Hope for refugees and migrants

Taiwanese foundation helps migrant workers to upskill

Putting their thoughts to paper: Wishes written by South-east Asian migrant workers during class. Migrant workers in Taiwan at One-Forty's monthly event, Open Sunday, where they get to socialise and share their culture with the locals.
Migrant workers in Taiwan at One-Forty's monthly event, Open Sunday, where they get to socialise and share their culture with the locals.PHOTO: ONE-FORTY FOUNDATION
Putting their thoughts to paper: Wishes written by South-east Asian migrant workers during class. Migrant workers in Taiwan at One-Forty's monthly event, Open Sunday, where they get to socialise and share their culture with the locals.
Putting their thoughts to paper: Wishes written by South-east Asian migrant workers during class.PHOTO: LIN YEN-TING

TAIWAN • Working in a foreign land, often for weeks without a break, with no friends or knowledge of the local language - this was the situation for Yani, a young Indonesian living and working in Taiwan's capital, Taipei.

Her father's sudden death had left Yani with no choice but to join the workforce after completing her secondary school education in order to support her family.

Having heard that higher salaries could be earned abroad, she left everything familiar behind and made her way to Taiwan.

Yani's story is not an unusual one.

Today, Taiwan hosts almost 600,000 migrant workers from South-east Asian countries, and one in 40 residents is a migrant.

Although there are jobs, a vicious circle is perpetuated because they usually offer limited transferable skills, restricting the workers to low salaries when they return home.

  • 15

  • Number of migrant workers who attended the first semester of One-Forty School in 2015. Courses include Chinese lessons (below) and business classes. One student, Yani, has returned to Indonesia and now works as a Chinese translator at a Taiwanese company, earning a monthly salary that is three times the local average.

     Wishes written by South-east Asian migrant workers during class. Migrant workers in Taiwan at One-Forty's monthly event, Open Sunday, where they get to socialise and share their culture with the locals.

The Taipei-based One-Forty Foundation aids migrant workers in cultivating personal goals and bridging the gap with the locals through education.

Its One-Forty School teaches the workers skills that they need for a steady career in either Taiwan or back home, including Chinese lessons and business courses.

It started with just 15 students in the first semester, but the school has received more than 100 applications this year.

An Open Sunday event once a month not only allows migrant workers to enjoy some down time, but also creates a forum for them to socialise with the locals.

The founders of the One-Forty Foundation, Mr Kevin Chen and Ms Sophia Wu, started it in 2015, after Mr Chen took a three-month trip to the Philippines. He made many local friends there and discovered that most of their families had worked in Taiwan.

As a Taiwanese, he had not realised the impact of these migrant workers on his homeland.

 

Mr Chen and Ms Wu believe in the importance of making issues real for an audience, and their foundation's website features a Migrant Life channel. The activities and stories on the channel help the locals recognise racial and cultural stereotypes, and overcome feelings of discrimination against migrant workers, seeing them as more than just factory workers or caretakers.

Yani was one of the 15 students who attended the first semester of One-Forty School. She has returned to Indonesia and is employed as a Chinese translator at a Taiwanese company, earning a monthly salary of 20,000 New Taiwanese dollars (S$910), three times the local average.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 16, 2018, with the headline 'Taiwanese foundation helps migrant workers to upskill'. Print Edition | Subscribe