The Privilege of Such a Life

By Sihyeon Bae

I live and work in a mountainous area of Taiwan with aboriginal people. The majority of them are pomegranate and orange farmers who also cultivate a variety vegetables which they sell. Although husband and wife share in the work involved, it is the woman who does most in contributing to their livelihood. I think this is because from ancient times, the aboriginal man engaged himself mostly in hunting and appears to have seldom contributed to work on the land or in the home. The men who do not work on the farm go to the city where they engage in contract work or ordinary jobs. Even so, they hardly ever help out at home because they consider household or any domestic work to be solely that of the women.

Aboriginal Children

The women take care of managing and educating the family. Though they love their children, at times the further education which the children normally should receive is beyond the mothers' capabilities, in spite of the fact that they have husbands and other family members living with them. If you chat with them in church after Mass, they complain about being exhausted because of their husband's lack of support and the fact that they have to take care of the children all on their own. Frequently these women are unable to attend church on Sunday, because they are so busy trying to make a living. This is a very sad situation and most frustrating. When these women pray, they always begin with a prayer of thanksgiving and praise to God. This is something which made a big impression on me. However, it is a huge worry how this deep faith and close connection with God can continue to grow. One night I got a telephone call from a young mother. It was her third time calling me that day. The fi rst call was an inquiry about the next day's liturgy; the second was to ask about my personal welfare. But the third call consisted of not a word, as she simply cried on the phone. Because of my defi ciency in the Chinese language I was unable to offer appropriate words of comfort in the situation. I am still so sad that I was unable to be of help, especially when I realize the effort that mother made to get some help.

Because of the parents' inability to educate their children suffi ciently, they are easily exposed to the dangers of alcohol, smoking and sex. In the case of girls, even before they graduate from high school, many of them become pregnant. They are then unable to graduate because they now are faced with the problem of caring for a baby. In this mountainous area we have just a primary school. If students want to continue to middle or high school they must move to the city. In the city, they must get boarding/lodgings, where there is no, for the most part, protection or supervision by parents or elders. Consequently, having been unable to graduate because of student pregnancy and the necessity of caring for a child, many of these young people have their lifetime hopes squashed or severely curtailed. Furthermore, the continuous and frequent divorce rate, as well as an unwholesome family atmosphere, result in the unchanged passing on of these problems to the next generation. During my two-year stay here, out of scores of pupils, just two female students attended university.

I know one high school student who has three younger sisters. Her mother has been married and divorced several times and has children from these unions. However the burden of supporting these children has been placed on the shoulders of this high school student and her aged grandmother. Because of insufficient family resources this student has to miss school frequently in order to work. She is very intelligent and multi-talented. If there were only some family support she really could become anything she wanted to. It is really upsetting that there is nobody to help bear her burden and so enable her to concentrate on her studies to the point of realizing her dream. 

Children and adolescents are God's gifts, our happiness and our hope. If we want them to grow to success in life we have a responsibility and an obligation to help. As I have a special interest in the fostering of children and adolescents, I hope to continue this mission for the future. While helping adolescents to concentrate on their studies, I hope also to support them in their dreams for future success and for seeking mutual understanding and family support so that a systematic process of collaboration can be firmly established.

I am happy here in the mountain region, living and working with the Taiwanese aboriginals/natives. I sincerely thank God for the privilege of such a life. God called me as His worker. According to His plan He prepared me for the task, and I believe He will always be with me.

Columban lay missionary Sihyeon Bae lives and works in Taiwan.