International students thank Taiwan with food for the homeless

International Southeast Asian students give out baked chicken thigh lunchboxes in Taipei's historic Longshan Temple area Saturday (CNA)

TAIPEI (CNA) — A monthly free food distribution program initiated by a group of international students from Southeast Asia is allowing them to serve the community in return for the education that Taiwan has given them, Vietnamese religious leaders said this week.

The 23 students, part of the “Students Helping Initiative Program (SHIP)” backed by Saint Christopher’s Church in Taipei, prepared and handed out over 150 baked chicken thigh lunchboxes on Saturday to the homeless that sleep near the city’s historic Longshan Temple area.

Many homeless and needy people rushed to get the lunchboxes, which brought smiles to their faces as they received the warm food in their hands.

During the event, Vietnamese nun Sister Mary Nguyen, told CNA that the purpose of the program is to let the students find joy and happiness in serving the community around them.

“We want them to learn and understand that they are receiving a good education from Taiwan and they can show their appreciation for the country by giving back to society,” Nguyen said.

The lunchboxes were all prepared and packaged by the students with the ingredients paid for out of their own pockets, Nguyen said, adding that the students raised the money during the summer holiday by selling cooked food to private buyers.

Sister Mary Nguyen (front) leads the students in preparing the 150 lunch boxes / Photo courtesy of Students Helping Initiative Program (SHIP)

Lien Tong, a 26-year-old master’s student at National Taipei University of Nursing and Health Science, said the program is not simply just handing out free things to homeless people but it also shows that the students are willing to share what they have with the community in Taiwan.

The program also trains the students to have empathy by being able to personally interact with and understand what the homeless are going through, said 25-year-old Malaysian journalism student Raymond Low, who is completing his final year at National Chengchi University.

Vietnamese priest Father Gioan Tran Van Thiet said in addition to the idea of sharing, the program is meaningful because Taiwan has provided a very safe environment for the students amid the COVID-19 pandemic so that they can continue their education.

The students feel very safe in Taiwan and are able to have a wonderful education, Thiet added.

“It is a great way to say ‘thank you’ to Taiwan for the marvelous job that it has done,” Thiet said.

Scores of homeless and needy people rush over to collect the lunchboxes (CNA)

One of the students, Juneffer Villamen Navales, a 44-year-old masters student from the Philippines studying at National Taipei University of Nursing and Health Sciences, said Taiwan’s successful response to the pandemic has allowed him to concentrate on his studies despite the pandemic ravaging countries around the world.

Echoing the success, 32-year-old Indonesian Deddy Tamnge Da Silva, who graduated in February from a masters program at National Taiwan Ocean University in Keelung, said Taiwan is doing better than his home country.

“In Indonesia, the cases are increasing everyday but Taiwan has no new local cases for many months,” he said.

The last time Taiwan recorded a domestic infection was on April 12, according to Central Epidemic Command Center data.

Meanwhile, after all the food was handed out, a local man who did not identify himself said he thanked the students for their actions but he hoped the media can help spread more awareness on the dire circumstances of the many homeless people in the area.

“I invite all the media to come here at night and you will see all the elderly homeless people sleeping on cardboard. Please make more reports of the situation because they really need help,” he said.

The latest food distribution event Saturday followed on from their previous event on Aug. 1, when SHIP distributed over 100 chicken drumstick lunch boxes to homeless people at Taipei Main Station.

Sister Mary Nguyen (front) lead Southeast Asian international students from the Students Helping Initiative Program (SHIP) to offer their assistance and services to homeless and needy Taiwanese at Taipei’s Longshan Temple area Saturday (CNA)
Members of the Students Helping Initiative Program (SHIP) pose for a group photo (CNA)