It all started with a trip to Washington, D.C. and an email
In 2002, a group of scholars led by Professor Fu-Tong Hsu departed on a trip to the United States East Coast and visited more than 20 NGOs in Washington, D.C. After coming back to Taiwan, they wanted to turn their research into a momentum that promotes the nonprofit scene. However, they were unable to find a tangible way to develop it until they received an email from a Duke University student who they’ve met at a Taiwanese American Forum while at Washington, D.C. She asked if they were able to introduce her to internship opportunities at Taiwanese NPOs. In the end, this request propelled into the 2002 International Youth Volunteer Exchange (2002 年國際青年志工交流計畫), which catalyzed the birth of Vision Youth Action.
About Vision Youth Action
Ever since their establishment in 2002, the non-profit organization Vision Youth Action (VYA) has been aiming to lead the youth in Taiwan and abroad to participate in civic engagement, integrating it into their everyday lives, and raise awareness to local and global issues. By providing programs that allow volunteers to actually make a change in communities around the world, VYA can help them gain a deeper understanding of cross-cultural values and become global citizens who not only are well-informed but also invest themselves in social issues.
Through its international exchange and talent development platform, VYA builds a network between volunteers from different countries, local communities, governments, and international organizations. From the most fundamental volunteering, service learning, strategy discussion, to career development in the nonprofit industry, VYA supports their volunteers in becoming the change they want to see. Their efforts in doing so include talent training and collaborating with the government to establish youth and volunteer centers in Taiwan. With the medium of an International Work Camp, they provide opportunities for volunteers from Taiwan and across the globe to participate in community service and promote living conditions in communities internationally. Moreover, their programs allow volunteers to discover themselves, establish connections with people and places around the world, and find a way to achieve their goal.
“Since our establishment 16 years ago, we’ve:
- Collaborated with more than 300 international organizations
- Had more than 11,200 Taiwanese volunteers
- Sent volunteers to 60 countries
- Had 1,118 international volunteers participating in our Taiwanese programs
… and we are still counting!
VYA’s programs are divided into two main categories: Team Projects and Individual Projects.
The Team Projects, consisting of Taiwanese volunteers led by VYA, flies out regularly in summer and winter to Nepal, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Japan and Mongolia to implement construction, education and community development plans. The teams work directly with local organizations to make sure the plans align with local needs. This is an inclusive program that includes the pre-travel logistics and the presentation and leadership development classes after the trip.
The Personal Projects are flexible projects with various choices of themes, timings and locations where the volunteers can plan their vacations around the projects. This allows individuals to volunteer as backpackers by arranging their own transportation and accommodations. These projects are where you get to meet volunteers all around the world, have the most culturally diverse conversations, and experience the most local lifestyles!
About Antonio Chen, the project director of VYA
Antonio Chen (陳建銘) , who founded the Vision Youth Action (VYA) in 2003. He majored in Spanish at college and focused on international area studies when he was in graduate school. Since then, he worked as the project director in the organization until now.
Since he studied international area studies, he is interested in holding different international programs and communicating with peers from various interventional platforms. Currently, he’s responsible for the coordination of the Japan service program and the communication with other European platforms. In the past two years, Antonio also focused on the implementation of the Taiwan project as the chief coordinator.
The History of VYA
The activities VYA organized before 2006 were youth exchanges. During winter or summer vacations, VYA would train young people in Taiwan then send them to NGOs in New York or Washington, for internship opportunities. The internships would take seven weeks then there was one more week to visit different places. College students in New York or Washington would also have internship opportunities in Taiwan.
Later, they realized they want to encourage more young people to be interested in various social issues. Youth exchange as a way to communicate and exchange information are relatively limited. That’s why VYA decided to organize volunteer service programs, hoping to expand the aspect of volunteer service through various issues and then make more young people achieve their personal goals in the process of service-learning by traveling and making friends who are interested in similar topics.
Who is the Target Group of VYA?
Since their organization’s name is called Vision Youth Action, there’s a reason why they name it in this kind of order. Antonio and his team believe they should combine youth and action since it’s useless if there’s only a vision without any people or action.
Although VYA stated in the brief of our activities before that most of the plans are for people over 18 years old, there is no too specific age limit. The reason why they stated 18 or above is you don’t need a legal representative to sign documents for you. VYA thinks that as long as you are curious about the event and interested in the topic, then you are young people in their definition.
Since 2016, VYA has found that more and more people are participating in their activities because of government policies, especially those that are under 18 years old. In the past two years, about 30% of participants are between 15 to 17 years old and 67% are in the range of 18 to 20 years old.
The age they accept to participate in the program is gradually decreasing. For instance, the forest experience program in Ali mountain just ended last week. They had a 14-year-old junior high school student who also participated in this program.
Time and Duration of VYA’s Program
VYA views service-learning as a crucial part of our programs. They hope that people who are interested in different topics or skills could participate in their programs; summer vacation is still an important period since they are calling for volunteers. Not only Taiwanese, but VYA also hopes to find foreign students in Taiwan, so they plan most of our program in the winter and summer vacations.
Originally, VYA hoped one program would take about two weeks. In the past few years, they found a trend that participants wish to join a program that will take less than two weeks. Hence, Antonio and the team started planning programs that take only one week, or even four days or five days. Their programs in Ali mountain or the tribe of Seediq are programs that only take four days once a month.
Why Do We Need VYA To Help Us Sign Up For International Programs?
Most people would say the way to find and participate in a volunteering program is to just register for it. Some will have questions like “Why don’t you find overseas opportunities on your own but go through VYA instead?” The programs that go through VYA are different from other summer camps or self-registered activities. There are at least 5,500 different volunteer services in the world, so people need a platform in every country that helps control the number of participants.
For example, if the average number of a program required 12 participants from various countries, a local volunteer, and a local representative of the community. Where did the twelve international volunteers come from? Every program should maintain international diversity and other ratios such as gender ratio. Therefore, there’s a principle for every program saying that no more than 2 people from the same country should be recruited for the same program. That’s why there are platforms in countries like VYA that help people sign up for international programs since VYA have to control the number of participants and ensure that every program can maintain regional diversity, gender parity, etc.
As a platform, VYA could also tell the applicants and explain why this program admits or does not admit you. More importantly, as a small platform, VYA could hold pre-departure briefings. In this way, they can ensure that every admitted volunteer can make the best preparation before going abroad.
VYA’s Connection With Other International Organizations
Since VYA hopes that more young people can join our voluntary service program, they started to look for ways to achieve their goals. It’s difficult and time-consuming to find an international cooperation organization one by one. They’re not like Rotary Club, Lions Clubs International, or Red Cross that have connections to international conferences. Still, they were lucky to find one.
In 2005, Antonio and his partners went to Prague, Czech Republic with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to participate in an event called Foreign 2000. They met a Japanese who served as the president of NVDA, Asia’s largest volunteer service platform. The president was surprised that there is such an organization in Taiwan that encourages young people in Taiwan to invest in volunteering services. VYA joined NVDA in 2007 through the relationship with the president, and they also started to gain trust from members in NVDA in 2007 including organizations from Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, etc.
Those organizations in NVDA wrote a recommendation letter for VYA. In 2008, VYA successfully applied for membership in the United Nations as “VYA Taiwan”. With an official membership under UNESCO in 2008, other international platforms began to know VYA. In 2009, the EU’s largest youth volunteer service platform called “Alliance” sent an invitation letter, asking them to become one of their partner organizations in Asia. This is how they built our international platform.
The importance of joining an international platform is not having a great background for VYA; the team believes that what’s important is that VYA, as an organization, will have an equal and reciprocal relationship with other international organizations. They’re all doing voluntary service just like a hundred other international organizations. VYA can communicate with them, exchange plans, and send volunteers to other countries through this platform. Foreigners can also visit different communities in Taiwan and also understand how these social issues happened in Taiwan through different programs.
COVID-19’s Impact on VYA
VYA still has contact with other international organizations. If they lose contact just because VYA didn’t have any more international conferences, people will think VYA is in some kind of trouble. After the pandemic, more than 100 international organizations will stop exchanging information with them or refuse to place volunteers in Taiwan. So VYA still has to remain in contact with others by updating information and sharing the events or programs they held in Taiwan onto their platform to let others know that VYA is still operating normally.
Alternatives To Oversea Programs
VYA will hold volunteering programs in Taiwan. What changed is their recruitment strategy. Young people in Taiwan become the first group of people they’ll recruit for the program; this doesn’t only include Taiwanese, it also includes foreigners who lived in Taiwan for a long time, foreign students studying in Taiwan, or those who work in Taiwan.
For example, VYA had a Spanish volunteer who is 19 years old. She is the daughter of a diplomat who came to Taiwan as a representative of Spain in March 2020. Originally, the family planned to visit Taiwan for a month and wait until the diplomat settled in Taiwan. Unexpectedly, because of the epidemic, they have to stay here for more than half a year. The daughter decided to stay in Taiwan until September, and she participated in one of their programs.
Advice For Teenagers in Taiwan To Build Up International Perspectives
If there’s a lack of international perspective, it means people can still learn to use different methods to look at the world through various perspectives. People read a lot of news, reports, or academic resources, but VYA would suggest going on a trip, which is the most practical way. To go on a trip, VYA believes that preparation is important to broaden your international perspective. What will you do if what you expected is different from what you see in person? Participating in VYA’s volunteering service programs, Antonio and the team always look forward to your preparations including building a good understanding of different cultures and learning the concept of cross-cultures. Before departure, they’ll train and help people to have a certain understanding of the country or place they are going to.
Learn more about VYA from their official website: https://reurl.cc/nne5od
Connect with VYA through Facebook: https://reurl.cc/R6xbjg
Follow VYA by Instagram: https://reurl.cc/jqLg1p
Authors : Skyline overseas ambassadors 向序軒 ( Joy Hsiang), 游昀儒 (Rebecca Yu), 岳映緹 (Chloe Yueh)