Citing Brazilian-Taiwanese Iruan Ergui Wu’s (吳憶樺) visit to Taiwan, Taiwan Catholic Mission Foundation executive director Austin Ou (歐晉仁) expressed hope Iruan’s story could help bring attention to the predicaments of other children facing the same fate.
Iruan, at the center of a high-profile custody battle between the two countries nearly a decade ago, arrived in Taiwan on Friday last week for a two-week visit.
It is the first time the 18-year-old has visited Taiwan since the Taiwan High Court granted custody to his Brazilian grandmother in 2004.
Iruan is the son of a Taiwanese fishing boat captain and a Brazilian woman, Marisa Ergui Tavares, who died shortly after his birth.
Iruan’s father, Wu Teng-shu (吳登樹), died of a heart attack in 2001 shortly after he brought the young boy to Taiwan to visit his family.
“The ‘Iruan Ergui Wu case’ is just the tip of the iceberg. There are dozens of Taiwanese-Brazilian children like Iruan in Porto Alegre, but they do not get as much attention and love from the public and the families of both his parents as the 18-year-old does,” Ou said.
Ou said the waters surrounding Porto Alegre — Iruan’s birthplace — are a traditional fishing site for hundreds of Taiwanese fishermen, many of whom have fallen in love with Brazilian women.
As most of these fishermen are already married in Taiwan, their illegitimate children often grow up without a father figure, Ou said.
Ou said a Brazilian woman has asked him to locate the father of her three children, but the only thing she knows about the man is his family name.
“Each time I visit Porto Alegre, her children ask me whether I have found their father. Even though their mother has lost hope of finding the man, the kids still cling to the belief that their father loves them and will come back eventually,” Ou said.
To avoid upsetting the fishermen’s families in Taiwan, Ou said he is reluctant to help these women search for their long-lost lovers and that he tries to find other ways to look after their children, for example by providing them with computers and education funds, or giving them “red envelopes” during the Lunar New Year.
Ou said that because of the wide media coverage of Iruan’s story, a number of Brazil-based Taiwanese businesspeople have offered Iruan jobs or asked him to be their company spokesperson.
“Some corporations have also offered to provide long-term funding to Taiwanese-Brazilian children to cover their tuition fees and living expenses,” Ou said.
As a gesture of goodwill, Ou said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs offered about NT$200,000 to the foundation to help set up a computer classroom at the Brazilian school where Iruan studied.
“All classroom equipment will be printed with the sentence ‘Donated by the Republic of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs,’ in an attempt to show Brazilians that Taiwan is a loving country,” Ou said.
However, the foundation’s efforts to help Brazilian children have sometimes met with criticism.
Ou said the foundation has been receiving calls from people asking: “Why bother to save children abroad when there are still Taiwanese kids suffering?”
“Some people also ridiculed us by saying: ‘Why not save me? I am unemployed and am about to starve to death,’” Ou said.
“However, I tell them that other nations donated milk powder and clothes to Taiwanese children when the country suffered about five decades ago, and that it is our chance to lend a helping hand now that we have become capable of doing so,” Ou said.