慈濟傳播人文志業基金會
Two Make a Better Whole

 

A grateful daughter

I’m grateful to my father for allowing me to use the second floor of his property,” said Tzu Chi volunteer Liao Su-qin (廖素琴). “I wouldn’t have been able to recycle so many plastic bags without this space.” In one breath, she allowed us to know the person she had felt most indebted to in more than ten years of recycling.

The plastic bags she has collected—of various colors and materials—fill many large plastic bags. They are bulky and cumbersome, and they take up quite a bit of storage space—something of a premium in her neck of the woods in Xindian, New Taipei City, northern Taiwan.

The 215-square-foot storage space is as sentimental to Liao as it is utilitarian because she grew up there. By allowing her to store things there, her father has forgone the rent that he could have otherwise collected for the space. He supports his daughter with a concrete act of love.

Not far away is Renai Market, where stalls and stores packed side by side attract large crowds of shoppers. Liao visits the market nearly every day to collect recyclable garbage from the shopkeepers there. She has been doing this for a long time now and has earned the shop owners’ trust and friendship. In recent years, she has noticed an alarming spike in the number of discarded plastic bags. Plastic bags are less cost-effective to recycle when compared to plastic bottles and paper, but simply tossing them out takes a toll on the environment. Her strength is limited, so she urges people to join the ranks of recycling volunteers to help keep the Earth clean.

Helping each other

Liao is dedicated to helping the Earth, but she is quick to help people too. One day three years ago, she saw a woman picking up recyclables near the market. The woman moved slowly with a limp in the midst of shoppers and busy traffic. Concerned about her safety, Liao went over and talked to her.

The woman’s name was Li-hua (麗華). A bad fever when she was a child had diminished her mental capacity, leaving her unable to do things most people take for granted. Despite her disability, she diligently collected recyclables at the market every day to earn a little money.

Liao felt for her and wanted to help. She thought to herself: “Why don’t I give her the paper, plastic bottles, and metal containers that I pick up so that she doesn’t have to work so hard?”

The two of them have worked together ever since. Liao shares recycling tips with Li-hua. She also introduced her to the shopkeepers she knows, explained her situation to them, and asked them to give their recyclables to her instead.

As a result, Li-hua has been able to collect recyclables at those shops, and she gives the plastic bags that she collects to Liao. The two of them have been like sisters. Liao said, “Instead of competing against each other, we complement each other.”

 

 

A grateful hug

Li-hua lives with her father, who is 82. Though he is reluctant to see her go out and work alone every day, he knows that he cannot accompany her or take care of her forever. It is for her own good that she learns to be independent and support herself.

When Li-hua returns home, he answers the doorbell with a smile and welcomes her home. Together, they sort out the things that she brings back. Regardless of the size of the loads she brings home, he always takes comfort in his daughter’s smiles. These are their happy moments together.

When Li-hua first began patrolling the streets for things to gather and take home, she ran into people who looked down on her and made her work difficult. Her father could only do his best to comfort her. Only after Liao showed up in his daughter’s life did he start to feel less worried about her.

One day we went with Liao to visit Li-hua at her home. We began a conversation, and we asked her if she had anything to say to Liao. Reserved and inarticulate, she thought for a while, and then suddenly she threw her arms around Liao and embraced her tightly, using actions instead of words to show her gratitude to Liao.

Both of them help reclaim discarded resources, one as a means to support herself and the other as a way to cherish the Earth. While their motives for recycling differ, their work nevertheless makes the world a cleaner and better place. They both take garbage that otherwise would go on to clog up landfills, ditches, sewers, or the digestive tracts of marine life, and they turn that garbage into usable resources again.

But that is not all: In the process of helping the Earth, the two of them have found trust, friendship, and companionship in each other.

 

Spring 2016