When the Taipei City Government’s Fire Department held a disaster prevention drill at Dajia Riverside Park on Monday last week, those attending noticed a friendly lady with a “foreign” look about her, as she had features and a complexion different to most Taiwanese.
When asked where she was from, Arelis Gabot, originally from the Dominican Republic, replied: “I’m Taiwanese.”
The 42-year-old is the neighborhood chief (鄰長) of Zhongshan District’s (中山) Dongmen Borough (東門).
She met her Taiwanese husband at a seaside park in her hometown in the Dominican Republic. They began dating and the relationship blossomed and led to their marriage.
She moved to Taiwan with her husband in 1993, with a better education environment in mind for their children.
With an outgoing and cheery personality, Gabot often participated in dancing with local elderly people, singing Hakka songs and attending community events.
That made quite an impression on Dongmen Borough Warden Liu Chao-lin (劉兆琳).
“She was actively involved with most of our borough’s events and gave her time to help people,” Liu said. “When the chief of our No. 16 neighborhood got married and relocated, I told Gabot that she should take the job of neighborhood chief.”
Gabot recalled that she was not sure what the job of neighborhood chief entailed when she took the telephone call from Liu.
“Later, I understood it was to help people and provide services. So I agreed to take up the job, ” she said. “Foreigners married to Taiwanese husbands often feel at some distance from other people. I felt that taking on the job would help me get closer to the locals and get to know Taiwanese better.”
Dongmen Borough is subdivided into 16 neighborhoods, each with about 100 households.
Since taking the job in 2011, among other duties Gabot undertakes night patrols about three times a month.
Once she came upon an elderly member of the community with dementia. She was lying in the street after falling, so Gabot asked Liu to bring clothing and food from the woman’s house.
All the while Gabot thought of her lonely elderly neighbors who lived on their own with no family and she began to sob in sympathy.
Due to her living away from her country of birth, Gabot believes she is more sensitive in caring for the elderly who are living alone.
Although most of them only speak Hoklo (commonly known as Taiwanese) or Hakka, the communication barrier is only a minor problem.
“I understand most of what they say and can speak a little of these languages. It was good that some elderly ladies spoke Hakka, because my mother-in-law is Hakka,” Gabot said. “When thinking about them, I would go and chat with people regardless of the time. I take meals, milk or porridge for them. At the same time, I check to see if they are safe, if the gas is turned off and other things.”
Another of her endeavors is environmental protection, organizing cleanup drives and picking up garbage on the streets.
She said she once saw some students eating snacks while walking and discrading the trash along the way. She rushed up and started to lecture them.
“You three, go and pick up your trash right now. If I throw trash around, how would you feel? You would think that a foreigner is coming here and tossing garbage in your country, right?” Gabot said.
Gabot told them: “This is our community and we want to keep it clean. If you don’t pick up your trash, then I will take photographs [for evidence].”