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Disadvantaged kids embark on boatbuilding adventure
Date: 2016-08-19    
Hsieh Chih-mou, an associate professor at Taiwan Normal University in Taipei, helmed a program that began Aug. 6 in which developmentally challenged kids from rural areas learned how to make canoes from scratch.

A canoe building project for disadvantaged children with learning disabilities living in rural areas took place from Aug. 6-12 in Yilan County, northeastern Taiwan, with a team that included teachers, college student volunteers and kids building 16 canoes before paddling 10 kilometers down the Dongshan River. The project was led by Hsieh Chih-mou, an associate professor in the Department of Civic Education and Leadership at Taiwan Normal University in Taipei, and master boatbuilder Wen Chi-rong, in cooperation with Yilan’s Dong Shin Elementary School. Titled “Canoe Building Dream Coming True for Kids in Remote Rural Areas,” the event involved 30 volunteers and 10 developmentally challenged children who learned how to work with their hands while practicing carpentry, assembling the small boats and painting them, before setting out on the water. Upon completion of the journey, each child received NT$5,000 (US$150) to be used on his or her next adventure. “The kids didn’t just create boats,” said Hsu Jia-shen, a teacher at Dong Shin Elementary School. “They made rudders that will help them navigate life.” Hsieh set up what he calls outdoor experiential education several years ago at the realization that many college students are enthusiastic about helping kids fulfill their dreams. In 2009, he embarked on an ambitious endeavor, leading a group of kids on a cycling adventure in New Zealand to let them experience outdoor living. Hsieh is a pioneer in combining adventure education with experiential education in Taiwan, having been honored with an award from the U.S.-based Association of Experiential Education in 2016. He is the only non-American winner in the association’s history. According to Hsieh, many of the college students, graduates and counselors who participate in his programs are interested in a career in teaching. These young people understand how important education is for rural children, he said, and are eager to help them learn. With assistance from teachers and volunteers, the children learned what it takes to make beautiful, functional canoes from scratch. “I first used peanut butter to stick the hull together, then I helped tie the wood of the boat together with cotton threads,” said Gigi, a fifth grader at Dong Shin Elementary School. Gigi has difficulty learning in class, according to her teachers, but is as attentive as other kids when building canoes. “It was very fun. We did it until 9:00 last night, and I didn’t feel tired at all,” she said. (WF-E) Write to Taiwan Today at ttonline@mofa.gov.tw


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