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FEATURE: 'Temporary grandkids' spread magic at railway platforms

FEATURE: 'Temporary grandkids' spread magic at railway platforms

By Lee Hsin-Yin, CNA staff reporter It's not as spectacular as what had happened at the 9 3/4 platform in the Harry Potter story, but another kind of magic is quietly taking place across train stations in Taiwan. Since early July, a group of young volunteers has been anxiously preparing for a massive event Sunday at train stations nationwide dubbed "temporary luggage-carrying grandchildren." The program will see youngsters helping elderly people or other passengers carry their luggage when they get off trains and often to taxis or other vehicles. It's aimed at raising public concern for senior citizens -- something that is considered especially important as Taiwan faces an aging population. Society has also changed from the old days when elderly people were given special attention and respect; the program could play a role in reminding people of such courtesies. Lin Hui-mei, a 17-year-old who initiated the campaign, said about 200 volunteers have registered for the event that asks people to lend a helping hand to those in need -- especially the elderly -- at train stations. Sunday was chosen as the date for the event because it's National Grandparents Day in Taiwan, said Lin. She and other young people have been "warming up" at the Hualien Train Station throughout her summer vacation. Currently spending more than eight hours a day at the station assisting passengers, Lin said the idea occurred to her after she saw many senior citizens either struggling with heavy luggage or getting lost in the train station under reconstruction. "This reminds me of my dad," Lin said, explaining that her father, who had been paralyzed after an occupational injury, had to endure much inconvenience in order to get on trains on time. She therefore chose to be based in the train station's platform No. 3 because the site has been notorious for its lack of escalators and poor maintenance of stairs. But like a lot of other voluntary work, said another volunteer Tai Hsin-yun, the task turned out to be more complicated than they had expected. "There were old people who simply did not know where they were headed," the 17-year-old said. Language was also a problem because the teenagers could not communicate well with foreign tourists who also needed help. Likewise, 14-year-old Jeff Lin said things did not always run smoothly at the Taipei Main Station -- one of the 19 train stations nationwide where volunteers have been offering help before Sunday's event. "Sometimes people are suspicious and look away (when we offer to help)," said Lin, who always carries luggage -- despite their weight -- over his head and does it in good spirits when given an opportunity to serve. One of the highlights of his efforts took place when a woman in her 70s patted him on the chest earlier this week. "Good boy! Good boy!" the woman said repeatedly, adding that it was her second time getting help from the same group during her trip. The young volunteers said that they have been reached by dozens of civic groups through the help of the Hualien Hand-in-Hand Teen Service Center, and that about 10 Japanese students have joined in on the volunteer work since Aug. 22. The general public, meanwhile, has been taking part in the event -- in their own way. Hsiao Chia-tung, manager of the Hsinchu Transport Logistics, shared with the group a warm-up exercise that was originally designed for porters to prevent them from getting injured when carrying heavy items. "Just follow the 16 steps and stretch your body by using a towel, and you are good to go," he said in a training session earlier this week. With strong local mobilization and assistance from overseas volunteers, the group said they are confident that the event will be a big hit. Wu Chin-tian, chief of the Hualien station, said the campaign has been so appealing that many passersby and even vendors would occasionally join the effort. "We are considering giving regular training to the public to keep the program running even after Aug. 26," said Wu, explaining that the station's limited resources have allowed for only two staff to assist passengers from each train. The teen service center's director Huang Jung-tun said that the "temporary grandchildren" project is not only good for the elderly, but for the young as well since they are offered a brand new perspective on the world by helping others. "What the young people have in mind nowadays is nothing but pursuing some once-in-a-lifetime adventure or love," he said. "This is a chance to make you look around and find simple inspiration in life," Huang said. Those who want to join Sunday's event, which will run from 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., could call 02-23223923 or go to www.facebook.com/youth.volunteer.taipei for further information.