Heller Profiles

The Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University

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Yu Wen Kao


MA-SID '16

A development professional working to create lasting change

Around the world and in her native Taiwan, Yu Wen Kao seeks to help communities in need.

Leaving her home country of Taiwan at the age of 23 to volunteer at the Mother Teresa orphanage in Calcutta, India, was an eye-opening experience for Yu Wen Kao SID’16. Taiwan “is really small and isolated,” she says, and the opportunity to live and work in Calcutta “really helped me to understand the role that India’s caste system has played in the creation and perpetuation of poverty in that country.” 

India’s rural-urban migration and the large number of street children there motivated Kao to look for other opportunities where she could help communities in need.

Kao’s search for volunteer opportunities led her to East Timor, where she worked with The Frontiers, a South Korean organization that designs and implements peace-building and education projects. She also worked on uniting families that had been divided as a result of war.

After two months in East Timor, Kao went to Bamyan, Afghanistan to work on education and peace-building initiatives with Afghan refugees who had fled from Iran. These refugees were “discriminated against by other Afghan residents because they felt they were putting pressure on resources,” Kao explains.

Kao says that working in Bamyan, while rewarding, was a very challenging experience. “I faced a lot of sexual harassment from residents… I had to cover up all the time and always had to go out with a male worker,” she says. However, Kao eventually adapted to the local culture, and was able to learn a lot from the local authorities and residents.

Following two years in Afghanistan, Kao moved back to Taiwan where she worked with the Taiwan International Cooperation and Development Fund (Taiwan ICDF), a Taiwanese government-funded International Development Agency. There, she served as the project manager for humanitarian assistance, working on projects in Kenya, South Sudan, Tuvalu, Nicaragua, and South East Asia.

Through the SID Program, Kao hopes to closely engage with professors and students, gain a theoretical understanding of international development, and be pushed to develop innovative solutions to some of the world’s greatest problems.

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