Living through art for the disabled
Lodged in the quiet hills of the Bali District ( ) in New Taipei City is Happy Mount — a welcoming home for those with disabilities. Established in 1929 as a leprosy hospital, Happy Mount is now a large family that provides full-time care for people with mental and physical disabilities.
In May 2015, three Happy Mount residents, Ya, Chih and Ching, marked an immense milestone for both themselves and Happy Mount when they were invited to exhibit their works of art in Shiga Prefecture ( ), Japan.
Originally planned as simply part of an art competition hosted by the R.O.C. Parents’ Association for Persons with Intellectual Disability ( ), Ya and Chih’s works of art eventually caught the attentions of Japanese judges.
The three children of Happy Mount were invited to attend an art exchange exhibition for those with learning disabilities between Taiwan and Japan (
The Journey to Japan
Though the thought of traveling to a different country to display their works of art excited the residents, Happy Mount Director Jaffa Chang ( ) said that funding the trip was no easy feat.
According to Happy Mount Marketing and Communications Specialist Charlene Chen ( ), the trip required a fund of NT200,000. Through various fundraising techniques such as social network announcements, media reports and corporate and personal donation requests, the trip was successfully funded after two months.
In order to prepare Ya, Chih and Ching for the trip, the Happy Mount staff also organized time for the children to learn about Japanese culture, including the Japanese language.
“This trip to Japan would not have been possible without the children’s sheer determination to fulfill their dreams,” Chang said.
Art as a Language
“Drawing is a good hobby mine,” said Ya.
When asked about her exhibited work, Ya grinned and said that it was a drawing of the Penghu Fireworks Festival ( ) she saw a few years ago. With circles of bursting vibrancy, Ya captured the fireworks in a way that was truly unique. She proudly added that she decided on all of her drawing’s color selections and combinations herself.
Chih, however, said that his artistic inspiration was drawn from a physical education class. He added that everyone in the drawing held frisbees because he really liked frisbee class. Smiling with pride, he said that everyone who saw his work commented that it was “very beautiful.”
With the new sights taken in from this trip, the inspired Ya and Chih enthusiastically presented their drawings of Kinkaku-ji (
) and the Universal Studios minions. Chief of Social Work Su (
) said that seeing the world has been a great way for Ya and Chih to acquire more inspiration.
Director Chang said that Ya and Chih’s works are remarkable because their works of art are windows into their inner thoughts and feelings. She explained that due to their mental and slight physical disabilities, verbal communication is often a large obstacle for children such as them. Unable to fully verbalize their thoughts, Ya and Chih are able to express themselves through art. Drawing is a very pure means of communication that of-
of fers a way for others to understand them, Chang said.
Expressing her pride of Happy Mount’s children, Chang said that she was delighted to see Ya and Chih’s names displayed next to their drawings in the Japanese exhibition.
A Different Perspective
Chang said that this trip has been filled with “firsts” — the first time on a plane, abroad and in Japan. This has been a great opportunity for them to see the world on a greater scale.
While reflecting upon the trip, Chang said that this has not only been a learning opportunity for the children, but for the Happy Mount staff too. According to her, the children’s innocence allows for the world to be seen in a whole new perspective.
Delving into more detail, Chang said that for people who have flown on airplanes many times, most subject matters regarding traveling are taken for granted. When the children were bewildered by the fact that airplanes had movie monitors, she was shown once again how seemingly trivial matters could be in actuality so interesting. Chang said that after watching the children see and experience these things for the first time, she was reminded of the world’s subtle wonder.
Before and After
According to Chen, this trip has allowed quite a noticeable development in Ya and Chih’s character. Before this exhibition, Ya expressed frustrations due to her innate physical disadvantages, which caused her to lack a certain level of selfesteem; after receiving recognition of her talents, however, Ya has gradually learned to bravely step out of her shell.
Chih, on the other hand, was originally rather passive when it came to completing tasks, said Chen. During the trip, however, he was the self-appointed teacher’s little assistant. Chih helped the teacher by playing the role of the big brother of Yi and Ching.
“Originally shy about explaining and presenting her work, Ya and Chih now often voluntarily chat with people about their drawings and the experiences they had in Japan,” Chen said. There has been a noticeably large and positive development in character.
Despite the tears shed on the plane rides and roller coasters, Ya, Chih and Ching all said they learned a lot and enjoyed themselves during their life-changing trip. When asked whether they would go to Japan again, the three instantly replied in a resounding “Yes.”
(Top) A young artist at Happy Mount shows off a piece of art in this file photo. (Above) Three children at Happy Mount pose with their art in Taipei. They were invited to attend an art exchange exhibition for those with learning disabilities between Taiwan and Japan.