One thing often quickly runs up the tab on home improvement projects: the cost of hiring skilled workers. This often pushes home repair projects out of the financial reach of the poor. Kind-hearted expert volunteer workers chip in to help.
A team of skilled workers in Pingtung, the southernmost county of Taiwan, volunteers to help the destitute repair their dilapidated homes. Su Ti-cheng (蘇體誠), 77, the founding member of the team, recalled how they got their start.
When the Tzu Chi Foundation established a branch office in Pingtung in 1991, Su started repairing the homes of people who were receiving aid from the foundation. He was joined later by Jian Yin-wang (簡銀旺), now 65. The team expanded again when Lin Zhuang-jie (林樁杰) joined in 1999. The three of them would drive a van around from one repair site to another, carrying the tools they needed.
Then a severe earthquake—the 921 Earthquake—struck Taiwan on September 21, 1999. Demand for repair services shot up dramatically, so the trio recruited more volunteers. The expanded team visited disaster areas twice a week to help quake victims rebuild their homes.
The members that later came on board, though younger, were no less capable in their knowledge or skills than the three original members. The infusion of the new blood caused the team to grow stronger and able to serve more people.
Inspired to give
Lin Chun-sheng (林春生), 55, now runs the team. “After the 921 quake, I went to Nantou [the worst-hit area] to check on a friend. There I saw Tzu Chi volunteers doing what many Taiwanese considered taboo: working in close proximity to the dead as they chanted the Buddha’s name to bless the deceased. I also saw them cooking meals and building prefabricated houses for the survivors.”
Lin was touched by how the volunteers selflessly and unconditionally helped the victims. Witnessing the devastation in the disaster zone also taught him how fragile and ephemeral life and worldly possessions could be. He was running a prosperous business in construction cranes at the time, and he could have continued to enjoy a life of ease. But he decided that he could not continue to indulge himself in such a comfortable lifestyle. He volunteered for Tzu Chi.
Well connected in the construction business, he not only joined the repair team but also recruited many other like-minded building pros to join in the effort. So far he has helped repair 80 homes for the disadvantaged.
Lin remembers helping a man who was paralyzed in his lower body. The man lived alone in a crude, leaky shed made of metal sheets. His limited mobility prevented him from keeping his home clean; cockroaches and mice ran amok. There were even snakes in the house. Tzu Chi volunteers felt for him and urged him to rent a decent place, but he insisted on staying put. In response, the repair team rebuilt his shed for him so that he could at least have a sturdier place in which to live.
Another time, Lin and the repair team helped a father and son in Pingtung City. The son, over 50, had originally worked as a backhoe operator and earned a steady income. But he had to quit his job to look after his father when the latter developed a chronic kidney illness. When the roof of their house developed a bad leak, they had no money to repair it.
The team fixed the house for the father and son. They replaced the roof and repaired a leaning wall. They also installed new doors and windows. The renovation work was finished in eight days, on December 31, 2014—just in time for the two men to usher in the new year in their new home.
Volunteers work in a home in the town of Sandimen. QIU RU-LIAN
Volunteers repair and clean up a home in Pingtung City. ZHANG YU-MEI
A cohort of pros
Jian Yin-wang, one of the three original members, speaks highly of Lin for his dedication and contributions. Lin has helped a lot with repair work, and in other areas as well. In the aftermath of Typhoon Morakot in 2009, Lin put aside his crane business and drove a backhoe into the town of Linbian. He worked all day every day in this heavily flooded place. He helped clear paths so the rest of the volunteers could get in to help with the clean-up.
Lin did not stop after the Morakot clean-up either. He continued to be heavily involved in the construction of homes for survivors of the typhoon. He also helped out when prefabricated classrooms were built for five middle and high schools in the county.
Team member Jian Teng-yi (簡滕邑), 55,ِ specializes in metalworking. Though he has worked on the repair of numerous homes over the last dozen years, one family in the town of Yanpu stands out in his mind. The Vietnamese woman in that family had come to Yanpu to marry a Taiwanese man. Unfortunately, her husband died some time after they were married. The woman single-handedly raised her two children and cared for her father-in-law.
The family lived in an old, rundown house. The repair team initially planned to simply fortify it, but because the house was so old, Jian opined that even if they repaired it, it might not be a very safe place to live. He suggested that the team rebuild the house. The team took his suggestion. However, the family could not show proof of ownership to the plot of land on which their house stood. A whole year elapsed before the issue was resolved and the rebuilding could commence. Despite the obstacles, Jian was bent on giving the family a safe, sturdy home. Meticulous and careful, he believes that giving families well-built homes is what the home repair team is all about.
Lin Qi-ming (林啟明), 55, also makes a living out of metalworking. He often pays for repair work out of his own pocket. A decade ago he volunteered on a repair project for a family in the town of Majia. The head of that household was an alcoholic who could not hold down a regular job and who neglected his duty to support his family—not exactly the kind of person that could elicit sympathy. Even so, Lin could not stand to see his many children live in a ramshackle house. In the end, he paid for the building materials and workers out of his own pocket to have the house repaired. He did not mind spending his own money at all, because he knew that to give is more of a blessing than to receive.
Lin Wen-liang (林文亮), 49, is a technician in the military. Having been on the team for seven years now, he volunteers on his days off work. He remembers particularly well a man living in a leaky freight container near the seashore in Checheng. To keep the rain out, the repair team built a metal canopy over the container. Volunteers also ran water and electricity lines into the container, making it quite safe and comfortable to live in.
Wang Zhen-lian (王振連), 60, has helped repair over ten homes. He particularly remembers one house in the town of Wandan, where the family peddled cakes for a living. The house did not have a toilet, and Wang wondered how they could possibly live like that. Though he later had to drop out of the repair team in order to take care of his father, he said that his experience on the team taught him how blessed he was.
Zhou Kao-li (周考立) remembers repairing the home of the Guo family. It was low, stuffy, and hot, and the ceilings had caved in. The repair team raised the height of the house, rebuilt the roof, installed new ceilings, and painted them. It looked like a new house afterwards. Zhou remembers feeling exhilarated at how nicely their handiwork turned out. The participating volunteers could not stop smiling when they gathered with the family to celebrate the completion of the new home.
Zeng Zhen-zhong (曾振鐘), a retired policeman, remarked that the team had once worked in several villages in the predominantly Christian area of Sandimen. At the ceremony to mark the completion of the rebuilding project, a Christian pastor led a prayer thanking the Tzu Chi volunteers for their help. It was a heart-warming and touching gathering.
These volunteers and their teammates have helped make homes safer and more comfortable for many needy people in Pingtung County. The world is a little better as a result.