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Michio Taya '13 and Melissa Frick '12 Connect with Communities in China

Melissa Frick '12 and Michio Taya '13
Connect with Communities in China

by Linda Hou '13

Melissa Frick '12 and Michio Taya '13
Michio Taya '13 and Melissa Frick 12 join fellow volunteers in singing for residents of Shilong, China.

Although Hansen's Disease, more commonly known as leprosy, is now curable and not contagious once cured, many who had contracted it before cures were available are left physically disfigured. This August, Michio Taya '13 and Melissa Frick '12 spent two weeks in southwest China working with residents of a recovered leprosy village in hopes of reducing differences and encouraging connections between the villagers and those in the surrounding area.

"While there, I could have believed that these 40 people were the happiest group that I've ever met," says Frick, an Honors biology and economics major from Swarthmore, Pa. "The sad thing, as another volunteer told me, is that these villagers slowly retreat into a more depressed state once volunteers leave the village. We give them something to talk about, something to celebrate. When we leave, they return to their old habits."

While in China under the auspices of Joy in Action (JIA), Taya and Frick lived in Shilong, a village in the Hainan province, with a group of students from the U.S., China, and Japan. In addition to interacting with villagers, Taya and Frick also helped to restore the road to the village to allow for more outside communication. 

"This experience has encouraged me to be more bold in my lifestyle and made me think about all the people I know who are without a loving home," says Taya, from Mercer Island, Wash. "Just like how society casts a blind eye to the villagers of Shilong, I may also be ignoring people in my life."

Taya and Frick worked with JIA through Swarthmore's Global Neighbors and a grant from Project Pericles, a social justice organization founded by Eugene Lang '38. Global Neighbors, which aims to eliminate discrimination based on physical or medical conditions, was founded by Bettina Tam '10, who worked with JIA the summer after her sophomore year. Additional students who have interned or volunteered with JIA include Shiran Shen '12, Jonathan Erwin-Frank '11, and Philmon Haile '13.