Volunteering for the Taipei Women’s Rescue Foundation has been one of the most fulfilling things I have done since I have been in Taiwan. The Foundation has four sections, and I am involved with the one dealing with “comfort women.” My involvement began in November 2013 when I signed up as an English tour guide for their featured exhibit, “Comfort Women Wanted.” The work I did at the exhibit and with the foundation has let me connect with the world in ways I hadn’t anticipated.
Connecting with history
The term “comfort women” was not one I was familiar with until I began volunteering. The phrase itself is a euphemistic term given to more than 200,000 young women and girls in Asia who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese government during World War II. Despite America officially entering the war because of the attack on Pearl Harbor, American history courses tend to focus on Hitler and the Nazis, rather than the enemy in the east. It was shocking to learn about the Nanking Massacre, “comfort women,” and Japan’s use of biological warfare and live human test subjects for medical experiments. They were guilty of many of the same war crimes as the Nazis, yet this is rarely touched upon in the history textbooks of Western nations. But what happened to these girls is not an Asian issue, but a humanitarian one. Like the Holocaust survivors, “comfort women” survivors are quickly dying out. Those active with the cause are concerned that their history will be forgotten as their stories die with them. As of this date, there are only five known “comfort women” survivors in Taiwan.
Connecting with people
Taipei, in many ways, reflects stereotypes of East Asia and of capital cities around the world. The people here often seem focused on money, material goods, and their looks. They rush by you on the street, looking stressed and harried, despite all of their privileges. Their ways of dealing with city life seem to bury them deeper into it; they indulge in food and alcohol, party, and shop. It wasn’t until I began volunteering that I was able to meet a variety of people who were compassionate and well-informed. They were mostly young students who were willing to give their time and energy to promote awareness for an issue and to show support to a handful of people they would probably never meet. I also met many interesting visitors at the exhibit. People from different countries came in to share with us their feelings on human trafficking and sexual abuse.
Connecting with myself
By the end of the exhibit, I had put in 75 hours of volunteer time. That was 75 hours I had spent thinking and talking about rape, mutilation, and murder. It was incredibly emotionally draining. One day one of the organizers asked me how I dealt with it. My reply was that I had come to realize that what we had to endure at the exhibit was but a small fraction of what these women had gone through. Nothing I could do would match the strength and bravery of the women who had come out to tell the world what had happened to them. When you do volunteer work, you think you are helping other people. But in the end I came to realize that they helped me by showing me just how resilient the human spirit really is.