Be a Taipei Sweet Potato Mama for a day
A volunteer vacation like no other in Taiwan comes in the form of "Live As a Local" tours. The free day-tour allows visitors to experience a day in the life of a street vendor in Taipei.
Topology Travel takes visitors to meet single mothers who have been taught by the Genesis Social Welfare Foundation to cook sweet potatoes in mobile oil drums and sell them to make a living.
Visitors hang out with these "Sweet Potato Mamas," as Taiwanese like to call them, and get to know a side of Taiwan that isn't promoted in glossy travel ads.
"It isn't just an interesting activity for the visitors," says Peter Lin, the 30-year-old founder of Topology Travel.
"Sweet Potato Mamas also get to meet people from around the world. They want to travel but don't have the opportunity."
Also on CNNGo: Street food foray into Taiwan's night markets
One participant on the tour was a 50-year-old traveler from Canada called Dana. She met with Wong, one of the sweet potato mamas.
"I am Canadian, Miss Wong is Taiwanese and my Chinese is as bad as her English, but it didn’t seem to interfere with our connection," wrote Dana on her TripAdvisor review of the tour. "I am in awe of her dedication, commitment and work ethics!"
Topology Travel was opened 18 months ago by Lin and three other licensed tour guides. The friends aim to arrange tours that let visitors "travel deeply" through interaction with local people in Taiwan.
The idea of offering the street vendor experience tours came to Lin, a Taipei native, after he spent his own volunteer vacation in Nepal.
Also on CNNGo: 5 Taipei hotels with megabucks art collections
"Lots of Taiwanese like to volunteer, but they always do so abroad," says Lin. "How come Taiwan does not develop its own volunteer vacations? Taiwan also has many people who need help."
Lin hoped to organize a tour that could appeal to local Taiwanese as well as foreign visitors. He approached many different NGOs to arrange volunteer opportunities, but it was not easy to find the right match.
"We needed something that people could just drop in on. For kids with disabilities, it is hard on them when they bond with volunteers who can only stay for a few hours. For elderly people, it is difficult for non-Chinese speakers to communicate with them."
Also on CNNGo: 7 ways that Taipei beats Singapore
In the end, the Sweet Potato Mamas proved to have the right combination of qualities for a group of volunteers who wanted to get to know ordinary, hardworking Taiwanese within a short time frame.
To sign up for a "Live As a Local" tour,contact Topology Travel directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. No charge is levied, however donations are welcome.
Topology Travel, room 301, 18 Siyuan St., Zhongzheng District, Taipei City 100, Taiwan, +886 2 2364 9659 www.topologytravel.com