Teresa Sihyeon Bae is a lay missionary working with Taiwan’s indigenous Atayal people. She highlights some of the challenges young Atayal girls face if they wish to further their education.
Lay missionary Teresa Sihyeon Bae with Taiwan's indigenous Atayal young women. Photo: Teresa Sihyeon Bae
I live and work in a mountainous area of Taiwan among the indigenous Atayal tribespeople. I am happy here and I thank God for the privilege of such a life. The majority of the people are pomegranate and orange farmers. They also cultivate a variety of vegetables for sale. Although husbands and wives share the work, it is the women who do the most to generate an income. This may be due to the fact that from antiquity men were mostly engaged in hunting and seldom contributed to work on the land or in the home. The men who do not work on farms go to the city for contract work or other jobs. They hardly ever help out at home because they consider domestic work to be solely the domain of women.
The women take care of managing and educating the family. Often, as the children progress through school, the more advanced levels of education are beyond their mothers' finances. Chatting to some of the mothers after Mass on a Sunday, I’ll often hear them complain of being exhausted as they gripe about their husbands' lack of support and the fact that they have to take care of the children all on their own. These women are often unable to attend Church on Sunday because they are so busy trying to make a living. It is a sad situation.
But when these women pray, they always begin with a prayer of thanksgiving and praise to God. This has made a big impression on me. But I worry about how their deep faith and close connection to God can continue to grow in the circumstances of their lives.
One night I got a telephone call from a young mother. It was her third time calling me that day. The first call was an inquiry about the next day's liturgy. The second call was to ask about my personal welfare. On the third call she didn't say a word, but simply cried. Due to my limited Chinese language I was unable to offer appropriate words of comfort to her. I am saddened that I was unable to help her, especially since she had made the effort to contact me.
In this mountainous area there is only a primary school. Students who want to continue on to middle or high school must move to the city and get lodgings there away from their families. There is, for the most part, no protection or supervision by parents or elders for the young students. As a result, they are exposed to, and fall prey to temptations of alcohol, smoking and sex.
Many of the girls become pregnant in high school and don't get to graduate due to the demands of their pregnancy and the challenges of caring for a baby. Consequently, their long cherished hopes for their lives are severely curtailed.
Furthermore, high divorce rates as well as unwholesome family situations, result in problems passing down from one generation to the next. During my two-year stay here, out of the many I've met, just two female students have attended university.
I know one high school student who has three younger sisters. Her mother has been married and divorced several times and has children from all of these unions. However, the burden of supporting these children was placed on the shoulders of this high school student and her aged grandmother. Due to the lack of family resources, she frequently missed school in order to work. An intelligent and talented young woman, if she only had some family support, she could do anything she wanted to. It is really sad that there is nobody to help her with this burden and enable her to concentrate on her studies and realise her dream of attending university.
Children and adolescents are God's gifts, our happiness and our hope. If we want them to grow up and reach their God-given potential we must do all we can to help them.
Teresa Sihyeon Bae is a South Korean Columban lay missionary.
Listen to "Women's work!"
- Read more from The Far East, May 2019