Christmas was very different for me this year. Being halfway across the world from home during the holiday season was not easy. However, I have received a lot of patience and love—often in the form of food—from the people I met and friends I made in Taiwan. Certainly, I can go on and on about how hospitable the Taiwanese people are. So, for Christmas, I wanted to give back to the Taiwanese community that has so generously opened its arms to me.
Several weeks before Christmas, I read an article about Jacob Thompson, a 9-year-old boy from Maine who battled a rare form of cancer for nearly half his life. In his last months, Jacob asked for cards to help him celebrate an early Christmas. His story was heard all over the world, and thousands of cards were delivered to Jacob at the hospital, where he celebrated the holiday for the last time.
After learning about Jacob and the positive impact the Christmas cards had on him and his family despite their challenging circumstances, I decided to do something similar in Taiwan. Thus, Li-Ren Elementary School’s Operation Christmas Cards was born! I began to contact hospitals around Taichung to tell them about my mission to bring Christmas to children who are unable to go home during the holidays. Although several hospitals were interested in the project, I finally decided to collaborate with China Medical University Children’s Hospital, the largest children’s hospital in central Taiwan.
Immediately after I announced the project to all the teachers at Li-Ren Elementary School during a weekly staff meeting, I received overwhelming support from my school. Li-Ren helped me purchase colored paper, stickers, and ribbons, and supplied me with all the scissors, glue, and markers I needed. Throughout the week before Christmas, I dressed up as Santa and made cards with my 1st-6th grade students. Besides teaching key vocabulary (snowman, stocking, etc), my co-teachers and I helped students write their card messages in both Chinese and English—many were truly touching. By the end of the week, teachers and students at Li-Ren made over 800 cards!
On Christmas Day, I put on the jolly red suit once again and delivered those cards to young patients at the CMU Children’s Hospital. At the hospital, we were greeted by physicians and nurses who graciously helped us organize the event on one of the pediatric floors. We sang Christmas songs, told holiday stories, and gave out candy to an adorable group of patients.
After the event, I began to hand out the cards to all the patients on the floor. Accompanied by a nurse, Li-Ren’s principal, and a 3rd grader as my little elf, I went room to room and visited each patient by the bedside. Some of the patients were not even old enough to walk, so we gave their card to the parents. Some others were teenagers who enjoyed chatting with us and hearing about our Christmas card project. And all seemed to smile when they saw Santa walk into their room.
In the end, we were able to reach 2 pediatric floors and deliver 162 cards to the hospital. Being able to give back to the community that has already given me so much meant a lot to me. I am so grateful for all the help and support I received from everyone involved to help me spread a little love and teach my students a small lesson in compassion.
Author: Alex Lin, 2017-2018