Priest awarded NT$30 million for devotion to helping drug addicts

Taipei-Pastor Simon Man-wo Lau from Hong Kong was presented in Taipei Tuesday with a contribution award and a cash reward of NT$30 million (US$1 million) for his three decades of devotion to helping drug addicts in Taiwan.

Lau, chief executive of Operation Dawn Taiwan, was picked by a nine-member selection committee from among 222 individuals and groups as winner of the first Y.L. Lin Taiwan Contribution Award, Taiwan's most valuable "non-academic" award.

The award was set up in September this year by the Y.L. Lin Hung Tai Education Foundation, a public welfare organization established by Lin Yu-lin, founder of the Taipei-based property developer Hung Tai Group, with the aim of helping Taiwan cultivate talent and awarding those who have made contributions to the country.

At the award presentation ceremony, the foundation said that the decision to award Lau was made to raise social awareness about the problem of drug abuse in Taiwan.

In his acceptance speech, Lau, 66, said he completed his senior high school and college education in Taiwan, but also used drugs while studying here.

Tormented for 10 years by his habit, which he began at the age of 15 in Hong Kong, Lau said he knows well that drugs harm not just the users but also their families and society.

After overcoming his addiction at Operation Dawn in Hong Kong, he decided to return to Taiwan in 1983 to help other drug abusers. "Saving everyone I saw," Lau said.

Lau helped establish Operation Dawn Taiwan in 1989 to help drug addicts rid themselves of their habits and rebuild their social lives. Over the past 28 years, the Christian group has opened eight drug rehabilitation centers in six cities and counties around the country.

He told CNA that "belief is the power of change." As high as 60 percent of the addicts who stay at their rehab centers for 18 months have never gone back to drugs after returning to society, he said.

With the NT$30 million, Lau said he will open one more rehab center in Taoyuan in addition to an existing one there, and will set up a vocational training center in Tainan for former addicts.

Source: Overseas Community Affairs Council