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Sat, Feb 05, 2000 - Page 2 News List

Quake victims struggle through the New Year

SELF-EMPOWERMENT People living in prefabricated homes are resorting to piecework and self-employment to come up with the cash to put in their children's red envelopes and for rebuilding their homes and lives

By Yu Sen-lun  /  Staff reporter

In Taichung county

A family displaced by last year's quake, now living in a prefabricated house in Aiping New Village, Taichung County, fit cap liners in plastic medicine bottles tops to earn extra money.

PHOTO: GEORGE TSORNG, TAIPEI TIMES

"The holidays will still be holidays, it's just that this year, it will be a little harder," said Mr Yu, sitting in the main room of the prefabricated structure that he now calls home.

On a quiet afternoon earlier this week, Yu and his family -- his wife and two daughters -- were busy working in their "home factory," skillfully inserting pieces of circular-shaped paper into caps meant for medicine bottles.

Yu said the family has been doing piecework for two months, receiving three New Taiwan cents for each piece completed.

"It's not big money, but it helps toward our grocery expenses," he said.

At Aiping New Village (愛平新村), a prefab community in Taichung County, 30 households are now taking on such piecework.

Many families finish 20,000 of the caps per day, according to Yu.

Cottage-industry piecework throve during the 1960s and 1970s, when Taiwan was a major OEM producer for toys, shoes and accessories. At that time, many housewives and their children would assemble toy parts and perform other simple tasks as part the "informal sector" of Taiwan's labor force. These people were an indispensable part of Taiwan's "economic miracle."

Now such manual labor -- which has since declined -- is being taken up once again by residents of central Taiwan affected by last year's 921 earthquake.

"After the quake, most of us [residents of the village] shouldered huge mortgages, so we all need to work to make extra money," said Chang Hsien-ying (張仙英), the director of the Aiping resident's committee.

Chang said he had heard that one woman living in the community had done piecework before the earthquake, so he arranged with her to contact manufacturers.

Meanwhile, he said, the community's residents are also preparing to fight a lawsuit against a property developer who built their previous homes. This also meant a need for extra work, Chang said.

Aiping New Village is mostly composed of former residents of Taiping Hsinping Life Park (太平新坪生活公園) in Taiping, Taichung County, like Chang and Yu. The housing complex was built by Hung-tsung Construction (宏總建設), run by KMT legislator Lin Hung-tsung (林宏宗).

The collapse of the building took 16 lives and left more than 200 people homeless. Residents said the collapse was the result of shoddy construction, not the quake.

"The government is not [taking care of people's lives], so we are doing it ourselves," Chang said.

Former residents said Lin is expected to be indicted on charges of faulty construction by district prosecutors after the Chinese New Year.

Mrs Yu wakes up at 3am every morning and begins work by delivering goat's milk for a local dairy. She finishes her deliveries around 6am, takes a short nap, and then heads to her second job, as an assistant at a lunchbox kitchen.

After dinner, she and her husband, a self-employed contractor, call their children together to start their piecework session. She said this year, despite the setbacks they have faced, her children's red envelopes will not contain less money than in past years.

Another resident, Lee Chiu-lien (李秋蓮) works equally as hard. Her home -- which she had still been paying for after 10 years as a factory worker -- collapsed during the earthquake, leaving her with a debt of NT$3 million.

She has also taken up piecework. As she talked, she injected a mix of water and glitter into plastic tubes to make decorative accessory rings. She said she can make 1,000 pieces per day.

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