Joined-up Rotary


Typhoon Morakot recently devastated southern Taiwan leaving more than 500 people dead and tens of thousands homeless and without access to clean water.

Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar Betty Chen had studied English translation and interpreting at the University of Bath in 2007/8 and visited the Rotary Club of Chelwood Bridge during her stay. She also knew that Water-Survival Boxes provide the means of purifying water and contain other essential survival items.

Having seen television coverage of the devastation in Taiwan Betty was contacted by e-mail and asked to pass on the offer of 100 Water-Survival Boxes to District Governor 3520 Gary Chen – one of the DGs co-ordinating the Rotary disaster response. Within hours the link had been made and authorisation to import the boxes was being sought from the approved aid agency (World Vision Taiwan).

Authorisation was agreed on the Wednesday, paperwork and boxes prepared for collection from Somerset by Thursday, flown out of London Heathrow on Friday, arrived in Taipei on Saturday, and by Monday had passed through customs and were being distributed by World Vision to families most in need.

Report prepared by Betty Chen, Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar 2007/8

 now working as an interpreter/translator for the Taiwan Foreign Ministry 

Taiwan, the beautiful island known as Formosa, was seriously devastated by Typhoon Morakot in early August, 2009. Typhoon Morakot caused the worst floods in Taiwan over the past 50 years. The death toll hit 675 and 24 remained missing, and the total loss exceeded NT$110 billion (₤2.1 billion). On learning of the news, Chairman of the Water-Survival Boxes (WSBs) and Past President of Chelwood Bridge Rotary Club Hugo Pike immediately contacted Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar Betty Chen, who visited the Rotary Club of Chelwood Bridge in 2008 when studying in the UK, and asked her to pass on the information to Taiwan’s District Governor about offering Taiwan 100 Water-Survival Boxes.  

Shortly after the typhoon hit Taiwan, Gary Chen, District Governor of RID 3520, organized a rescue relief committee to provide relief efforts to typhoon victims. To receive the boxes, Rotary clubs in Taiwan must confirm the proof of need of the Water Survival Boxes, along with the details of a consignee for the transport of the WSBs. The committee’s Public Relations Chair and Past District Governor Pauline Leung expressed appreciation for the generous donation from the friends in Britain, and explained that the process of import might be somewhat complicated, as the authorities in Taiwan would charge customs clearing expenses unless the consignee was an authorized disaster relief organization, such as World Vision or the Red Cross. Fortunately, Dr. Jo Wong, Past President of Taipei Fu-Jung Rotary Club, RID 3480, served as a board member of World Vision Taiwan. Dr. Wong instantly contacted Mr. Pike for confirmation of the need on 26th August, and the WSBs arrived in Taipei on 29th August.  

As the most hard-hit areas were mainly in southern Taiwan, the WSBs were later transported to Kaohsiung, the largest city in the south, for storage. Enthusiastic Rotarians provided every possible assistance in the transport and storage of the WSBs to ensure timely delivery of the boxes to the victims. Since record rainfall brought widespread floods across southern Taiwan in the wake of Typhoon Morakot, many roads and bridges were ravaged. Once the roads were reconnected, 500 World Vision Taiwan volunteers who were very familiar with the disastrous areas, most of which were aboriginal tribes, conducted home visits in the mountains and remote areas such as Pingtung, Taitung and Mount Ali to find out which families were in urgent need of the water-purifying equipment. Moreover, to help survivors understand the boxes’ instructions, volunteers even provided Chinese translation on each box for reference. 

According to Joy Fan, executive secretary of World Vision Taiwan, the typhoon-affected victims were extremely delighted and grateful upon receiving the Water-Survival Boxes, because right after the typhoon, there was no clean water, leaving the families susceptible to water-borne diseases. Ms. Fan said that she was “extremely impressed” by Rotarians’ efficiency, rapid response, and devotion. “I didn’t expect those Rotarians to be so resourceful, and they did everything on their own. One of the Rotarians even asked his son to provide a warehouse in Kaohsiung to store the water boxes, and helped with the follow-up management and distribution without charging any fees, and this Rotarian did not even tell us his name. I was deeply touched by the selfless dedication and the humanitarian spirit demonstrated by the Rotarians. Without the generosity of the Rotarians from the UK and the timely and efficient support from the Rotarians in Taiwan, the victims would not have been able to have access to clean water that soon.” 

It has been four months since Typhoon Morakot wrought havoc in Taiwan, and the relief operation has entered the final stage of reconstruction. Rotary’s long-lasting cultural ambassadorial scholarship programme lays the foundation of friendship between the UK and Taiwan, and successfully brings two seemingly distant regions together when in need. The successful joint collaboration of Rotarians around the world and important NGOs like World Vision Taiwan is a testimony of how interconnected and interdependent the world is. Although Taiwan still has a long way to go before it fully recovers from the catastrophic disaster, the typhoon-affected people are bound to stand up and rebuild their homes with the love, generosity, and kindness from all sectors of the society.