Documentary spotlights Taiwan efforts to save lives in Kenya

Ex Change, an award-winning documentary short about a used shoe donation campaign helping economically disadvantaged Kenyans stamp out parasitic infections and live longer lives, is spotlighting Taiwan's major role in the initiative and enabling its founders Republic of China (Taiwan) national Yang Yu-jen and his Canadian wife Kara Remley to attract more support for the cause.

According to Yang, many children in the rural regions of Kenya must walk barefoot on rocky dirt roads for hours to attend school. Without shoes, they are susceptible to chigoe fleas, or chiggers, which live in warm, dry soil and burrow into the skin to feed on blood. The bite of the one-millimeter insect causes a variety of ailments, including mild to severe ulceration.

Yang, who lives with his wife in northern Taiwan's Taoyuan City, learned about the threat posed by chiggers from his father-in-law Allen Remley, a construction technician and former pastor living in Toronto. Remley and likeminded philanthropists build clinics, churches and schools in impoverished regions of the world, including Kenya.

Suitably inspired, the couple created a campaign in 2014 urging donations of unwanted footwear. They named the initiative Step30 to highlight their desire to follow in Allen Remley's footsteps and encourage people under the age of 30 to take on humanitarian work.

Such an enthusiastic response from individuals and businesses around Taiwan was overwhelming, Yang said. Initially, we hoped to collect enough shoes and clothes for a 20-foot container. But to our surprise, the donations flooded in.

The campaign has attracted widespread attention and participation across Taiwan. Thousands of volunteers, including students from over 50 schools, have established donation centers and help sort and pack the footwear.

To date, around 40 40-foot containers of clothes, shoes and other supplies have been shipped to Kenya and other African countries such as Uganda and ROC diplomatic ally Swaziland. In addition, Step30 is working on other initiatives to help those in rural Kenya, including well-drilling projects, job skills training and converting the empty containers into classrooms, according to Yang.

Ex Change, one of 12 prize-getting submissions at the 2016 New Taipei City Documentary Awards, was directed by Chou Wen-chin. He boasts an extensive local film CV over the past decade, with his Spark on the Ocean taking top spot in the 2014 awards for its vivid depiction of a traditional night-time fishing technique in the northern Taiwan metropolis.

Established in 2010 by New Taipei City Government, the awards represent municipal efforts to foster filmmaking talents and produce heart-warming documentaries based on true stories.

Yang, who took part with Remley and their two children in a lecture organized by NTCG's Department of Information April 10 in Banqiao District, said the expanding scope of the campaign has opened his eyes to more and more problems in Kenya. Still, by coordinating the efforts of Taiwan people and others from the world over, we believe we can change the lives of the most disadvantaged one by one.

Source: Taiwan Today