A New Multipurpose Building for A Senior Citizens’ Home—A Tzu Chi Project

The Taitung Ren’ai Senior Citizens’ Home in Taitung, southeastern Taiwan, is a facility for low-income or disabled elderly people referred by the Taitung County government. The institution is known for the quality care it provides for its residents. It could have provided a more comfortable living environment, but was constrained by a limited space. This also made it difficult to take in more eligible needy people. In response, Tzu Chi funded and constructed a multi-purpose building for the institution to improve the living conditions there and allow residents to have better rehabilitation facilities.

An inauguration ceremony was held on June 30, 2019 for a new building Tzu Chi built for the Taitung Ren’ai Senior Citizens’ Home. All the invited guests were happy to see that the residents were now able to enjoy a more comfortable and spacious living area. Chen Xin-an

Taiwan has officially become an aged society. The population of Taitung, on Taiwan’s southeastern seaboard, is aging at an especially alarming rate. According to statistics released in December 2018, there were more than 35,000 elderly people (aged 65 or above) in the county, accounting for 16 percent of the entire population. Taitung’s aging index has exceeded 100, meaning that there are more people there over the age of 65 than under the age of 14.

The aging demographics informs the need of society to focus more on long-term geriatric care. Physical and mental functions deteriorate as people age, making them more accident prone. As the number of elderly in the population has increased, it’s natural that the need for retirement homes and assisted living facilities has risen sharply.

Mrs. Chen, 80, suffers from limited mobility as a result of a car accident. Because her husband is also quite elderly and their children live apart from them, there is no one to provide her with full-time care at home. With no other option, Chen moved into the Taitung Ren’ai Senior Citizens’ Home in Taitung. She’s been living there for ten years. She is well cared for, and looks neat and tidy and in good shape. Her husband visits her daily and personally feeds her three meals a day.

Mr. Chen is a dedicated husband. His love is apparent in the way he treats his wife. He often touches her face with his hand and looks at her lovingly, saying, “My dear, thank you for accompanying me through thick and thin on life’s journey. I’m so sorry that you don’t have a healthy body to enjoy your old age, and I, unable to care for you, had to send you here.” Helplessness and guilt are written on his face.

Mr. Chen lamented that he used to believe that children are insurance for old age, that it is their responsibility to care for you, shelter you, and support you financially in your frailty. However, he realizes that as society and family values evolve, and as young people are also burdened by their own livelihood challenges, it is time to let go of that mentality. “Fortunately, there are charity organizations like this home that are willing to take in and provide elderly people like us with 24-hour care,” he said, “Charities like this help ensure that we’re well cared for in old age and can live with peace of mind and dignity.”

A Tzu Chi volunteer serves food to a resident at the Ren’ai Senior Citizens’ Home. The home began serving only vegetarian meals to its residents in January 2018. Liu Wen-rui
With a history of nearly 60 years, the home was old and showing wear and tear, and it was constrained by its limited space from providing a better living environment for its residents.        Liu Wen-Rui

Sixty years’ care for the elderly

Located in a relatively remote region in Taiwan, Taitung overlooks the Pacific Ocean to the east and is nestled against the Central Mountain Range to the west. The county is populated by diverse ethnic groups and maintains agriculture as the mainstay of its economy. For a long time, Taitung has been ranked as having one of the lowest average disposable incomes and life expectancies in Taiwan.

The Taitung Ren’ai Senior Citizens’ Home, located in Taitung City, the county seat of Taitung County, was established in 1960. It was originally named “Private Taitung Nursing Home,” but was renamed “Ren’ai [Benevolence and Love] Senior Citizens’ Home” in 1989. According to director Lin Hong-qi (林鴻祺), more than a thousand people have lived in the facility over the years. Several residents have been there for more than 20 years, and quite a few over ten years.

Since its inception almost 60 years ago, the home has always adhered to its “charity” principle—that is, it focuses its care on senior citizens who have no one around to care for them, or people who are physically or mentally disabled. Low-income residents account for 70 percent of the population, and indigenous people nearly 40 percent. Of the 119 beds approved by the local government, an average of 115 beds have been occupied in recent years. The institution has been running at almost full capacity for years.

Tzu Chi volunteers began visiting the residents of the home regularly 13 years ago, and they also occasionally refer older people who live alone and who are under Tzu Chi’s long-term care to the facility to live. Volunteer Wang Wu-hong (王武弘) said that the home provides the best care to its residents. Some residents have had a glorious past, but were sadly struck by misfortune and thus ended up being very unhappy. Tzu Chi volunteers try to bring them comfort and laughter by being part of their lives.

In 2015, the Tzu Chi Foundation learned that the home could provide a more comfortable living environment to its residents but was confined by a lack of space. To allow the elderly and disabled to live more comfortably, the foundation decided to construct a multi-purpose building for the institution. This initiative—building for a private charity organization—was the first of its kind in Tzu Chi’s 53-year history.

Construction started on January 8, 2018. During the groundbreaking ceremony, Justin Huang (黃健庭), the Taitung County magistrate at the time, stated that there were 13 senior citizen institutions in the county with a total of 730 beds. The usage rate exceeded 85 percent and was projected to attain full capacity within two or three years. It was therefore imperative to add more beds. The new building for the home was projected to add an additional 80 beds, greatly helping the home and Taitung County to better care for the region’s elderly residents.

The new multi-purpose building has an activity center which will make it easier for the home’s residents to socialize with people from the local community through various events.
A resident at the home offers to share some fruit with a Tzu Chi volunteer. Volunteers from the foundation have provided onsite care to residents at the home for many years.

Humanized facilities

Named “Mutual Love Building,” the new facility is a three-story structure with 81 beds. With the new addition, the home can now accommodate 200 residents. The building also has a day-care center, a 30-bed staff living quarters, and a communal dining hall where people from the local community can dine with the home’s residents. The exterior of the building is pebble-dashed, and the color design and construction style integrate harmoniously with the rest of the home.

The facility was completed in January 2019, after a year and a half of construction, and an opening ceremony was held on June 30. Taitung County Magistrate Rao Ching-ling (饒慶鈴) and Taitung City Mayor Chang Kuo-chou (張國洲) were among the distinguished guests who cut the ribbon.

Lin Kun-ceng (林坤層), a Taitung-based architect responsible for the building design, pointed out that since the home is a nursing center for senior citizens and people with limited mobility, providing for their special needs was especially important when it came to designing the building.

He emphasized that the idea for his design came from his observation of a nursing institution his mother had moved into a few years earlier. That institution was designed with well-allocated space and an informed attention to safety issues. When he started designing the new building for the home, he kept his observations in mind, hoping to make up for the insufficiencies of the old facilities and provide residents with better private and public space.

The activity room, bathrooms, wet and dry kitchen, dining area, nursing station, and rehabilitation room in the new building are all “obstacle-free,” meaning that all facilities are handicapped accessible. Each floor is designed with concentrated open spaces to enhance a sense of spaciousness and avoid feelings of constraint. All this was geared towards making the residents more comfortable and to make them feel physically and emotionally safe.

Li Ren-kui (李壬癸) is the home’s third chairman. He said that he was over 80 years old and that it was a real comfort to be able to witness in his lifetime the completion of the new building—in a way it signified his life’s work coming to a happy conclusion. He felt as if his long years of hard work for the home had finally bloomed like a beautiful flower.

Li was a successful businessman who started giving back to society many decades ago out of a sense of gratitude. He has devoted himself to philanthropy for many years, sparing no efforts in helping the needy in Taitung. In 1986, he became a board member at the home. He said that most of the institution’s residents are low-income and underprivileged. Financial help from the government is limited, and the long-term administration cost is substantial. The home mostly relies on private funding, including donations from the board members, to resolve operational challenges.

Three years ago, Li took over as board chairman. He has since been actively involved in the running of the home, including arranging for Tzu Chi volunteers to provide onsite care for the residents and hold events such as prayer services. The year before last, he even convinced the home’s board members to support an across-the-board vegetarian meal plan for the residents. Since January 31, 2018, only vegetarian meals have been served at the home, making it the first nursing institution in Taiwan to go completely vegetarian.

In the future, the home aims to provide more comprehensive services to its residents. Tzu Chi volunteers will also continue to visit regularly and accompany the residents with love and care through their twilight years.

How the Project Came About

On September 9, 1960, philanthropist Hong Gua (洪掛), together with 15 local gentry members, founded the Private Taitung Nursing Home in Taitung, which was then a hard-to-access economic backwater where people led hard lives. The nursing home was the first privately sponsored social welfare institute in the county, home to over 30 residents at the time, including young orphans, elderly people with no one to depend on, and people with disabilities. Residents not only lived there for free, but were given allowances as well.

The home was renamed “Private Taitung Ren’ai Senior Citizens’ Home” 30 years ago, in 1989. Later, in response to the growing need of care for older people, the local government subsidized the construction of a building for the institution. The new building was completed in March 2007.

A front view of the new building. The design of this three-story facility took into consideration the needs of elderly and disabled residents.

Many decades ago, when Dharma Master Cheng Yen first left home to pursue a religious life, she visited Taitung in search of an ideal place to carry out her spiritual cultivation. It was during that time that she first heard of Hong’s philanthropic deeds. Later, when Tzu Chi was established, Hong generously supported the organization’s missions. In 2015, when the Master visited Taitung on one of her regular trips around Taiwan, she decided to make an unscheduled visit to the home. She saw during her visit that though the facility was not big, it provided shelter to many needy senior citizens and people with disabilities. She also saw that despite showing wear and tear, the home was very clean and well managed by the staff. Nevertheless, the place was really too small for the current number of residents, and the limited space also prevented it from admitting more underserved people.

The Master was touched by the care the home gave its residents. She felt that Tzu Chi should support such a good organization. A project was thus launched to build a new building for the institution. The Master hoped that with the additional space, the residents could eat together in the dining area and avoid any anxiety springing out of living in the overly confined space.


September 2019