- Published on Friday, 29 April 2011 22:17
Taiwan: Taiwanese Aboriginal Youth Forced To Leave Home For Work And Study
It is Saturday night and the place is rocking. Singers jump in time to the music of drums, guitar and keyboard. A crowd of young people leap about waving their hands high above their head and singing along, their faces aglow. This is Saturday night… at the local church!
The 25 young people are members of the youth group at Subus(Red Leaf) church, a parish in the Central Mountain region of eastern Taiwan serving the Truku Aboriginal (Indigenous) community. Their pastor, Rev. Lin, is one of four ordained Indigenous women working with congregations of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan (PCT) in this predominantly aboriginal area.
Soon most of this group of young people will leave their home community for the city to complete their high school studies or look for work as there are few senior high schools in Taiwan’s rural areas and little chance for employment.
Many young Aboriginals find work as labourers in industry or construction. They are underpaid, marginalized and poorly housed. Alone in the city, some succumb to alcoholism or prostitution to survive.
PCT, aware of these dangers and hardships, supports church-based initiatives designed to help Indigenous young people when they leave home.
The most important thing, says Sing ‘Olam, PCT Associate General Secretary, is to reassure Indigenous young people about their identity when faced with discrimination by members of the non-aboriginal Han majority.
“They judge Indigenous people by their language, income and level of education,” says Sing who is a member of the Amis aboriginal people.
Sing believes the church’s message to young people must be: “You were created by God. Some people will look down on you but don’t ask why you were born in an Indigenous village. Rather thank God you were born there.”
The church has a long history of helping young aboriginal people when they leave their home communities for the city. Some church-supported centres offer after-school programmes; others provide advice on where to get jobs. Dialogue groups connect aboriginal people who know the city with newcomers and offer the chance to share information about job skills training and where to find low-cost housing.
The church also supports formal education institutions such as the Christian Tanjian High School in Taiwan’s capital, Taipei, where one-fifth of the students are Aboriginals who pay reduced tuition fees. With financial support from PCT, graduates have gone on to university studies in medicine, law and veterinary sciences.
As a member of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC), the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan is active in WCRC’s human rights and advocacy programmes that are based on an interpretation of the Bible which says Christians must work for social and economic justice in society.
PCT recognizes that the cause of the exodus of young people from the countryside lies in government policy about land ownership and development priorities. For over twenty years, the church has been putting pressure on the Taiwanese government to respect land claims by Indigenous people so that young people can return to their home communities and earn a living.
It is important, says Sing, for the government to honour its election promise to grant autonomy and self-determination to aboriginal groups in their home regions.
A law currently before the legislature is said by the government to allow creation of autonomous aboriginal regions. PCT believes however that in fact the law allows the government to tighten its control over the regions’ natural resources, making it even more difficult for young people to earn a living in their home communities. Until they can, the youth exodus from rural to urban areas will continue.
For now, the young people in Rev. Lin’s church dance and sing in their Saturday night Praise Group. The next day, Easter Sunday, they will sing in front of a crowd of worshippers from five neighbouring aboriginal congregations and know they are where they belong, but for how long?
Kristine Greenaway, head of communication for the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC), is in Taiwan at the invitation of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan, a WCRC member church. This is one of a series of stories on PCT’s ministries with the country’s 15 aboriginal (or Indigenous) groups.
The Presbyterian Church in Taiwan is a small but significant force in Taiwanese society. Its members make up just over 1% of the population that is primarily Buddhist, Taoist, Confucian, or secular. Known for its human rights, social service and mission, the church is closely connected to the country’s aboriginal peoples. Eleven of its 23 presbyteries represent Indigenous congregations; the remaining 12 are Han or Hakka.
WCRC was created in June 2010 through a merger of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) and the Reformed Ecumenical Council (REC). Its 230 member churches representing 80 million Christians are active worldwide in initiatives supporting economic, climate and gender justice, mission, and cooperation among Christians of different traditions.
Source: World Communion of Reformed Churches