With the help of a teacher and a fellow artist, members of a Hualien family with mental disabilities are supporting themselves by creating handicrafts to sell at the local market.
In one corner of the creative workshops at the Taiwan Sugar Co’s tourist center in Hualien County is a special handicraft shop. A mother and her two sons, both in their thirties, are making small decorative articles as well as other items such as pearl-barley necklaces and dolls made from betel nut fruit to earn their own income.
A number of good Samaritans are quietly helping the family, who all suffer from some degree of mental and/or physical disability. Materials used to make the handicrafts and the rent for the shop are supplied by Chen Chun-mei (陳純美), a special-education teacher, and Chiang Tien-chang (江添昌), an artist specializing in lacquerware.
Although the family only has an average income of a few thousand NT dollars per month, the two brothers, 35-year-old Wang Li-cheng (王里誠) and 34-year-old Wang Tsao-li (王草立), said that when they see tourists enjoying their products they are very happy.
After the brothers graduated from a special school in Nantou County, they worked in a factory packaging seats and also in a screwdriver factory, both placements coming via a cooperation program with the special education school. However, the factories closed down two years ago and the brothers returned to Hualien and became roadside vendors.
Chiang found out about their situation and introduced them to Chen, a special-education teacher at Guangfu Junior High School in Hualien County, who taught the brothers how to make different kinds of handicrafts, including necklaces, dolls, bracelets, decorative paperweights and pendants.
When the Taiwan Sugar Co’s tourist center in Hualien County renovated its employee residence and turned it into creative workshops, Chen paid the rent to open a shop there for the family to run their handicraft business.
“Besides the handicraft items made by the two brothers, Chen also obtained supplies of Aboriginal lovers’ pouches and Aboriginal dresses for the family to sell at the shop. All expenses are borne by myself and Chen,” Chiang said.
Although Chen has now been reassigned to a school on the outlying island of Penghu, she continues to assist the brothers’ 62-year-old mother, Cheng Chin-lan (鄭金蘭), and her sons by helping them take care of their monthly accounting.
“My job is in special education. I hope that by working through their own labor, they can live their lives with dignity,” Chen said.