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Charity run for those with disabilities shows Taiwan’s human touch

TAINAN (UCAN): The Diocese of Tainan, Taiwan, is breathing a sigh of relief now that interest in a charity run, which at first looked to be a flop out of the starting blocks, saw a sudden, upward spike that saw the number of sign-ups multiply 10-fold in just a few days.
The first Tobias Cup, organised by the Tobias Social Welfare Foundation, is scheduled to kick off on May 26 in Hutoupei, Xinhua town, in Tainan, with the goal of raising NT$20 million ($5.28 million).
Father Hugo Peter, the foundation’s director, explained, “Before I left for a meeting in the Vatican on April 8, we only had 100 applicants,” adding, “But when I returned to Taiwan on April 18, over 3,000 applicants had registered. This is very satisfactory. It shows Taiwan’s human touch.”
He said the fundraising part of the event was not as important as raising awareness of important social issues, but that the money would be useful in further aiding the charities that the Church supports.
“I hope others get to know about (our foundation) and opt to help babies, children and adults with mental disabilities, disadvantaged families and the elderly,” Father Peter said.
Hsu Kuorui, the executive director of the Ang Hia Tshu Running Association, explained that many people had decided to lace up their running sneakers because they were inspired by Father Peter’s dedication to helping disadvantaged ethnic groups in southern Taiwan, and wanted to play their part.
“They even called up to register and wanted to make a pledge to the foundation. All of this gives great encouragement to the father and to special education teachers in Taiwan,” Hsu said. The association has conducted 40 charity activities and is assisting the Tobias foundation in organising this year’s run.
Father Peter, of the Belgian-run Societas Auxiliarium Missionum, was ordained in 1970 in Switzerland, and moved to Taiwan the following year.
With the encouragement and support of his friends and the Church, he enrolled in National Taiwan Normal University’s Department of Fine Arts. After graduating in 1979 he travelled to the Penghu Islands, an archipelago of 90 islands in the Taiwan Strait, at the invitation of fellow priests and remained there for the next 13 years.
While he was there he volunteered to teach painting, arts and crafts to students with special needs at the Huimin Opportunity Centre in his spare time. This was the beginning of his long mission to help people with disabilities.
After completing his missionary work in Penghu, he was invited by then-Bishop Joseph Cheng Tsai-fa of Tainan, to serve as director of the St. Raphael Opportunity Centre.
Father Peter accepted and thus embarked on a career working full-time with the disabled—a role he still relishes and is actively engaged in some 26 years later.
Sensing he needed to further his studies to provide a higher level of care and service for his new wards, he later took up studies in special-needs education at Tunghai University.
Since the 1990s, the St. Raphael Opportunity Centre has been taking care of the education of children with special needs from kindergarten to six-years-old.
It has gained a reputation for pioneering early childhood care and educational services in Taiwan, bolstered by a team of professionals assisting with the cognitive, linguistic and emotional development of children.
Its early childhood services have expanded over the years and in 2006, St. Raphael set up the Guangming Early Intervention and Education Centre.
As its programmes continued to expand, it became clear that the centre would soon outgrow both its humble roots and the legal framework under which it operated.
It woul have to be reestablished as an independent foundation in order to continue providing its services within the parameters of Taiwan’s legal code.
At that time, Father Peter was 66-years-old and looking at hanging up his frock.
“I was intending to retire and had been preparing for that moment for about a year,” he said.
But things changed when Tainan Bishop Bosco Lin Chin-an gave him one final mission—to raise NT$10 million ($2.63 million) in funds to boost the foundation’s coffers so it could keep caring for the neglected and underprivileged.
Father Peter recalls how one Buddhist couple made a generous donation of nearly a quarter of a million (New Taiwan) dollars and asked their friends to also reach into their pockets to make a pledge.
The priest scrambled to meet all of the legal and bureaucratic requirements and, after 12 months of hard work and preparation, the Tobias Social Welfare Foundation was established in 2010.
It was based on the principle of safeguarding “dignity for all.”
He said, “Dignity is bestowed by God, and no one can be deprived of it. Everyone, regardless of their physical and mental conditions, can feel love and respect.” 
With the support of the Tainan City government, the foundation set up Taiwan’s first fitness centre designed for people with disabilities.
Meanwhile, Father Peter has also been working tirelessly to provide personalised care for the foundation’s young wards.
For example, it now sends its staff to the homes of those whose mobility is extremely restricted due to congenital or other problems, helping them to bathe and feed themselves.
The priest said he cares equally for all of those who now fall under his de factor protection. While some members of society may discard or overlook them based on their physical or mental impediments, he sees them as fragile flowers that can bloom under his care.
Several years ago he even designed a special logo for St. Raphael’s featuring an imperfectly formed lotus to highlight both their plight and their potential.
“They are all like lotus flowers,” Father Peter said. “Even when they are not perfect, they each have their own unique beauty.”

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