter for women and children affected by HIV. There are some children who have HIV or have been orphaned by it. There are also children with disabilities and special needs and babies whose mothers are in prison. The children range in age from 1 month old to teens.

Many of the women who live at the shelter have HIV. Most of them contracted HIV through intravenous drug use, are recovering addicts and have done time in prison. As a support system and to ensure they receive proper medical care, Nicole Yang, founder of Harmony Home, lets the women stay with their child at the same time working as nannies of the babies in the shelter. The National Immigration Agency also asks Harmony Home to house migrant women with court cases under review. By law, pregnant women or those who have children cannot be put in prison. Instead, they are placed in shelters throughout the duration of their case.

Harmony Home has another shelter for children and mothers located at the South of Taiwan; and three other shelters primarily for adults. In China, there are also halfway houses for adults and several shelters established especially for children who were orphaned by AIDS.

On my first day I had the opportunity to visit one of their adult hospices in Taipei for patients who have full-blown AIDS. The stories are overwhelming and I need time to process it all. I have already engaged with some of the people. I have heard sad tales, including ones of gross discrimination. There is a huge stigma and misinformation about HIV and AIDS in Taiwan. I feel Harmony Home’s greatest work lies in public education. It faces discrimination and hate from not only the public but from the Taiwan government as well. It is an uphill battle.

About the writer:
Cindy Fan, 26 year old, is from Toronto, Canada. She came to Taipei to participate in a language and cultural program.  In September, she spent her free time doing volunteer work in Harmony Home taking care of the babies and helping older children with their English language homework.
Cindy said that she will bring with her the memories of the beautiful faces of the babies and children in Harmony Home in all her travels to different countries—faces that remain bright despite the darkness that surrounds their innocent lives.