Huatung is believed to be the last remaining untouched land of Taiwan. Its rich indigenous culture sets it apart from the rest of the island, its natural environment can be the best teacher for city dwellers to learn to coexist with nature; however, even with its abundance of resources, its lack of opportunities drive youths away from their homes to find work in the city. Ten years ago, The Alliance Cultural Foundation (ACF) set the mission to develop an economically sustainable future for the region, and for the youths to have the choice to move back to their homes and sustain a living for themselves and their families. This feature shares the story of ACF’s journey in achieving its mission and its vision for the future.
Coexist with nature, the Huatung way Huatung is a region that has touched ACF Chair Stanley Yen from a young age. He recognized that its pristine beauty and unique indigenous culture would be the appeal that charms the world to Taiwan. After the hit of the Typhoon Morakot in 2009, Chair Yen witnessed and understood that what was needed for the region to sustain long-term were initiatives that aimed to resolve deep-rooted issues. The birth of ACF was inspired by this vision. ACF has since aimed to demonstrate best practices, and pioneer successful models. In 2010, Chair Yen introduced McKinsey to the Taiwan Tourism Bureau. After three months of analysis on the potential of Taiwan’s east coast, the report validated Chair Yen’s vision for Huatung. It stated that Huatung’s economic potential is through offering in-depth tourism experiences, sustaining its local culture and natural environment. It should focus on individuals who seek escape from city life for slow travel; it should focus on those who are adventurous, who appreciate nature; it should focus on seniors who have the time to stay long-term to relax and find peace. The report also indicated the need to increase accessibility for overseas travelers as well as an increase of marketing campaigns for the region. Step by step, ACF proves it to be the right direction for Huatung. From 2010 to 2012, ACF coached customer service etiquette to local guides, B&B hosts, shop keepers, setting up online sales platforms for local entrepreneurs as well as repacking existing excursions to fit to the international market. ACF designed a tour itinerary inviting opinion leaders and the media to experience the Huatung way of slow travel, demonstrating a different future for the region to progress towards – a place for individuals to coexist with the environment and experience authenticity. In more recent years, youths have increasingly returned to the townships of Changbin and Fengbin. Some to the villages to learn native traditions, others to learn self-sustaining skills of their tribes. They not only learned from, but introduced new ideas and skills to the villages, slowly changing its futures. With its growing accessibility, the townships face the threat of being commercialized just as the Yilan Plain did when the Xueshan Tunnel was built. ACF continues to invite opinion leaders and the media to the region to experience its unique way of life in effort to prevent commercialization through their voices. ACF also introduced Athletic Performance Coaching into the Changbin-Fengbin way of life, recognizing that nature and wellness goes hand-in-hand. Chair Yen believes that in a globalized world, the value of local culture is ever more important. Besides supporting youths to study, tour and witness first-hand Hawaii’s way of preserving their native culture, ACF brings locals together to co-create an itinerary which incorporates diverse tribal cultural experiences. ACF also emphasizes on the importance of English ability so that Taiwan can extend its tourism market internationally. Regardless of whether it is to experience the east coast mountains, its coast, its indigenous culture, or wellness through Athletic Performance Coaching, ACF hopes that for anyone visiting to visit with the slow travel mindset and respect the land as a native.
Chair Yen has always believed that the true way to experience and understand the indigenous culture isn’t to only wear the traditional clothing, or to dance the traditional dance, it should be to experience the everyday life, the self-sustaining knowledge of the tribes of the mountains and oceans, to experience the culture through stories.
In effort to equip youths with the vision and enough exposure to lead their villages to a better future, we initiate and seek out programs – from participating in Hong Kong’s annual MaD Conference, to the Hawaii Cultural Sustainability Educational Tour, and the Asian Executive Management program at the Brigham Young University-Hawaii. To date, ACF has supported a total of 51 youths to partake in the programs in Hawaii. In an effort to create ongoing dialogue on the sustainability of the villages, ACF hosts periodic co-learning workshops for the group since 2019. The workshops discuss tribal issues, initiatives, and serves as a support base. ACF envisions through a collaborative effort, the villages will achieve sustainability and long-term preservation of their culture.
Chair Yen’s vision for change: To resolve deep-rooted issues in the rural, education, elder care and job opportunities must be considered simultaneously
Though Huatung youths have the desire to return to their hometowns, the lack of job opportunities, quality education and elder care makes the decision a hesitating one. The birthrate in the region is low, and many villages are near-abandoned. In effort to support the survival of the elementary schools, the government allocates large grants to keep them operating. Currently, 50% of elementary schools have under 60 students; many have between 10 to 20 students, lacking in group learning environment. 10 years ago, the National Cheng Kung Commercial and Aquaculture Senior Vocational High School, located in Taiwan’s east coast, had 400 students, the figure has now dropped to 170 students. It is an issue that cannot be disregarded.
In regards to the lack of quality education in the rural, Chair Yen believes that the key is not to narrow the gap between the rural and the city, but rather to create a different education model respecting the rural environment and culture. In an ideal world, Chair Yen envisions the resources of few nearly abandoned elementary schools to be combined and converted into a K-12 school which implements the new education model that fits to the region and its culture; this model would thereby keep youths in their hometowns receiving the education relevant to their way of life.
In Changbin, out of 7,039 locals, 24% are 65-years and older; this data was taken in November 2019. The lack of elder care is one of Huatung’s most concerning issues due to its aging population. To tackle the matter, Chair Yen believes in the importance of creating an elder care centre where seniors who are independent in mobility and mental state can coexist. The centre would not only create job opportunities, but a community. Tribal elders play an important role in passing on culture and tradition, and in the community, they could teach youths age-old methods of farming, weaving, and hunting for the continuation of tribal practices. For elders who are not independent in mobility and mental health, village people can be educated to offer at-home elder care.
To tackle the lack of job opportunity, Chair Yen envisions a cultural centre where tribespeople can offer cultural learning and tribal experiences such as music, dance, traditional carving, ceramics, indigenous food, attire, hunting, farming, kayaking, and fishing. The creation of a cultural centre would create opportunities suited to the locals. With Huatung’s abundance of resources, Chair Yen believes in the possibility that by reforming abandoned elementary schools into experimental schools, by creating a cultural centre as well as an elder care centre would create enough jobs for youths to return home; elders would receive the care they need, and children can grow up in their hometowns. This vision could very well tackle the lack of quality education, job opportunities and senior care; it could prevent the abandonment villages and revive them.