"I just don't believe I am destined to live as a masseuse my whole life. I don't want to be resigned to it," Chu Wan-hua said while explaining why she gave up her job after more than 20 years to create, with a group of like-minded friends, the Art and Cultural Career Promotion Association for the Physically and Mentally Challenged in 1999.
The association, which is devoted to helping the physically and mentally challenged form bands and work as musicians, had a bumpy start. Shortly after it was founded, the country was hit by a 7.3 magnitude earthquake on Sept. 21, 1999, which took more than 2,000 lives.
Without time to worry about how to raise funds to sustain themselves and their project, Chu and her friends at the association staged more than 30 charity concerts in areas ravaged by the tremor in an attempt to help victims recover from their trauma.
Then came the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the US, which dampened the world economy, and then the SARS crisis in Taiwan in 2003, which limited opportunities to stage concerts.
The association's income was further strained the same year when the Labor Department of the Taipei City Government halted its subsidy on the grounds that the artists the association serves are not people the department is supposed to help.
Now that the association has run up a debt of NT$2 million (US$60,600), Chu, who serves as the association's secretary-general, has lined up a Friday concert at Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall in Taipei in a desperate attempt to raise funds to keep the association from falling apart.
Despite all the setbacks, Chu said she didn't regret her decision to change trades from masseuse to musician and social worker.
Born blind, Chu said she liked singing as a child, which helped her forget the dark world she was trapped in and she often secretly recorded her singing and enjoyed listening to them.
Chu dropped out of school during the first grade because of poor health and family financial problems. Her parents believed she was destined to become a masseuse and that schooling wouldn't help her much with that occupation.
But Chu held on to her dream of becoming a singer and enrolled in a music-training program set up by a local charity for the handicapped in 1993 -- the same year she began raising a family with her husband.
Her two years of training not only honed her singing and composition skills but also made her realize something important: Many handicapped people have great musical talent but a slim chance to realize their full potential because of a widely held belief that the handicapped are inferior to able-bodied performers.
In order to help those people fulfill their dreams and to prevent her three healthy children from thinking their mother as a person who could only give massages, Chu embarked on a new adventure by founding the association.
Chu's association helped individuals organize concerts, sell tickets, launch albums, form bands, and live on their own as do normal musicians.
Chu even asked the owner of a soybean-milk store to allow the association's members to perform at his store. Customers enjoyed NT$10 drinks while listening to live music.
The number of bands assisted by Chu's association has increased from three in 1999 to 13 this year, some of whom have earned awards in various competitions and have proved that music is a barrier-free world of talent.