Mon, Jul 05, 2004 - Page 2 News List

Young activist finds politics to her liking


Chen Chiu-mian, 12, has spent four years fighting for social justice.


At age 12, many girls spend their free time going shopping with friends or collecting posters of their favorite stars.

Chen Chiu-mian (陳秋綿) was not only a social activist by her recent graduation from grade school -- she had already been one for four years.

Her social conscience had a tragic awakening when her father was killed in a fall from a building he was painting. Soon after that, Chen started to join her mother, Tsao Li-hua (曹麗華), in joining activities of the Taiwan Association for Victims of Occupational Injuries (TAVOI).

"When I was in the second grade, after my father died, my mother and I went to a spring ritual sponsored by TAVOI in which families could commemorate their loved ones who had passed away," said Chen.

She has participated in events such as international labor day mourning rallies, teacher's day rallies and visits to medical workers during the SARS epidemic, as well as antiwar protests at the American Institute of Taipei last spring.

Besides taking part in social movement activities, she also had been assigned to a program for gifted children since the third grade. This group of a dozen elite students studied Confucius' analects, advanced mathematics and other difficult subjects.

"Sometimes after school I was so busy helping out with TAVOI activities that I had to stay up late to finish my schoolwork," she said.

After spending years fighting for workers' rights, Chen said she still feels that the working class has yet to receive the respect and fair treatment they deserve.

"People here look down on people who are not working as professionals. For instance, my mother is a janitor who keeps a park clean; I feel that people consider janitors as belonging to the lower class," she said.

Her mother said that she had not received any financial compensation for her husband's death despite two years of fighting for it through city and labor authorities.

"Although we did not receive any financial compensation [for my husband's death], I hope our next generation would be able to do so," she said.

Tsao, who was born and raised in Burma, moved to Taiwan in 1984 and married Chen's father at the age of 36. After her husband's death, Tsao worked at the park and raised her daughter while trying to lend a hand to others in need.

Tsao said she exposed her daughter to social movement events because she wanted to educate her about the real world.

"I won't be here with my daughter always. Once she understands how the world works, if anything bad happens she will be able to take care of herself. Nowadays people have fewer children, and as a result these children are very sheltered. I believe that children should be trained to understand society," said Tsao.

As part of her gifted students' program, Chen completed a 10-page thesis on occupational injuries for which she collected data through questionnaires distributed to her classmates.

"Most topics chosen by other students were more science- or art-based. When I was presenting the findings of my project to the class, I found that many classmates did not show much interest," she said.

Tsai Sin-ling (蔡幸玲), an event organizer for TAVOI who has known the child for four years, said Chen's participation in social movement events was heartfelt.

"Many children in such family situations are made to participate in events by their parents, but it is not the case for Chen and her mother. When Chen partakes in an event, she has her own ideas about the cause she is fighting for," Tsai said. "As long as Chen was done with school for the day, she was willing to take part in whatever activity her mother was involved with," Tsai said.

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