On April Fool's Day, 2012, a group of 42 sincere young people celebrated their existences by shooting out paper planes on which their “dreams,” or goals for life, were written. Hidden by their broad smiles and loud voices, every single youngster was undergoing the exact stage of bewilderment younger generations in Taiwan too frequently face: of what they want in life, how they could achieve happiness, and whether or not they could make a difference in this world. Few of them knew one another well; the only connection they all shared was that with Peggy Liao (廖珮含) — a 24-year-old known for her vigorous laughter and eagerness to share. The youngsters had gathered to celebrate the second anniversary of “1 La 1” (1拉1), a service group Liao founded for the purpose of gathering individuals to serve others while having fun (and vice versa), on April Fool's Day in 2010.
Liao expresses her care for others and for life best by doing. In this world where defensiveness is believed to be what guards and protects an individual from the unknown, the willingness to give up her own comfort for others, which in turn brings her genuine happiness, is how Liao embraces and inspires those who cross paths with her.
People Receive More Than They Give
It is obligatory for Taiwanese middle school and high school students to do a designated hours of volunteer service per school year, and often heard is students complaining about wasting their study time on providing others with services without receiving anything practical in return. It was during those obligatory hours, however, that Liao discovered her passion for volunteer services.
She took on roles in public libraries. She participated in youth scout activities. She facilitated events at the wild bird federation. She cared for the disabled at shelters, cooked for campers, maintained order at public events, received guests at international showcases, translated for foreigners, and tutored girls who were victims of domestic violence. When Typhoon Morakat hit southern Taiwan hard in the summer of 2009, she traveled south to dig away rubble at an elementary school. Rather than “helping,” Liao believed she was just assisting and accompanying.
“Helping sounds like I have so much to give, when in reality all that I did was be there and do what I could,” she said. Through her experiences, Liao has come to the conclusion that what one could offer is not only the actual observable effort; what receivers of the efforts and fellow providers could derive or learn from one's giving is often beyond imagination.
Youth Ambassador To Nauru
In the July of 2009, Liao visited Nauru, an island country in the South Pacific, as a youth ambassador for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA). That was the first year the MOFA organized the youth ambassador service and learning program to foreign countries, with cultural exchange being the goal of the trip.
Through the 21-day trip, Liao's belief that sharing is the key to happiness was reaffirmed. Contrary to what most Taiwanese thought, Nauruans were way more satisfied in life than the Taiwanese folks. Environmental restrictions prevented Nauruans from owning many of the modern conveniences. Having much less material yearning, however, in turn increased the quality of life on the South Pacific island. Life was simple, and the youth ambassadors witnessed more genuine satisfaction than what a variety of entertainments have brought people in Taiwan.
The trip of giving and helping, as the youth ambassadors originally imagined, turned out to be more a journey of learning to embrace simplicity. While students enjoyed the knowledge the Taiwanese related to them, they offered the Taiwanese visitors genuine friendship and positive attitudes toward sharing and toward life. Liao is still in touch with many Nauruan students she met during the trip, and remains to this day the most renowned Taiwanese youth (for her friendship and willingness to guide them around the country) among Nauruan students studying in Taiwan.
1 La 1 = One Individual Inviting Another
Nauru's culture of sharing left a deep impression on Liao; she decided to share her passion for volunteering. She and those around her formed a service circle and took part in service events that are fun in nature, and those who had experienced the fun in sharing are frequently inspired and in turn invite others to join. The crowd not only expanded, but also budded and other service groups were formed.
A word of gratitude (and a lot of food) is all that Liao feeds on to rejuvenate in service works; she simply takes joy in seeing others' needs fulfilled. As society continues to emphasize volunteer services, more people take part in Liao's service activities, and fewer remember to credit her for initiating the activities and inspiring them to do so — when many prefer to take acknowledgement for initiating organizations and inspiring others, Liao expresses content toward the fact that more serving is happening and more joy is passed on.
The key to volunteering, as Liao sees it, is the continuity of the act of serving. Currently organizing her own trip back to Nauru — independent of the government and receiving no monetary support from any organization — Liao wants to return to the country where she witnessed simple joy and share with them how they have effected her.
People are not as hesitant to share as they have no idea how to do so, so Liao thinks, and “1 La 1” is organized precisely for the purpose of providing those eager to do something to influence others serving opportunities. No one is qualified or capable of changing anyone else, but volunteering and sharing are powerful ways to influence others while bringing joy to oneself, she believes.