Imagine an 86-year-old Catholic nun feeding meals to a 90-year-old woman, or an 89-year-old nun teaching other elderly people how to make mosaic paintings. This is what happens daily at the Little Sisters of the Poor in Bali (八里), New Taipei City (新北市).
Ten of the 12 Catholic nuns who serve 90-plus people at the Home for the Aged are foreign nationals from countries as far away as Colombia, which makes the home look like a miniature UN, but now the home must undergo extensive reconstruction, since it does not meet government regulations.
So far, the Catholic sisters have raised about NT$16 million (US$542,700), far below the NT$40 million required to fund the project.
Care of seniors has become a big issue in the nation, which has a fast ageing population, and the Catholic sisters’ quiet devotion to less privileged elderly people in the north of the nation has recently caught the attention of local media.
Since the home was established in 1968, the sisters have served more than 1,000 poor senior citizens aged over 70 who have no family.
Mother Superior Sister Cecilia Wong (黃雅詩) from Hong Kong said the Home for the Aged used to have enough nuns to take care of the residents, but it has recently had to employ other staff members as there are now fewer nuns.
Furthermore, the nuns working at the home are also getting on in age, with more than 80 percent of them 60 or older.
They come from Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Scotland, Spain, Colombia and Taiwan, Wong said.
Because there are not enough hired staff members to cover the night shifts, sisters under the age of 70 usually take turns to help bathe the residents, change diapers and so on, in addition to their daily duties.
The 12 nuns are assigned different jobs such as cooking, doing the laundry, distributing clothes and taking care of the infirm, starting early in the morning.
Sister Mary Clare Ward, 70, is a Scottish nun whose job is to iron the residents’ clothes.
“I feel pleased whenever I think of how my work makes them look neat and clean, so they have a sense of elevated dignity,” she said while ironing.
As the sisters and the residents have been living together for decades, they have become like one family and that is the true spirit of the home.
Grandma Liu is 90 years of age and she would like chicken leg today. No problem, that is taken care of — by Sister Mathilde Tsai (蔡愛新), 86, from Shanghai.
Sister Mathilde has just had surgery and needs a walker to get around. She manages to get close to Liu, holding the rice bowl under Liu’s chin so the shredded meat does not fall to the ground while Liu is eating.
Sister Josefa Restrepo Toro, 89, from Colombia, is the oldest sister at the home. She teaches the residents the art of making mosaic paintings and traditional Chinese knots.
Smiling, she said that because of her age, she understands other elderly people, including their physical strengths and their moods.
“That’s why I only encourage them and never force them to do anything. Old people know old people best, you know,” she said.