Every day, A-jiao, a single mother from Vietnam, goes to work with a smile on her face, knowing that the experience of working at a hotel will one day come in handy when she opens a noodle eatery of her own.
“It’s so difficult to find a job, especially when you are taking care of a child all by yourself. No one wants to hire you because they know that having a kid around means you are going to take a lot of time off work,” the 31-year-old said in broken Chinese.
Although cooking Vietnamese pho beef noodles at the hotel does not pay much and she has to juggle another job to support her five-year-old boy, A-jiao said she considered herself very lucky to have come across the opportunity the first time she looked for a job.
The divorcee is one of four women who are employed by the I-sing Blooming Garden Hotel. Located in Taitung City, the hotel was set up to offer disadvantaged women with a background of either domestic violence or sexual abuse temporary work and job skills training.
It is believed to be the first charity hotel in Taiwan, meaning that the proceeds, if any, are used solely to support charitable causes.
Renovated with a limited budget, the more than 20-year-old building does not look very modern or eye-catching and few, if any, would know that for women like A-jiao, the hotel signifies shelter and hope.
The 21-bedroom hotel provides work for women aged 30 to 50. Although the NT$18,832 monthly pay might not amount to much, the benefits of working there — including health insurance, on-site training and two days’ leave per week — have attracted more female applicants than there are job openings available.
Hotel manager Sophia Huang (黃玉敏) said A-jiao was hired even though she does not speak fluent Mandarin. The other women working at the facility are Taiwanese single mothers who have experienced either sexual or domestic violence.
“We treat each other like sisters,” Huang said. “I do not ask too much of them because I know they need time to adjust.”
To cater to the needs of women trying to get back on their feet, social workers have been hired to help the women rebuild their confidence, find suitable babysitters, as well as setting up interviews with potential employers when they are ready to enter the wider job market.
Despite having been in business for only one year, the hotel has already earned a reputation for its hospitality and clean, affordable rooms, which range from NT$1,200 to NT$2,000 per night during weekdays, with breakfast included.
“Most of our guests stay with us and continue to come back because they agree with what we are doing,” the manager said.
Earlier this year, a group of 40 students from South Korea decided to stay in the hotel during their trip to eastern Taiwan.
Despite the hotel’s fame, the Garden of Hope Foundation, the charity which owns the hotel, said it is deep in debt due to the size of the mortgage for the property and heavy personnel costs.
“Believe it or not, we’re already NT$200,000 short for the first six months of this year,” said Chi Hui-jung (紀惠容), the foundation’s chief executive.
However, the investment is worthwhile, Chi said, because those who got training at the hotel have an 80 percent success rate in landing jobs later.
“We are different from other commercial hotels, because our goal is not to make money, but to do good for society,” she said.