Private charitable organization builds 61 homes for the impoverished in Tainan

United Daily News, march 13, 2006

Tainan County, Taiwan -- A private Buddhist organization has been set up in Tingshan Village of Chiku Township in Tainan County. The members of this organization, all of whom come from humble backgrounds, each month donate between NT$300 and NT$500. The funds amassed are then used to erect homes for underprivileged families who live in the coastal region of Tainan.

Over the past 14 years, the organization has constructed 61 "homes of compassion." The township commissioner of Chiku, Tsai Shun-chung, said that the good deeds carried out by the organization have given hope to the children of the poor fishermen who reside in the fishing villages along the coast.

The convener of the organization, Wu Wen-cheng, said that 25 years ago when he completed his military service and was returning home, he noticed that almost all of the residents of the village were elderly. If someone fell ill, he or she had to travel a distance of seven kilometers to the nearest medical clinic in Chiali Township. He said he had an idea of erecting a retirement facility for the old folks in the village, providing the elderly a place to reside and to be taken care of. He had only a limited income, however, and realized that it would be difficult to fulfill his wish. In response, he came up with the idea of establishing a charitable institution called the called the "Miao Hui Chu Shih Lin."

Wu explained the meaning of the title of the organization. He said "Miao" refers to happiness and beauty of life, while "Hui" refers to paying back society. "Chu Shih" refers to people who practice Buddhist rules in their household, while "Lin" has the meaning of being a center for Buddhist rituals. Strung together, the title of the organization means to happily practice Buddhist rules and realize the compassionate spirit of Buddhist, doing good things for society in the process.

He used his family's residence in Tingshan Village as a place to study and discipline himself without being disturbed by what was happening in the outside world. He formally began the organization 20 years ago. Presently, the organization has a membership of about 3,000 people.

Wu said that initially he perused the daily newspapers to find people who were in need of assistance. He came to realize, however, that providing NT$3,000 or NT$5,000 a month was merely a drop in the bucket in terms of what these people in need required. He said that the people who were on the verge of poverty did not even have any place to shelter themselves from the weather. He said that the children who grew up in these one-parent families or who were raised by their grandparents lacked the resources to get a decent education. As a result, he decide that his first matter of business was to begin building "homes of compassion" for these people and to also establish educational tutoring classes free of charge for the children.

Presently, each Monday through Friday at five in the afternoon, 41 elementary school children from Chiku Township make a trip to the activities center in Tacheng Village after they get out of school. Once they get to the activities center, three teachers are there waiting to help them with their homework and any problems they might have. The people involved in the effort are hoping that concern and compassion for these schoolchildren will make a difference in their lives. One of the children, whose grades were only so-so, vaulted to third place in his class after only one semester of the after-school tutoring. The student, who won a plaque for his efforts, said with a smile on his face, "I'm going to take the plaque home and hang it on the wall!"

An elderly man who lives in Tacheng Village who is surnamed Wang is illiterate. Mr. Wang said that his son failed in business and left home. In addition, he has no idea where his daughter-in-law has gone. Mr. Wang said that he has no problem providing the children three meals a day, but that there is no way that he can help them in their studies. He said that with the establishment of the after-school study center for the children, his grandson now has the same opportunity that other children have in getting help in his studies. At least, he said, he will not be any worse off at school than the other children.

Wu said he believes that no matter how poor of a background that a child comes from, he or she should still have the right to get a good education. Wu said that he wants to continue the project to help children in their studies, but that the cost to provide such a service comes to at least NT$2 million a year, which he simply cannot do on his own. "In order to enable these children from poor backgrounds to have an opportunity to make something of themselves, everyone has to bite the bullet." Given the urgent funding needed for the education plan, Wu has had no choice but to temporarily suspend the project to construct an old folk's home.

One 64-year-old man took his two grandsons to move into a new home constructed by the "Miao Hui Chu Shih Lin" for them right before the Chinese Lunar New Year. Even though the structure is only made of metal siding, the man said that he is grateful for the efforts made by the people of the organization. "It is really very comfortable. I will be eternally grateful to these people," he said.

The structure that was constructed for the man and his two grandsons was the 61st "home of compassion" that was built by the organization. The homes are quite simple; if nothing else they provide shelter from the wind and rain. The homes also provide the only hope for the poor people who live along the coast in Tainan County.

Wu is the convener of the organization, while Wei Ching-fang is the executive officer. In June of 1992, they went to the Wang household in Kunming Village of Chiangchun Township where they saw that one wall in the structure had been in disrepair for many years and had fallen down. They said that even increasing the amount of money they provided to the Wang household each month still would not solve the basic problem that the family did not have a suitable place to live. At that time, Wu suggested that it would be more practical to just build a new home for the family.

The organization's members and volunteers pitched in to find the appropriate workers to help them in their efforts to tear down the old structure and build a new one. It took them over two months to complete their first home. The day that it was finally finished, everyone was so excited that they could not even fall asleep that night. From that time on, Wu and others in the organization went around looking for poor people who did not have any shelter. In the town of Matou, they discovered one person who lived in an old public bus. They once again extended a helping hand. They found someone to donate a small parcel of land where they built a small house for the man to live in.

The homes that are built by the organization are made with bricks and metal siding. Some of the homes are as small as eight or nine pings in size, while others are over 20 pings. Some of them are built with funding partially coming from local governments or other social welfare groups. Many of the homes, however, are built using only funds donated by the organization's members. To this point, the amount of money that has been spent by the organization's main fund has exceeded NT$30 million.

The commissioner of Chiku Township, Tsai Shun-chung, has expressed his gratitude to the members of the organization for their help in providing shelter for the underprivileged residents of the community. After finishing a house and handing it over to the person who will live in it, Wu Wen-cheng will not directly pay a visit to the person who lives in the home. Rather, he asks the people in the community whether the person is comfortable in the structure. "While I want to help others, I do not want others to feel like they owe me anything. If they did have such a feeling, the efforts in providing the assistance would lose a lot of its meaning," Wu said.
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