If I Have a New Computer—Helping With Remote School Learning in Taiwan

When Taiwan raised its COVID-19 alert to level three in mid-May 2021, all schools pivoted to remote learning. Unfortunately, many underprivileged students didn’t have computers at home. Tzu Chi volunteers, seeing the need, swung into action to help. They first tried to meet the need of some of the students by providing them with second-hand computers, then followed those efforts by partnering with the Asus Foundation in August to donate brand-new laptops to students across Taiwan. Everyone is entitled to an equal opportunity for education. Volunteers were happy to make the road to learning easier for needy students during the pandemic.

"I phoned families I helped care for to check on them,” said Tzu Chi volunteer Cheng Qiu-rong (程秋絨), of Xizhi District, northern Taiwan. “When I was talking to them, I asked them how their children were attending online classes. Some parents told me their children were using cell phones or computers borrowed from friends. The parents were worried that if they accidentally damaged the borrowed computers, they’d have to pay for a replacement.” Cheng heard their concerns. That’s why when she learned that Tzu Chi was working with the Asus Foundation to donate new laptop computers to needy students in Taiwan to help with distance learning, she immediately took action. With her help, several families received new computers this past August.

Cheng’s second oldest son, Zhang Kai-huang (張楷鍠), helped install software on the computers and demonstrated to the students how to use them. The students were delighted to finally have their own computers to support their remote learning and online access. “Their joy was written over their faces,” Zhang said of the students. “I was so happy for them.”

Volunteers in Xizhi District distributed computers donated by Tzu Chi and the Asus Foundation to elementary, secondary, and university students in mid-August. Recipient students arrived at the Tzu Chi Xizhi office to receive their computers accompanied by their grandmothers, fathers, or mothers. Volunteer Hong Yu-rui (洪玉蕊) said, “The youngsters looked a little shy when they first arrived at the office, but they broke into such bright smiles when they received the computers that it was impossible not to get caught up in their happiness.”

Huang, an eighth grader, was one of the recipients. He said that he used to use a cell phone to attend classes, but the small screen size made seeing what was going on very difficult. He promised to make good use of his new computer. “I’ll study hard and get good grades to thank my grandmother for raising me.”

A volunteer (left) installs software on a donated computer at a student’s home in Xizhi District, northern Taiwan. Ye Jin-hong

Feeling rich in heart

Ms. Wang, 39, had to work during the day and thus couldn’t go to the Tzu Chi Xizhi office to receive the computer intended for her family, so volunteers made a special trip to her home to deliver the laptop.

Wang is from China and moved to Taiwan after she married a man on the island. Her marriage sadly ended in divorce, after which she had to raise her two daughters on her own. When she was applying for low-middle income status from the government, she needed a signature from her neighborhood chief. Her neighborhood chief thus learned about her financial situation and referred her to Tzu Chi for help and care.

Volunteers paid her a visit almost immediately after the neighborhood chief referred her to Tzu Chi. Wang said that she was surprised by the foundation’s quick response. Then they even delivered subsidies for her daughters’ education and a laptop to her home. She was deeply grateful.

Wang dreamed of a happy marriage when she tied the knot with her husband, but her dream was dashed when her marriage failed. “My husband and I divorced in March this year,” Wang said. “He didn’t want our two kids, and he shunned his responsibility of supporting them. I love our children very much. They keep me going, so I decided to raise them on my own.” She added that she wasn’t afraid of hardship, and that she’d been working hard to support her kids. She believed that with enough courage and resilience she’d make it through this rough patch in life. “I told my kids that as long as I have them, I have everything I need.”

She couldn’t hold back her tears as she talked about her past, but she reassured the visiting volunteers that she had emerged from the shadow of her marriage. She thanked the volunteers and her fellow followers of Yiguandao, a religious sect, for their support. She said she had opened up her heart and was able to take in the love from people around her. “With so many people caring for me, I feel warm and rich.”

Wang had been working for more than ten hours a day to support her family, but the pandemic put a stop to that. She was not one to be easily disheartened though. With her friends’ encouragement, she started making vegetarian fried cake, chili sauce, and other food for sale. She said she loved cooking and would try to make a living out of selling vegetarian food.

Wang’s younger daughter, a junior high school student, said that the pandemic stopped her from going to school. Shuttered behind the walls of her home, she often felt depressed. Happily, she could take part in an online learning program launched by Tzu Chi during the pandemic. She met with college students online every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday through the program. She enhanced her reading ability, learned new things, played games, and sang and danced. She loved singing and dancing the most because they always made her feel very cheerful.

The gift of love

In late August 2021, a vehicle carrying several Tzu Chi volunteers traveled along Xintai Fifth Road in the Xizhi District before taking a turn and driving into a community surrounded by green hills. The volunteers had come to visit the Li family. They wanted to find out how the two sons in the household were liking their new computers and if they needed any help with them. Mr. Li, the master of the family, suffered from oral cancer, but his happiness upon seeing the volunteers was obvious. He couldn’t stop thanking them and saying how much difference the new computers had made. His sons had been using their mother’s cell phone to do their homework, but it was difficult and inconvenient. The computers helped them do their school work much more easily.

Mr. Li had a cell phone too, but it was an older model that was difficult to use. That’s why his sons could only use their mother’s cell phone. They really needed a computer, but just couldn’t afford it, Li said with frustration. “We had no other way around it. A computer cost at least 20,000 to 30,000 Taiwanese dollars [US$670 to 1,000]. We were too strapped for cash to afford one.”

Though his illness was giving him a hard time, the love from society warmed his heart. He thanked Tzu Chi for helping underserved children, and voiced his expectations that his sons would give back to society in the future. “I hope they will contribute what they can,” he said. “Even if they don’t have money, they can still contribute their strength.”

The younger son was a second grader. He said that a cell phone screen was so small that reading things on it was difficult. His joy at having his own computer was easy to imagine. He said he was still getting familiar with his computer. He planned to master his typing skills first, and then learn how to look up information online. “I’ll cherish your gift of love,” he said to the volunteers. Then he talked about what he wanted to be when he grew up: “I want to become a police officer.” His older brother was moving into the sixth grade after the summer vacation. He wants to become a physician when he grows up. He feels he can help a lot of people in that profession.

A computer, though small, can connect children with the world. By mid-September 2021, Tzu Chi had distributed more than 4,000 computers to needy students in Taiwan. It’s every volunteer’s wish to help remove obstacles so that young people can focus on learning and pursue their dreams.

Volunteers set up computers donated by Tzu Chi and the Asus Foundation for recipient students after a donation ceremony held in Xinying, southern Taiwan, on August 15, 2021. Lin Rou-jie


November 2021