Taipei (AsiaNews) - Next week, universities reopen in Taiwan. For many young students, summer was a time of holiday but also sharing and service. A group of young people offered an example of this taking part in a project of close international cooperation organised by the Diocese of Taichung.
Some 40 Taiwanese volunteers stayed in Swaziland between July and August as part of a "humanitarian expedition" that included doctors, nurses, medical students, ordinary workers and young volunteers.
Coming from Taiwan, an advanced society with a first rate medical services for its people, the volunteers' contact with a very poor African society left an indelible mark on them.
Fr Xin Ying Hong (幸英宏) and Sister Wu Hui Lu (吳惠如) headed the group of 41 young people, divided in two groups, in this experience.
Medical services are not well developed in Africa. A Taiwanese doctor came to Swaziland five years ago. Through him, the local Caritas, women's congregation, the local bishop and the Taipei Medical University organised this summer's mission.
The main group worked in a hospital that treats 8,000 patients a month with only 11 physicians and where food and are medical equipment are also in short supply.
In a country where AIDS is widespread, the hospital's survival depends a lot on outside and international assistance.
Every Wednesday, HIV patients line up in large numbers waiting for their treatment. For many of them, the condition is further complicated by acute forms of tuberculosis.
Volunteers were struck by the fact that the country has only two opticians.
One of them, known across the country, shared information about his method. In his view, 1, patients should never be refused; 2, there should not be any waiting list; 3, training should be permanent and, 4, practitioners should constantly upgrade their skills and knowledge.
Every two years in fact, he travels to the United States to learn more about the best methods to treat HIV patients with eye problems.
For their part, physicians from Taipei helped the hospital better organise its work; too often, nurses refuse to work because of a lack of equipment and material.
In Swaziland, Caritas opened 62 shelters for orphans or children with mothers with AIDS who cannot feed them.
Basic health care services in the country are limited. Among children, a lack of hygiene favours skin diseases as well as infections of the digestive system.
Taiwanese students brought many books donated by Taiwanese companies to further the children's education.
For the group's physicians, it was important to use their free time to educate children about health.
The second group travelled to the mountains to work with Salesian Fathers.
For more than 30 years, the latter continue the work started by Fr Larry McDonnell to provide shelter and training to young people in the city of Manzini.
At present, the Manzini Youth Care includes five hostels for more than 100 street kids, plus the McCorkindale Orphanage, home to 38 kids.
Taiwanese students shared their time with the children, helping them practice English and learn about Taiwanese culture.
Each day, Fr Xin Ying Hong (幸英宏) offered participants an opportunity to share their experience of faith embodied in helping those in need.
Sister Wu Hui Lu (吳惠如) said that at the end of this intense period, the volunteers could not say "goodbye" to this experience. Now new volunteers will be needed.
In the meantime, those who had this experience will certainly bring to other places the lessons of what they learnt here in human and professional terms from their contact with such touching conditions of poverty.