For founder, good in­ten­tions but a tough sell

The China Post - - LOCAL - BY CHIEN YU- CHI AND LILAIN WU

When Cyndi Tseng ( ) trav­eled to Lon­don in the spring of 2013, she took part in an “Un­seen Tour” guided by a home­less per­son that changed her per­spec­tive on life.

In­stead of be­ing taken to pop­u­lar tourist spots, the Tai­wanese IT worker was led through lit­tle al­leys and lis­tened to the guide talk about is­sues fac­ing the un­der­priv­i­leged and his own life ex­pe­ri­ences.

“I felt the ap­proach was so cre­ative that when I re­turned to Tai­wan I dis­cussed the idea with my friends on Face­book. I couldn’t sleep that night,” she re­calls.

She was later in­tro­duced to Chang Hsien-chung ( ), a man long ded­i­cated to serv­ing the home­less in Wan­hua Dis­trict in Taipei, and her Lon­don ex­pe­ri­ence started to take shape at home.

With Chang’s help and the re­sources of Wan­hua Com­mu­nity Col­lege and char­i­ta­ble or­ga­ni­za­tion Home­less Tai­wan (

), she cre­ated a tourism class cater­ing to the home­less and set up an or­ga­ni­za­tion called “Hid­den Taipei” ( ) pat­terned af­ter the “Un­seen Tour” con­cept.

De­spite her best in­ten­tions, Tseng and her pro­gram have faced un­ex­pected chal­lenges.

“In the be­gin­ning, we were a group of strangers, with no mu­tual trust at all. I was stood up by A-ho three times. But he dared not do that to me later, be­cause he knew I was se­ri­ous,” Tseng said of one of the few home­less stu­dents who suc­cess­fully made it through the pro­gram.

Chang said that be­cause of his long ex­pe­ri­ence with the home­less, he knew who had a chance of mak­ing the grade.

“The first con­di­tion is not to shy away from peo­ple. Then you have to be able to ex­press your­self clearly and have your own views on a lot of things,” he said.

The home­less at­tended the class largely be­cause of Chang’s in­flu­ence and were cu­ri­ous about what the pro­gram was about.

The teach­ers at Wan­hua Com­mu­nity Col­lege said, how­ever, that they had trou­ble get­ting the stu­dents to adapt to the struc­tured classes.

Hsu Pao-yueh ( ), one of those who taught the classes at Wan­hua Com­mu­nity Col­lege, said she got an­gry in the be­gin­ning and was forced to “put my foot down and tell them not to drink be­fore com­ing to class and not to smoke in class.” Another teacher, Lu Ching-yen

), echoed her words. “They are used to liv­ing as they like, and it was tough to rein in the ‘wild-horse’ home­less in class,” Lu said.

In the first part of the course, the “stu­dents” tour her­itage sites to in­crease their cul­tural and his­tor­i­cal knowl­edge and hone their abil­ity to ex­press them­selves clearly .

In the sec­ond part, they are en­cour­aged to share their own ex­pe­ri­ences as home­less peo­ple.

Af­ter a six- month nur­tur­ing pe­riod, three home­less peo­ple passed an eval­u­a­tion and be­gan to serve as tour guides in July 2014.

These spe­cial tours charge NT$300 (US$9.7) per tourist, with 60 per­cent of the pro­ceeds go­ing

( to the guides and the re­main­ing 40 per­cent cov­er­ing mis­cel­la­neous costs.

Nearly 2,000 peo­ple, in­clud­ing stu­dent groups, en­ter­prises and even over­seas visi­tors, have reg­is­tered to take part in “Hid­den Taipei” tours over the past year, which have given the home­less a life­line and changed per­spec­tives.

“We orig­i­nally thought that the home­less rep­re­sent the group that has con­trib­uted the least to so­ci­ety, but we now can ap­pre­ci­ate their help­less­ness and hard­ships,” said Lin Chi-tang ( ), a pro­fes­sor at Shih Chien Univer­sity who took his stu­dents on one of the tours.

Ac­cord­ing to gov­ern­ment sta­tis­tics, there are around 3,000 home­less in Tai­wan av­er­ag­ing 55 years old.

Of­ten armed with lit­tle more than pri­mary school ed­u­ca­tions, they are lim­ited to do­ing man­ual la­bor and earn rel­a­tively low wages.

“The public has a lot of neg­a­tive views about the low­est ech­e­lon of so­ci­ety, or those who are im­pov­er­ished or home­less, think­ing that they don’t work or don’t make enough ef­fort,” Chang said.

He stressed, how­ever, that many of them have be­come home­less be­cause they have been side­lined by vo­ca­tional in­juries or find that their skills are no longer in de­mand as Tai­wan’s econ­omy be­comes less de­pen­dent on con­struc­tion and man­u­fac­tur­ing.

With proper coun­sel­ing, the home­less can make their way back into so­ci­ety, Chang in­sisted, and he said the pro­gram is now so­lic­it­ing new blood based on the suc­cess­ful model of the three cases.

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