Liv­ing through art for the dis­abled

The China Post - - LOCAL - BY VI­VIAN LIU

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.”

Photo: Vi­vian Liu

(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.

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