A co-op venture system introduced some 30 years ago in Taitung by the late Swiss Catholic missionary Dominik Stener has not only helped foster good savings habits among Aboriginal people in the county but also a stronger community spirit over the years.
Stener, a Jesuit missionary who was assigned to eastern Taiwan to sponsor churches there in 1964, introduced the co-op venture system in 1967 as a scheme to encourage Aborigines to "save money for a rainy day."
Stener died in Taitung two years ago. The Yiwan Church, where he had resided and preached, has been turned into a memorial hall in his memory.
Liu Hua-pi (劉華璧), chief of Ningpu village (寧埔), said that savings in the co-op in the Ningpu-Danman tribal region total about NT$200 million at present, with the figure steadily increasing as villagers enthusiastically put their money into the co-op.
A senior tribe member, who has been a member of the co-op for decades, said that he has enjoyed the convenience of borrowing cash from the co-op.
Even if someone wants to borrow more than he or she has in their deposit account, they won't encounter many difficulties so long as they can produce a guarantor, he said.
An old woman who is the only non-Aboriginal co-op member said she joined the group more than 10 years ago and has found it to be much better than any bank.
The co-op, which is managed by a committee manned by representative members, has also been known for leniency toward its members, never "pressing" debtors to repay loans or interest on the loans, Liu said.
In 1965, two foreign Jesuit fathers and two Taiwanese Catholics went to Bangkok to attend a regional conference on social and economic development in Asia.
During the conference, the four picked up the know-how for establishing savings co-op ventures, an idea invented by the German Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen in the 19th century.
Raiffeisen, leader of a cooperative movement, once said that the best way to solve the social and economic problems of the people is to let them help themselves.
The Taitung co-op was established in 1967 after Stener sent two members of the Amis tribe to Tai-chung to learn about co-op venture systems in lectures given by the four who had attended the conference in Bangkok.
The Taitung co-op formally registered with the government in August 1982 and became the first legal, public-interest cooperative in Taiwan.