Tue, Sep 27, 2011 - Page 2 News List

Expatriates volunteer to help Aboriginal children

HELPING THOSE MOST IN NEED:The plan is to exhibit and then auction art produced by the children in Taipei in November to raise money for a new community center

Staff Writer, with CNA

A convoy of expatriates descended on a remote mountain village one-and-a-half hours’ drive east of Hsinchu City on Saturday, bringing with them paint, brushes and canvas for a workshop for the Aboriginal children that live there.

The volunteers are part of the Aboriginal Children’s Project, a hodgepodge of artists, photographers, English teachers and philanthropists who organized on Facebook to provide Aboriginal children with artistic enrichment.

They are currently working in Cingcyuan (清泉), a small Atayal village. The village has a Catholic church led by a US priest who has been there for 35 years. However, until the Aboriginal Children’s Project rolled into town, many of the village children had never seen another expatriate.

Now the children have teachers from eight different countries, offering workshops in abstract painting, still-life drawing and group canvas painting in one afternoon.

Although restive at times, the children were incredibly eager to sketch the world they live in.

Wang Kuan-chun, 14, peppered two sheets of paper with a -smorgasbord of colors in his interpretation of abstract art. He later explained that he had painted a car and a heart.

“I drew a heart because love is needed in the world and a car, well, because I need it,” he said.

For Cingcyuan’s children, the lack of transportation to the cities is a significant barrier to life opportunities.

Many cannot get to the nearest high school in Jhudong (竹東), which is 45 minutes away. The occasional bus does not arrive in the village until well after school starts, which effectively ends many children’s chances for higher education. Those who want to attend high school must move to Jhudong, where housing prices and living expenses are higher.

The 45-year-old Yeh Ching--chuan, a member of the tribe who works at the church, said many children grow up to work in the lowest-paying jobs in construction, farming and forestry. The isolation of their community breeds rampant alcoholism and drug use.

She said parents are often absent, whether working in cities or succumbing to alcohol and drug abuse. This leaves children with -little -support or examples of success.

“I’d say out of every 20 children, maybe one will go to college,” Yeh said.

Nationally, the college enrollment rate last year was 67 percent, Ministry of Education statistics show.

Some of the children in the still-life workshop were unruly in the structured learning environment.

Constantly interrupting the workshop teacher to gain attention, one child boasted that he was an amazing artist already, and the stuff being taught was too easy for him. Another stopped the class because he did not have a pencil.

At one point, the teacher’s voice started rising to a level much higher than is considered polite, even in Taiwan.

Because so many of the children in the community have bleak futures, activities like this art workshop could be the last line of defense against a life of poverty.

“If they didn’t have activities like this, they would be completely on their own,” Yeh said.

The project is the brainchild of Malinda Schultz, 30, a US artist who lives in Hsinchu. She got the idea from watching the documentary Born Into Brothels and ran a pilot project last year in Hualien, where she gave disposable cameras to disadvantaged children and asked them to document their lives.

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