A Happy Countryside— Making Fengtian a Model of Environmental Education
The Hualian County Nou-Li InterCommunity Association is engaged in the promotion of local employment and care for the elderly and youth. Shoufeng Sweet Home Empowerment Center combines resources from various sectors, trying to build Fengtian into a model of environmental education. The Association gains profit by offering various activities, such as community tours, eco tours and field trips, selling creative products and meals as well as providing multiple labor services. The core concept is to develop local professionals, creating a happy community by regional integration and multiple development.
A Happy Community for People to Raise Their Families in
Pick up a business card of the Hualian County Nou-Li InterCommunity Association, and？you see a list of names and contacts on its back. Administrator-general, Yang Jun-Bi, says this is？because Association members are all very glad to serve the community. “Here, we are all family.”And “family” is exactly the origin of this association.
In 1996, four families gathered and discussed what they could do for the community. At first, they just wanted to do something helpful, but they found several challenges the community was facing, such as elderly care, single parents, children being raised by their grandparents, and lack of local employment opportunities. By 1999, more than 20 families had joined this organization. To make better use of local resources, the Association was officially founded in 2001. With everyone’s selfless dedication, the Association is expected to become a safe and happy environment as described in the chapter of The Analects of Confucius “The Age of Great Harmony.” Whenever they encounter difficulties or doubts, they get together and reexamine whether their efforts meet the three major foci: local employment, senior care and youth care.
To assist local women’s employment, the Association has accepted labor procurement from the government. The Sustainable Taiwan Development Program and the later Multi-Employment Promotion Program were both very helpful in creating job opportunities.
During local employment development, many experts suggest the Association should focus on development of a single industry. However, after careful assessment, the Association concluded that industry cycles are not suitable for developing a sustainable community, but education is. As a result, environmental education and development of people’s attachment to the land have become the two major strategies for the Association. That is why the Association sees its employees from the Multi-Employment Program as assets, trying their best to develop their abilities. When the expected performance was met, the Association did not rush to expand its scale. On the contrary, it decided to focus on learning and community care services.
Yang believed that only by establishing a solid foundation can they compete in a commercial market in the future. This is especially true when it comes to the employment of social capital of a non-profit organization. It can be difficult to compete with the economic capital of private enterprise. Moreover, if the organization fails to manage its resources properly, it is an easy target of public criticism. As a result of these concerns, the Association has been very careful in its operations. In 2007, it was awarded a Presidential Culture Award. Since then, members of the Association have felt even more obligated to run a successful organization. The Association made headway towards its long-term goal when receiving environmental education certification in 2012.
There are 1700 households in the three villages of Fengtian. About 70% to 80% of the households have connections to the Association in terms of senior care, children and youth care or in local employment. Yang stresses that the Association does not chase resources. A non-profit organization established by volunteers often carries a strong sense of social responsibility. It is usually very adaptable, has a dreams and a vision, and does not stand on ceremony.
Creating a ripple effect in people's hearts
Organizational rebuilding and sustainability are the common challenges of all non-profit？organizations. In the pursuit of sustainability an organization relies on the concerted efforts？of its volunteers and professional staff. Yang says the Association adopted a kind of concentric？development strategy, beginning from individuals and families, the organization to the？community. Then, they make connections with surrounding areas and expand outwards.
To Yang, sharing resources is very important. In the past, a community college often chose a single location and opened classes there, but this method may not work in the countryside. The Association visited many places and looked for partners that shared vision, and finally, it managed to open 12 classes in 15 villages. The Association leads everyone to move forward by sharing resources.
The core concept of a concentric development strategy is to enhance people’s abilities. Yang believes that a diverse range of specialized abilities are necessary for one to survive in the country. To this end while executing its empowerment plan, the Association tries to organize the human resource needs of the market and design relevant courses. When a person’s ability is enhanced, he/she is capable of serving more people.
The Association respects individual differences when taking care of youths. They organized four juvenile service teams at first and later changed to a buddy system to help teenagers get involved in community life. For example, for morning class students they opened a local digital opportunity center for youths to use after school. The Wuweiwu Children and Youth Care Unit offers group courses for youths who need special attention.
Optimal Space Utilization to Develop Industry
Whenever the Association discovers unused space in the community, they inquire whether they can rent it to develop local business. Some people even provide their land voluntarily. A small space can accommodate students who participate in community service, and a piece of land can be used for an ecological pond, an eco-park, or for growing black beans.
The Association has set up service centers for the elderly, foreign spouses and children and many other facilities including Safe Construction Workshop, Digital Learning Center, Senior’s Learning Center, Wuweiwu Children and Teenager’s Care Unit, New Immigrants’ Learning Center, Eco Classroom, Fengtian Culture and History Service Center, Picture Books Educational Hall, Natural Farming Zone, Community Nursery Garden, Ecological Education Park, Water Resource Conservation Zone, Hualian Stream Habitat Educational Zone, 2628 Water Conservation Forest Reserves, Practical Forest Nursery for the Agricultural School, and a Community Kitchen. There are 15 different establishments in fields of education, care, services, and industry development.
The Association generates profits from community tours, ecological trips, innovative products, meals, and various labor services. In 2012 there were 17 employees on its payroll. Total annual income was nearly NT$14 million, with 52% coming from business operations, 36% from government grants, and 12% from donations. The surplus is used for workforce training, public welfare and relevant expenses.
A Sustainable Organization
In terms of sustainability, Yang believes that a sustainable community is much more important than a sustainable organization. “Nou-Li InterCommunity Association exists because it is needed. It is created by the surrounding environment, and we will withdraw from the community if we are no longer needed.” Yang holds an optimistic attitude to his work, telling himself he can always return to just be a volunteer. He often reminds himself to do things within his reach rather than seeing the organization as an enterprise or a medium for gaining resources.
In addition, local identity and attachment to the community are two important catalysts that could encourage young people to return to their hometown. In the past, community elders might have doubts about what young people could do on their return. However, with the development of the community and decreasing job opportunities in cities, many young people have chosen to return home after graduation. They enter their parents’ companies, open food stalls, drive excavators or do delivery services. What the Association needs to do is to create economic opportunities and revive the community, providing a better environment for those who want to return and settle as well as those who share the same belief. The Association does not compete with residents. It does not enter businesses that people are already involved in. For instance, the Association delivers meals to the elderly but does not sell bento.
It strives to meet people’s needs and to create a sense of happiness in everyday life. Moreover, the Association is also expected to improve and cope with various changes over time. It is the Association’s goal to encourage members to be more involved in community enterprises. By standing together with local residents, a bright future is ensured.
Nou-Li InterCommunity Association plans to build Fengtian into a learning community focusing on environmental education via its ecological pond
and bring business to the neighborhood with displays ofcultural relics and creative products.
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Please attribute this article to “Workforce Development Agency, Ministry Of Labor”.