Thursday, 18 March 2010 18:57

Be back by midnight: Equality in Taiwan's higher education?

Nina Chen is a student at Taiwan's third (and Taipei's first) gender studies graduate institute. She lets us know about gender discrimination in Taiwanese universities and in society in general.


Thursday, 18 March 2010 00:00

Meeting up to standards

Annie Lai's path to university was a very different struggle to the normal one. She explains her tough route to Providence University in Taichung, Taiwan. Furthermore, she explains why she feels that despite the struggles it's worth the effort.

 


Friday, 22 May 2009 00:00

From Steung Meachey to Centre for Children's Happiness

 
Outside of the South of Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, lies a mountain of waste that has provided the livelihood of many people- mostly children, who scavenge for anything of possible value that is otherwise classified as rubbish for us. The infamous Steung Meanchey landfill may not be poverty at its third-world worst, but it is a site of extreme human misery, of methane fires, drudgery, starvation and even death.

People scavenge at each waste disposal, working till late for a good day’s pay of 1.50 USD, just enough to get by and not enough to alter one’s own circumstances. It is at this site that Mech Sokha, a Cambodian man who was himself orphaned after the Khmer Rouge regime, has rescued over a hundred children whom were either orphaned or whose parents were financially unable to care for them. The children whom were lucky enough to have been rescued by Sokha, now find themselves in the safe haven of CCH- the Centre for Children’s Happiness.

I set out on a relatively sunny day to CCH and returned drenched in rain. I was blissfully unaware of it as I had after all, the pleasure of spending an afternoon with marvellous Cambodian children and made the acquaintance of a man whose heart was big enough to subdue the odours of the garbage dumps. It was not difficult to recognise Mech Sokha on our first meeting for he had an ageless quality about him, and looked as he did about five years ago on their official website. He smiles quietly as I introduced myself, surrounded by three or four smiling adolescents. There was a very warm and fatherly quality about Sokha and I could not imagine him in any other setting than here in this orphanage.
 


The orphanage itself consists of one large building with a courtyard and a dining area in the middle on the ground floor, flanked by boys’ and girls’ rooms. On the second floor, there is one large room, which is both classroom and library. In front and along one side, there is a garden. In the back, there is a kitchen, a water tower and a place to wash clothes. The standard of living is not what I’d be accustomed to, but then again my misfortunes pales in comparison. There is a sense of warmth in the centre and it radiates from the children, Mr. Sokha and the working staff, enough to make one wonder- just how does one do this? From garbage-picking at the Steung Meanchey landfill to the comfort of the orphanage, it is hard to imagine a present and future so full of promise for the children.
 
Take a tour of the Centre for Children’s Happiness (CCH) with two exceptional members of CCH, Pho Phaneth and Huot Ravuth, young men striving to provide a better place for their family and friends and clearly on the way to a promising future. At grade 11 Ravuth drives the CCH van with ease and is in charge of the twenty-over boys in the building CCH II. Phaneth is now working as an administrator at CCH, whilst studying at a local university. The "no-use" building that the boys refer to in the video operates on donations and will be completed by December 2009.


Since its foundation in November 2002, Sokha started with only 16 children and houses up to 109 today. They now possess a total of three building, one for the girls, the other for the boys and one that is under construction funded by the donations. It is said that the construction should be finished by December. I have never seen such enormous progress in terms of architecture and education for the children, and over the span of seven years. Through the funds raised by their prominent donors known as Friends of CCH from countries such as the United States, Canada, Germany, Belgium and England, there are now more materials and staff available, not to mention education. Computing and Sewing is taught at CCH, and a few of the older girls are sent to a local NGO to get additional lessons in tailoring. It is not realistic for all the children to complete a formal academic education and Sokha believes they should also invest in skills with which they can eventually earn a living.

The children at CCH call Mech Sokha ’Papa Sokha’ for a reason, he has been the children’s main source of parental attention for the last seven years. When he is not in Phnom Penh and working with the children, he is overseas raising money with Friends of CCH. Ravuth, currently the head of the boys dormitory tells me with love and concern in his eyes that " Papa Sokha is tired, he works too much..." We studied Sokha from afar and I had to agree.

It had not occurred to me that Sokha was only human, and needed more than a couple of helping hands to run an orphanage of so many children. He is however, not alone in taking in Cambodian children in precarious situations, orphanages such as the Lighthouse Orphanage and the French ’Pour un sourire d’enfant’ are all dedicated to caring for the many children in need.
 
Peacemaking is a gift that is bestowed on many, but only a few has had the strength to take it upon their shoulders. Mech Sokha is one of them.

The Centre for Children's Happiness website: http://www.cchcambodia.org/ 
 
In the following video, Alice tells us about her experience at CCH, Phnom Pehn, in December 2009.

Monday, 23 February 2009 18:18

“Thanks be to God, we are forming people who are able to rebel!”

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A Spaniard in Taiwan Today: Fr Andres Diaz de Rabago (born in 1917)

The most well-known Spaniard in Taiwan today is probably Fr Rabago. At 92, this Jesuit priest is famous all around Taipei for his infectious laugh and the warm care he seems eager to bestow on anyone who crosses his path. Fr Rabago is also “Doctor Rabago”: he got a doctorate on medicine at a young age, specializing in the application of tomography to radiology of dorsal vertebrae. “when there were only six tomographs in the whole of Spain” he recalls. Today, he still goes running from one hospital to another, caring for his Jesuit brothers but also for many other friends. As he once taught medical ethics at Taiwan National University from 1970 to 2000 and has also been chaplain of the association of Catholic nurses, he is almost always affectionately greeted by old acquaintances during these countless hospital visits.

 

Family inheritance

Fr Rabago does not correspond to the bellicose model of the Spaniards who had been conquering Americas and the Philippines (and back then, Taiwan as well) in former centuries. But this does not mean that his life has been peaceful and uneventful. As a matter of fact, his story reflects many of the events and tragedies experienced by Spain and other parts of the world during the 20th century. He was born in 1917 in Galicia, an economically backward province that borders Portugal. His paternal grandfather was teaching Hebrew and sociology at a university, but was above all interested in the problem of rural poverty, trying to devise ways for the development of his beloved Galicia. Among other books, he wrote an influential essay on “rural credit.” After his death, and in inheriting the land, his youngest son (Fr Rabago's father) did not hesitate to sell the whole lot to start a fishery, hoping that this would provide work for a population suffering from chronic unemployment. He married a young woman who came from a family whose background was less intellectual but who shared similar social concerns; Fr Rabago’s maternal grandfather had started a bank by inadvertence, he had such a reputation for probity that the peasants of the neighbourhood would confide their wealths to him, and he in turn, would pay them interests. Soon enough, a family bank was created.

Similarly, Fr Rabago’s mother was active in a number of charitable causes, starting, among other projects, the construction of cheap habitation units, so as to enable poor people to become owners of their own house. She still found time to give birth to ten children, three of whom died at a young age. Andres Rabago was number seven, and his youngest sister (who also gave birth to ten children) is still alive. “My mother was restless, always taking care of one business or another, preferably of the poorer people in the area or the employees of my father’s fishery. At the same time, she loved us so much. Her love was a selfless one. When I decided to enter the Jesuits and later on to go to China, she told me not to worry for my father and for her, but just to do what I felt I had to do…”

The family was deeply rooted in the Christian faith, coupled with vanguard social concerns. So, it was little wonder that, apart from Andres Rabago, one of his elder brothers became a doctor and later on the director of a hospital. As he had publicly lamented the state of hygiene in Spanish hospitals, he was urged by the Health Minister of that time to retract himself or be dismissed, to which he accepted without hesitation. The youngest boy of the family became a Jesuit, like his brother (he would later on become a pioneer of distant learning in Spain.) But Spain during the first half of the 20th century was knowing a ceaseless political agitation, and the opposition between Right and Left was becoming more and more radical, with Catholics most often associating with the Right and Anticlericalism with the Left (though this was not the case in the Basque country, which was at the same time Republican and Catholic.) The civil war started in 1936… One of the brothers of Fr Rabago died in battle. This experience might have contributed to his choice in becoming a Jesuit after having gotten his medical diploma at the end of the Civil War. He admits that such a choice was not an easy one. Andres enters the Jesuit noviciate in 1940, in Salamanca. With this, a new chapter began…

 

China, Philippines, East Timor…

Even if he had chosen a religious life only after his university studies, Andres had already dreamt of being a missionary during his childhood. His dream would be fulfilled: in 1947 he arrives in Beijing – thus shifting from the Spanish civil war to the Chinese one… After a few months in Anking he goes to Shanghai where he stays from 1949 to 1952, being ordained a priest there in the last ordination of foreign priests that took place in China. “I loved China," he confides today, "and during these tormented times, the friendships you acquired had very, very deep roots…” After five years in China he had to leave, as all other monks and priests had to. Destination: the Philippines, where he accomplishes his second doctorate – a doctorate in theology this time. He subsequently taught in a university in Manila, while taking care of a dormitory. “I was so busy, there was really not time to rest", he recalls, "one task was succeeding another. And guess what? I fall in love with the Philippines as I had fallen in love with China – while not in the least forgetting China though…”

Soon, Fr Rabago has an opportunity to fall in love with another country : East Timor. He is appointed rector of the Catholic seminary there in 1961, and will stay eight years in a country that, at that time, is still a Portuguese colony and suffers from poverty, and misery. “At some point, the seminary, was the only real secondary school. We had a remarkable Portuguese bishop, who had understood that soon East Timor would be independent, and that the role of the Seminary was not only to form priests but also civic leaders who would be able to lead their country towards peace and progress.” This is indeed what happened, since the first President(1) of independent East Timor, Xanana Gusmao, and several of his Administration were former students of the Seminary. As were also the three first aboriginal Bishops. The very first one, Carlos Filippe Ximenes belo, was co-winner of the 1996 Peace Nobel price, with another outstanding Timorese, Jose Manuel Ramos-Horta(2).

These eight years in East Timor, at the contact of a very poor population, in a time of awakening and search for dignity and political independence, are certainly very important for Fr Rabago. He still laughs, filled with merriment and admiration, recalling the day when he was in the bishop’s office: “The telephone rang , and it was the military governor, asking angrily the bishop why, during a recent village insurrection, all the leaders had been formed by the Catholics. After he answered the call, the bishop turned to me and exclaimed: ‘Thanks be to God, we are forming people who are able to rebel!’ And Fr Rabago laughs again… Fr Rabago has learnt from his time in East Timor that he was meant to help people in their personal growth while deeply respecting the road that their conscience tells them to choose, even if this road does not correspond to his own options or feelings.

 

Falling in love with Taiwan

His experience in working with youth both in the Philippines and East Timor follows Fr Rabago as he arrives in Taiwan. It was in the year of 1969 (he is thus celebrating his fortieth year in Taiwan), and he was already 52. But he falls in love again… and this proves to be the longest love of his life since he is still around! He recalls with much gusto his teaching of ethics and Latin in Taiwan National University, but puts even more emphasis on his role as a counselor in professional schools. “I have been struck by the fact that these kids had a speedier psychological development than the ones in High School who had to prepare for the university exams.” Assisting the youth in their psychological and spiritual development seems to be the passion of Fr Rabago. “I was feeling the weight on the youth when I arrived in Taiwan and was hoping that they could lead a more normal life. Little by little, I saw a process of individualization that came to maturity and witnessed an awakening of independent thinking. During my years in Taiwan I could not help but see some similarities with what I experienced in Spain in my youth, but Taiwanese people lived this political process in a much more rational way.”

On the whole, it seems that these forty years in Taiwan have been passing very quickly for Fr Rabago, and he is happy to know and to still meet so many former students. Everything he has gone through in his life seems to be a “confirmation” that he did make the right choice when he decided to become a Jesuit. “My life has been richer and more fruitful than if I had eventually decided to marry and be a doctor. The reasons for which I decided to enter religious life are still the same ones as seventy years ago. But they have become much more real, much more concrete. My thinking was rather idealistic as a youth. Now, my wish to serve other people with love is connected with very concrete realities.” This concreteness applies to everything: “A missionary must identify with the land he is living in.’ He suddenly shudders: “If I had to leave Taiwan… that would be terrible for me!” At 92, one can be confident that he will be able to love Taiwan up to the end.

 

Notes:

(1)The first president of East Timor was Xanana Guzmao, former student of Father Rabago

(2)He was 2nd President of East Timor

 


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