Sun, Dec 19, 2004 - Page 17 News List

Home is where the heart is

The kids of Christian Herald Children's Home don't have a lot, but they have an abundance of holiday spirit

By David Momphard  /  STAFF REPORTER

It's 1pm and the kids are coming home from a half day of school, talking excitedly at each other as they run down the driveway. They throw their bookbags inside and hustle back out to the front yard. They're going to an art museum at Taichung Harbor and, just like brothers and sisters always do, they're arguing about who'll get to sit where in the van.

But they're not brothers and sisters -- at least not biologically -- and the home they return to after school each day is unlike any other. It's the Taichung Christian Herald Children's Home (台中光音育幼院) where some 60 orphaned or abandoned kids live.

COMMUNITY LANDMARK

Christian Herald was established a half century ago. The once-quiet neighborhood where it was built has since sprawled around the home but its tree-shaded campus remains serene. Most residents of Taichung are familiar with it, even if they've never seen past the security gate.

But many have visited to deliver gifts of clothing, books or toys. A Christmas tree currently on the front porch of the main building is partially obscured by sacks of rice and noodles and boxes of soft drinks. More than once, someone has shown up at dinnertime with a carload of McDonald's hamburgers.

What visitors see, once inside, doesn't resemble most people's idea of an orphanage. Instead, they see a place of caring and kindness that does a lot with very little.

The challenges the home faces aren't just the daily duties of feeding and clothing five dozen children, but doing so in a place that is suffering from 50 years of use.

The Taipei Times visited Christian Herald a year ago. At that time, the roof of one of the campus' half-dozen buildings leaked so badly that the building sat unused, forcing the kids to sleep 12 or more to a room in the remaining buildings. The roof has been repaired, with government help, but now the wood of the doors and windows needs replacing.

Chen Yan-bo (陳彥伯) has worked at Christian Herald for four years and recently took over as its supervisor. He explained that, unlike other children's homes in Taiwan that are operated by the government, Christian Herald is largely supported by a foundation.

"About 70 percent of our budget comes from the government," he said, "but the rest comes from the community and our foundation."

That budget, NT$10 million (US$308,000) each year, amounts to less than NT$14,000 (US$430) per child each month, not including the costs of paying salaries for the home's meager staff of social workers. It's an amount that barely meets basics needs, which apparently extend to replacing doors and windows.

Christian Herald is a world apart from other children's homes that are fully funded by the government, such as the Ministry of Interior's Central Region Children's Home (內政部中區兒童之家) across town. There, some 180 kids are separated into "families" of around a dozen each, just like Christian Herald. But unlike Christian Herald they share spacious 100-ping living quarters in a comparatively new building that resembles a high school campus. Each has a classroom, two large bedrooms to separate boys and girls, a dining area, television room and a bedroom for the live-in social workers.

There are buses to take them around town and young men serving their alternative military service to help out with heavy chores. Older kids at the Central Region home even receive a monthly allowance.

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