Heng Shan Social Welfare Foundation Volunteers create safe housing for vulnerable families2021 / 08 / 04
Volunteers create safe housing for vulnerable families (2020/11/15)
Although Taiwan has a robust healthcare system and other world-class social benefits, some families still struggle to survive on the bare minimum. Fortunately, disadvantaged families in Taiwan need not rely only on the government for assistance; they can seek help from non-profit, social-welfare organizations that function through the selfless dedication of their volunteers. These volunteers provide their services to ensure that disadvantaged families have their basic needs met.
Volunteers from the Heng-Shan Social Welfare Foundation carry items from the food bank, on a visit to the home of Ms. Liu.
There are seven people in Liu’s household, and they live together in this 60-year-old building.
Climbing the steps to the second floor, a messy bedroom comes into view. Two children sleep soundly, snuggled among a pile of items.
Ms. Liu cares for four kids on her own. Some of the children have delayed physical development. They’re smaller and thinner than other children their age. The third oldest child, Hsiao En, suffers from Hirschsprung's disease, and he’s often in and out of the hospital. Caring for him takes up much of Liu’s time.
He is undernourished. He’s in grade nine, but two months ago he only weighed 29 kilograms. Before that he was 20 or 21 kilograms. You haven’t had the chance to see him walk, but he basically, he has trouble keeping his balance.
A large bowl of noodles with one egg in it is all the food this family of seven has for the whole day. To make matters worse, this 60-year-old building the family lives in has a leaky roof, rotten floorboards and old pipes – but there is no possibility of investing in a renovation.
Actually in this house, when we are just sitting there – even when there’s no earthquake – sometimes we can feel it swaying a bit. Then when you take into consideration the leaky roof, you can see this environment for these four children is really not good.
On the day we visited, it was the foundation’s third time calling on the household. The volunteers were there to survey the house, ahead of working out the details of a renovation plan.
The family of seven is crowded into these two small rooms. In this room, which is used by four of them, the window has been broken for a long time. Liu lacks the money for repairs, so for now, it is boarded up. While this keeps out the wind and rain, it means the sun is blocked out as well. The room is dark and humid, and it’s taken on a foul smell.
Heng-Shan Social Welfare Foundation
If we tear that down and divide the room over here, it will be bigger. Then if you want to put in a wardrobe or something, there will be more space for that. When the kids grow up and there’s not enough space, one of them can come over here to sleep. Your mother and the grandkids will both have more space.
Thinking about the children’s future, the volunteers decide to re-divide the rooms. The home’s seven windows will be replaced. The roof, which is the most expensive and most labor-intensive part of the renovation, will be replaced with a new one.
Bright and early on Saturday, Heng-Shan Social Welfare Foundation volunteers from all over show up at Liu’s front door. All strangers to each other, the volunteers are assigned tasks and immediately get to work on today’s major renovation project.
As serious rusting has led to the roof leaking, the metalworkers ascend the building to begin work replacing it, moving the metal sheets with great speed and efficiency.
Inside, carpenters work at a great pace, tearing down and replacing the room divider, and swapping out the floor panels.
Heng-Shan Social Welfare Foundation
I’m a carpenter by trade – I’ve been in the industry for nearly 40 years now. In our society there are many vulnerable people in need of social services. I feel that doing this work is very meaningful. In the past, we had our hardships, but now we have the ability to help others. This is a great thing.
Today’s group of 20-odd volunteers comes from a variety of industries. Some are plumbers or electricians, and some are carpenters. Even an appliance merchant and a drink-shop owner have joined the effort. There’s even a school teacher who’s swapped out chalk for a brush to cover the wall with a fresh coat of paint.
After less than a day of work, a new roof is in place. The boarded-up window has been replaced with glass that’s properly sealed.
I was at a loss for how to improve our home. Now our home is clean, and it’s been transformed into something that is truly, very different from what it was before. There won’t be water all over our house every day now. I am truly grateful for the help of all of the Heng-Shan Social Welfare Foundation volunteers.
Heng-Shan Social Welfare Foundation chairman
When we visit a person at home to look into their case, their circumstances tug at our heartstrings long after we leave. Simply put, their standard of living can be really different from the average. Maybe their roof is leaking and they are unable to fix it, or maybe they have not had a hot shower in a long time. In such a case, we would go and install a water heater for them. Some families don’t even have a shower, and they need to wash up at a nearby gas station.
Warmly greeting her customers, this woman is the leader of a local Heng-Shan club. She’s also the owner of this vegetarian restaurant. On weekends and holidays, when the restaurant is at its busiest, Lee is often not there at all. Rather, she is off renovating homes.
Heng-Shan club leader
I feel that in Taiwanese society – although we are quite well-off in terms of our health care system and other social benefits – there are still many disadvantaged families that need our help.
Many of the club members are long-time volunteers. Just like Lee Hsiu-chu, business owner Chiu Chen-fa is a regular sight at renovation projects. He owns a machine parts factory. Every time the Heng-Shan club has a project, Chiu is among the first to roll up his sleeves.
For these disadvantaged families to have the bare minimum standard of living, they need a bed, a gas stove, a toilet and a water heater. Those are the barest of basics. We do our best to do what we can for them.
Heng-Shan club leader
In life, there are many forms of success. I feel this – this is the greatest form of success. It’s a spiritual form of success. Because this type of thing is priceless. When you get old and look back on your life, look back on the path you’ve taken, you will feel it’s worth it that life has brought you here, because you’ve truly done something for other people.
On the fringes of society are people who barely eking out a living, who are fighting hard just to survive. Luckily there is also a group of people who, asking nothing in return, do what they can out of hope that these struggling families can find refuge from the storm.