Taitung vegetable vendor Chen Shu-chu (陳樹菊) is joining a very select club as she becomes the 11th person from Taiwan to receive a Ramon Magsaysay Award. She is being honored for transforming young lives through a life of giving, the award foundation said this week.
Though living a simple, frugal life, Chen has given away more than NT$10 million (US$332,200) over the years to charities for the care and education of poor children, inspired by her own difficult and impoverished childhood.
Her charitable endeavors first came to public attention in 2005 and she has been honored before for her selfless giving — in 2010, she was selected by Forbes Asia as one of its 48 Heroes of Philanthropy, Time magazine ranked her as one of the top 100 influential individuals in the world and Reader’s Digest named her the fourth recipient of the Reader’s Digest Asian of the Year award. She received an award from the Ministry of Education and in January it was announced that a new bridge in Taitung City would be named after her.
Since receiving those accolades, she has continued to give, donating NT$1 million to the Red Cross Society on Double Ten National Day in October last year.
Her quiet, unassuming style stands in stark contrast to that of those much wealthier than her who seek as much publicity as possible for their donations, like Chinese tycoon Chen Guangbiao (陳光標), who visited Taiwan last year to hand out hundreds of millions of NT dollars to some of the nation’s poorest families — as long as there were plenty of cameras around to watch him doling out the red envelopes.
Chen Shu-chu is more like her fellow recipients of the Ramon Magsaysay Award, both here in Taiwan and around Asia, who are content to do their work and leave the publicity-seeking to others. While six of Taiwan’s honorees have passed away, the other four continue to work: Dharma Master Cheng Yen (證嚴法師), honored in 1991 as founder of the Buddhist Compassionate Relief Tzu Chi Foundation; Su Nan-cheng (蘇南成), who was honored in 1983 for his work as Tainan mayor; Diane Ying (殷允芃), honored in 1987 for founding Common Wealth Magazine; and Cloud Gate Dance Theatre (雲門舞集) founder and artistic director Lin Hwai-min (林懷民), who was honored in 1991 for his contribution to modern dance.
Chen Shu-chu deserves acclaim, not just for her own work, but also for inspiring countless others from all walks of life to think about what they can do to help those in need. In recent years, there have been numerous stories of retirees, children and others who have quietly been donating what they can to those less fortunate, and several said they were directly inspired to do so after hearing or reading about her.
Let’s hope some of Chen Shu-chu’s humility rubs off on the nation’s officials and bureaucrats, who turned her outing to New York City to receive the Time magazine honor two years ago into an unseemly scramble to have some of the luminosity rub off on President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The publicity-seeking turned into an embarrassment when a ministry official was caught on tape coaching Chen Shu-chu on whom to thank. Hopefully, next month’s Magsaysay award trip won’t be handled so crassly.
Taiwan can be proud that Chen Shu-chu represents the nation in this year’s Magsaysay Awards, but the honor is hers alone, just as the five other winners — Romulo Davide of the Philippines, Kuladie Francis of India, Syeda Rizwana Hasan of Bangladesh, Yang Saing Koma of Cambodia and Ambrosius Ruwindrijarto of Indonesia — most of whom have pursued their goals in the face of opposition from their governments and establishment interests, should be honored for their own good deeds.