FEATURE/Migrant workers embrace their faith in Taiwan
[Editor's Note: To mark the International Migrants Day on Dec. 18, CNA is releasing a multipart series taking a look at the lives of migrant workers in Taiwan. Migrant workers play a major role in the local economy and society and bring along with them their traditions, culture and faith, which make Taiwan a more multicultural and vibrant society. The around 720,000 migrant workers from Southeast Asian countries represent about 3 percent of the country's population. Multiple stories will be published in the coming months.]
By William Yen and Shih Hsiu-chuan, CNA staff reporters
Part 1 of the series explores religious practice among migrant workers from the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand, how they incorporate their faith into their everyday lives in Taiwan, how their faith helps them overcome challenges far away from home, and what they said Taiwanese employers and society can do to better respect their religious beliefs.
I pray for safety when working in bad weathers and God keeps me safe.
41-year-old Filipino migrant fisherman Sammy Ibahan attends Catholic services regularly in a makeshift church near the Nanfang'ao Fishing Port in Yilan County. For Ibahan, religion is an important part of his life in Taiwan and what gives him solace and peace of mind.
"I pray for safety when working in bad weathers and sometimes when I don't ask God for it, he still keeps me safe, and I know it from the one up there," Ibahan told CNA.
To cater to Catholic migrant fishermen on shore leave due to the lunar cycle, priests and volunteers from Taipei's Saint Christopher's Church and the Migrant Workers' Concern Desk (MWCD) hold these church services in Nanfang'ao around once a month.
Another Filipino fisherman who also attends the service regularly, 48-year-old Benny Javier, told CNA that as a Catholic, he believed it was his duty to live a life that is righteous.
"I trust God and I pray every day before work and try to do good things and invite others to come to church with me," Javier said.
We should tell our employers, 'I'm a Muslim and I would like time to worship.'
Also embracing their religion are Indonesian Muslims, many of whom attend services at the Taipei Grand Mosque.
Awan, A 30-year-old Indonesian who works in a software company in Taipei, said he appreciated that those he worked with respected his Islamic beliefs.
"As a Muslim, I'm very grateful because my managers always respect my religion in the office. We also have a meditation room that is used as a praying room, so I am able to do my prayers in that room," said Awan, who has been living in Taiwan for three years.
We need food to live, and Muslims need praying. We feel empty if we don't pray.
At the Indonesian Islamic organization Nahdlatul Ulama's (NU) religious center in Taipei (PCINU), Siti, who has worked in Taiwan for 13 years, said the elderly woman who she takes care of in New Taipei's Luzhou District respects her religion and allows her to practice her religion freely.
"In the past, I could only go worship twice a month at most because I have to take care of A-gong (elderly man). After he passed away, I now take care of A-ma (his wife). She is a Christian but she understands that Muslims need to worship. I tell her 'I'm going to go worship now,' and she says it's ok. Now I come to PCINU every week and cook for everyone," she said.
Also, at the religious center is 33-year-old Indonesian caretaker Lisa Mukhlisoh, who has worked in Taiwan for eight years. She urged her fellow migrant workers to speak up and demand time to worship.
"Before we start working for an employer, we should tell our employer, 'I'm a Muslim and I would like time to worship. It takes no more than five minutes each time and if you don't agree, it's ok, I will find another employer,'" she said.
"Praying is mandatory for Muslim. It's like, we need food to live, and Muslims need praying. We are here to make money, which is good, but we feel empty if we don't pray," said Nur Hasanudin, a 32-year-old Taoyuan factory worker from Central Java.
"Because the dormitory is near the factory, I go back to the factory to pray when we have break time. It just takes five minutes. Sometimes I pray at the factory," said Nur, who has worked in Taiwan for four months.
"In the past, many Taiwanese employers don't let us pray, some don't even let us wear hijab, but now many of them do. Praying is very important for us because Allah is our protector," another Indonesian caretaker Romlah said.
In Keelung, a special Christmas event co-organized by Migrant Workers' Concern Desk (MWCD) and the Rerum Novarum Center brings together Indonesians of all faiths in the port city.
Junus Mussa, 53, a Protestant Indonesian fisherman, who has worked in Taiwan for nearly seven years, said he works with Muslims on his fishing vessel and maintains good relationships with his colleagues regardless of their religion.
Mussa and his friend, 48-year-old Welem Andawari, congregate with other Christian Indonesian fishermen at an Indonesian grocery store near Zhengbin Fishing Harbor to pray whenever the ships are in port.
"On Sundays, we really want to pray but we just don't know where to go, but if we have our own place then we can pray there regularly," Mussa said.
Another issue they face is that as they are on different fishing vessels, they don't always return to port at the same time to organize prayer sessions, Mussa said.
It is the power of God that helps me through difficult times in Taiwan.
Back in Taipei, Vietnamese Catholics practice their faith by attending mass at Saint Christopher's Church. Under the care of Sister Mary Nguyen Thi Hong Diem, DC, many Vietnamese migrant workers and students travel from surrounding cities to join the close-knit congregation.
New Taipei-based factory worker Tran Thi Loan, 26, said she started regularly attending the church about three months ago after visiting with her friend and finding faith and the community of fellow Vietnamese Catholics to be a pillar of support.
"I reach out to God and my family whenever I face difficulties, but it is the power of God that helps me through difficult times in Taiwan. Whenever I miss home or I have misunderstandings with my colleagues, it is God who helps me pull through," Tran said.
Another New Taipei-based Vietnamese factory worker, 25-year-old Mai Van Quoc, said he travels to Saint Christophers Church in Taipei because his friends and family attend mass at the church.
Mai also reflected on his appreciation for his faith as it has helped him through difficult times at work.
"Due to language barriers, sometimes there are misunderstandings at work with my employer. I don't have anyone to talk to about my difficulties. However, I appreciate God and my faith for always being there for me," he said.
I feel less homesick and happier when I visit the temple...We make donation so we can reap blessings for our families whom we only meet once in three years.
Meanwhile, many Thai migrant workers working in Hsinchu County, including Amai, a live-in caretaker, travel to a Thai Buddhist temple in Taoyuan to worship.
Amai, who has been living in Taiwan for around 9 years, said a single trip to the temple takes her around one hour, but she often visits with her friends "when we have a day off," especially for special occasions such as New Year's Eve and Songkran.
"I feel less homesick and happier when I visit the temple," Amai told CNA by telephone, adding that she returns to Thailand to visit her family once every three years.
Amai recalled one of her fondest experiences at the temple -- teaching Thai masters speak Mandarin.
"They (the masters) are dispatched to Taiwan to serve followers on short-term student visa, so they don't know much about Mandarin," said Amai, who speaks the language fluently.
Hsinchu County-based Thai migrant factory worker, 38-year-old Parichat, who has been living in Taiwan for eight years, said every village in Thailand has a temple and worship is a common practice.
Parichat said the Thai temple she visits at least once every two months is located near Zhongli train station in Taoyuan and is a good place to meet and spend time with her Thai friends.
Going to the temple to worship is an important "spiritual sustenance" for Parichat.
"We listen to Buddhist teachings by Thai masters in Thai and make donation so we can reap blessings for our families whom we only meet once in three years," Parichat said.
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