This is Suhua Highway, renowned in Taiwan for its astounding beauty and precipitous cliff edge. Many tour groups change to train travel at this point, but in 2007, 17 people with an average age of 81 braved the cliff on scooters as they completed their 1,178 km journey around the island of Taiwan.
Some of them had cancer, some had high blood pressure, some were hard of hearing. The group leader went in and out of hospital three times, but he said: “When you dream, you forget how old you are.”
All this was initiated by the former Executive Director of the Hondao Senior Citizen’s Welfare Foundation, Lin Yi-ying. When her idea came out, she was immediately doubted: “No way! What on earth are you thinking?” “You must be joking! How can you ask the elderly to ride scooters, are you trying to mistreat them?”
But when she asked 87-year-old group leader Lai Qing-yan, she got the response: “You absolutely must organise it! But you need to raise the age so that people know we are not useless!” After the Hondao had been selected from over 100 people, the unsuccessful were told, “Sorry, you’re too young, you need to be over 70 to join.”
The journey was edited into a film titled Go Grandriders! which not only broke the box office record for Taiwanese documentaries, but was also selected by film festivals all over Asia.
Playing baseball, performing stage plays, strutting their stuff on the beach…people fulfill dreams, regardless of age
The Hondao Senior Citizen’s Welfare Foundation was first established in 1995 to promote filial piety, as well as to set up bridge, croquet and other gentle activities. It was only when the 32-year- old Lin Yi-ying took over as Chief Executive Officer that “Forever Young Riders” subverted the organisation’s culture.
This group of elderly people proved that the fulfilment of dreams can occur regardless of age. However, Lin Yi-ying understood that the courageous are few, and that most people think of themselves as old, normally either hiding at home watching TV or finding someone to chat with at the hospital, where even a healthy person might end up in a bad mood.
Hondao later thought up a series of activities suitable for both those who enjoy physically active participation and those who do not, such as the “National Grandparents’ Health Vitality Show”, where the elderly could dance in groups to showcase their talent. Also, “Seniors on Broadway” appeared at the Taipei Arena performing a stage play under the guidance of professional actors.
The “Forever Young Bikini Carnival” encouraged grandmothers to wear bikinis, and grandfathers to only wear shorts on a beach catwalk. Originally shy to do so, they finally summoned the courage to face their fear after strong encouragement, and strutted even more energetically with applause and cheers from the audience.
In addition, the “Forever Young Baseball League” mimics the professional baseball teams in forming regional home teams and selecting the champion team, the strikeout king and the hitter king of the league, as well as awarding a team connection prize, and a best spirit prize. In this way, it increases the sense of honour of the elderly participants.
The “Forever Young Warrior” is a summoning order issued to veterans, inviting them to return to their old troops, ships and fighters, in order to review the Air Force’s bravery that year. Surprisingly, there are still some who hit a total of six targets in the shooting exercise.
Activities like the “Old Fairytale War Drum Team”, “Forever Young Sailors”, “Forever Young Artists”, “Forever Young Wedding Dress Dreams”, “Forever Young Catwalk”, etc., might look like worn out groups of elderly people at first, but actually display extraordinary vitality.
Mobile services, overcoming caregivers’ working difficulties
After holding a series of activities, Lin Yi-ying understood that there was still a large number of disabled people who could not participate in these exciting activities. According to statistics, there are 760,000 people with disabilities in Taiwan, and these people are bedridden for an average of seven years, which is much higher than the figure of two weeks in Nordic countries.
Of these people, only 12% applied to the government for long-term care services. So what about the remaining 88%?
Over the past eight years, foreign caregivers have increased in number from 160,000 to 220,000 and have become the mainstay of Taiwanese care. However, due to differences in languages, the two sides are often estranged. Some families have no choice but to take on the responsibility of providing 24-hour care, but it is not long until they are physically and mentally exhausted.
As a result of long working hours, low wages and heavy workloads, although 90,000 care workers have been trained, less than 10% have actually taken up work in the care industry. Of this 10%, most are middle-aged people with a low level of education who have been away from the labour market for a while.
Given the current crisis, Lin Yi-ying introduced the concept of “All in One” from Denmark, arranging for a number of teams to cooperate in a flexible fashion. For example, after caregiver A feeds, B caregiver takes over for rehabilitation, then C and D clean, before B finally returns to feed and A returns to groom.
In order to enhance the caregivers’ work dignity, Hondao is also breaking the traditional piece rate system in favour of a monthly salary. Those who pass an assessment are called “care secretaries” and are given a monthly salary beginning at NT $29,000 (about the salary level for junior staff in Taiwan). In addition to care skills, Hondao also trains staff in physical rehabilitation and cognitive learning therapy to enhance their professional skills.
Following this restructuring, a caregiver can now care for up to eight elderly people, so that 200 people can service more than 1,000 elderly people. Young people in their twenties are also attracted to join the team, and even senior social workers have switched over. Lin Yi-ying said confidently, “I believe there will definitely be entry level caregivers who rise up to become CEOs, and some who go to outside institutions and become leaders. This is something we could not have imagined in the past.”