Imagine an 86-year-old Catholic nun feeding meals to a 90-year-old woman, or an 89-year-old nun teaching other elderly people how to make mosaic paintings. This is what happens daily at The Little Sisters of the Poor in Pali, New Taipei City in northern Taiwan.
Ten of the 12 Catholic nuns who serve 90-plus people at the Home for the Aged are foreign nationals from countries as far away as Columbia, which makes the home look like a miniature United Nations.
But now the home must undergo extensive reconstruction, since it does not meet government regulations. So far, the Catholic sisters have raised about NT$16 million, way below the NT$40 million required to fund the project.
Care of seniors has become a big issue in Taiwan, which has a fast aging population. The Catholic sisters' quiet devotion to less privileged elderly people in northern Taiwan has caught the attention of a major newspaper.
Below are excerpts of a report by the United Daily News on the nuns' efforts at The Little Sisters of the Poor, led by Mother Superior Sister Cecilia Wong from Hong Kong:
A 70-year-old Scottish sister helps a resident at the Home for the Aged fold her clothes, while a 86-year-old sister from Shanghai feeds meals to an even older woman. Since the home's establishment in 1968, the sisters have served more than 1,000 poor senior citizens aged 70 or over with no family.
Sister Cecilia Wong said the Home for the Aged used to have enough nuns to take care of the residents, but it recently had to employ other staff members as there are now fewer nuns.
Furthermore, the nuns working at the home are also getting on in age, with more than 80 percent of them 60 or older. They come from Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Scotland, Spain, Columbia, and Taiwan, she said.
Because there are not enough hired staff members to cover the night shifts, sisters under the age of 70 usually take turns to help bathe the residents, change diapers and so on, in addition to their daily duties.
The 12 nuns are assigned to different jobs such as cooking, doing laundry, distributing clothes and taking care of the infirm, starting early in the morning.
Sister Mary Clare Ward, 70, is a Scottish nun whose job is to iron the residents' clothes.
"I feel pleased whenever I think of how my work makes them look neat and clean so they have a sense of elevated dignity," she said while ironing.
As the sisters and the residents have been living together for decades, they have become like one family. And that is the spirit of the home.
Grandma Liu is 90 years of age and she would like chicken leg today. No problem, that is taken care of -- by Sister Mathilde Tsai, 86, from Shanghai.
Sister Mathilde has just had surgery and needs a walker to get around. She manages to get close to Liu, holding the rice bowl under Liu's chin so the shredded meat would not fall to the ground while Lu is eating.
Sister Josefa Restrepo Toro, 89, from Columbia, is the eldest sister at the Home. She teaches the residents the art of making mosaic paintings and traditional Chinese knots.
Smiling, she told the reporter that because of her age, she understands other elderly people, including their physical strength and their moods.
"That's why I only encourage them and never force them to do anything. Old people know old people best, you know," she said. (April 17, 2012)
(By S.C. Chang)