09 February 2023 ·

'Taking care of the youth, a responsibility we cannot avoid'

My final speech (in Chinese!) at the end of the language course at the Idia (Institute of Diplomacy and International Affairs), at the presence of the Chargée d'affairs of the Holy See, Msgr. Stefano Mazzotti, and the new president of the Idia, the Hon. Andrew Li.
Taipei (BC) - After a year of study to resume the Chinese language at an advanced level, the school (Idia, Institute of Diplomacy and International Affairs), asked me to prepare a speech in Chinese. The theme I chose concerns Taiwan's young people, but also their comparison with the young people of Hong Kong, Italy and China. Here is the full text in English.
Dear President Andrew Li,
distinguished guests,
dear fellow students,
thank you for coming and joining in this meeting which concludes my year of Chinese study and for which I thank the IDIA which has offered me this precious opportunity.
This is my second time giving a presentation here at the IDIA.
Last April 2022, in my first study session, I spoke about my discoveries in Taiwan: the friendly hospitality of the Taiwanese, the good relationship that is emerging between fathers and daughters, the civic attitude in waste collection, the love for the history of China and art, the freedom enjoyed in Taiwan and the lively cultural dialogue between East and West.
In this second presentation I would like to talk about some young people I have met in these months, their efforts and their hopes, putting them in relationship with the young people I know in Italy, Hong Kong, China and other parts of the world.
This work of mine is not a conference on young people, nor an analysis of the youth world. It would be necessary a long time to do a complete scientific work, a time that I didn't have, since the study kept me busy.
My attempt is to present some portraits, expressing ideas, feelings, questions that these faces communicate to me. Of course, these portraits represent a part of the youth world that is studied and analyzed here in Taiwan.
Young people – it is often said – are the future of a nation and what happens to them, will in some way have consequences for everyone's future. For this reason, taking care of young people, listening to them, understanding what is in their heart, is an important commitment for all of society.
Of course, I hope that what I say can also give suggestions to the youth policy of Taiwan or China, or Italy. But for my part I don't dare making stringent suggestions, having lived in Taiwan only for one year.
From a personal point of view, I find important to have at heart these young people I met. The job that awaits me in Hong Kong is almost certainly among the young people of the St. Francis Catholic University. I therefore see this work as a precious gift that the young people of Taiwan offer to me and the young people of Hong Kong.
Work and home
The first reason that drives me to talk about young people is having seen them every day on the subway: those who sleep, those who use their mobile phones to play, to read social media, watch videos... but without talking, not even to each other.
It is true that in the morning we are a little sleepy and that we are in the Covid regime, in which it is advisable not to talk on the subway. But boys have never been an example of great discipline!
Silence also dominates when leaving school: each boy stands on his own, tired eyes, which avoid looking at the other, drowsiness and sadness.
I noticed the same phenomenon in Hong Kong. They tell me that even in Italy going to school for young people has now become a sad gesture.
In my country, the blame goes to Covid and the isolation that students have experienced for almost two years.
In Hong Kong, the cause is attributed to the loss of hope caused by the political changes that have taken place in the territory and the crackdown following the national security law.
According to some teachers, the sadness of Taipei's young people is due to the study load at school and after-school activities, more or less 7 days a week, with pressure from parents and teachers so that they can pass the entrance exam in a good university.
The same situation can be seen in China PRC, where success in the entrance exam concentrates the energies of the whole family for years.
With all this study and pressure, I fear there is little space for young people to express themselves in a free, quiet way, by telling or doing something that they feel deeply.
On the other hand, it is perhaps difficult to find a balance between the duties of studying and playing, between consuming oneself for the future and enjoying the present. In addition, our worldwide society is built on competition and success at all costs. Staying out of it is unlikely, unless you choose not the job with the highest salary, but the job that expresses you the most.
And I have met people like this.
Max is a young man of 24 years. He decided to be a restorer. At first he asked me for information on some restoration schools in Italy. But then he chose to take courses at a university in Taiwan, wanting to specialize in the restoration of antique Chinese furniture. Max's choice seems very significant to me: in a Taiwanese society, known throughout the world for semiconductors, computers, software, for a young man to choose the path of craftsmanship is a sign of courage. In addition, his love for art shows that in the human soul there are things that satisfy our hearts more than money.
Max already knows that his job won't allow him a life of luxury. He already has plans to move to another city, other than Taipei, where his family lives. Here in Taipei, houses are very expensive and rents are very high. Furthermore, social housing seems to have stagnated for years and many young people are putting off important decisions such as marriage because they are unable to earn enough to be able to move into their own home.
In Hong Kong there is a similar situation. For years, the government has been granting land to construction companies that build houses and skyscrapers for the wealthy. Many young people, despite getting married and having low wages, are forced to live with her or his parents in very small and therefore crowded apartments. According to some analysts, this is one of the reasons that in recent years has pushed young people to rebel against the government in the peaceful "Umbrella Revolution" (2014) and in the demonstrations of 2019-2020, which sometimes resulted in violence. In Italy, on the other hand, young people prefer not to get married and delay leaving the parental home for many years. So it is easy to find 40 or 50 year olds who still live with their father and mother. The lack of social housing - in Italy as in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan - is one of the causes that contribute to the drastic drop in births, given that it does not allow new families to be formed.
The Depression
A much more complex problem is depression among young people. According to the Central News Agency, Taiwan's national news agency, about 30 percent of Taiwanese children and youth suffer from mental disorders and need professional assistance.
The data are those of the Ministry of Health and Welfare and date back to 2017. But they are confirmed in some way by another statistic: the "Taipei Times" of July 5, 2022, reporting data from the National Health Insurance, says that in 2020 16.1% of young people under the age of 30 take anti-depressants. From one year to the next there is an increase of 5%. The data are almost the same in Italy and China. For Hong Kong there are even figures that speak of 40% of young people with depression problems. Scientists attribute the cause to social changes, tense interpersonal relationships, stress at work.
In fact, if you look at Italy, you understand that it is the lack of family relationships – with both parents absent for work, or with cohabitation problems that lead to separation and divorce – that is one of the triggers.
In China, according to some psychologist friends, in addition to the study pressure and difficulties in relationship, there are also problems of insecurity and anxiety due to pollution, sophisticated and spoiled foods, unclean water, ...
In Taiwan, it is the lack of relationship between parents and children that causes depression. This is what Alan, a 22-year-old college English student, tells me. Stress is due to the fact that parents plan their children's lives without taking their wishes and personalities into account, avoiding appreciation and valorization, not caring about boosting their self-confidence. Alan confided in me that he interrupted his studies for a year, but he didn't want to say more, he only mentioned "personal reasons".
Francis, 27, is a young man who finished his studies now works in the world of software. But he had to stop for a year due to his depression. He tells me: “The young people here are very lonely, they have no one who is interested in them. No one listens to the wounds we have in our hearts". Francis points out that there is like an abyss between adults and young people, and there is no reciprocal communication, but "only orders that come from above and that must be carried out". Francis tells me that at some point he lost faith in the adult world, looking at them as enemies of his life.
For sure there are medicines for depression; in Italy many schools have psychologists; but the problem is above all to rebuild the relationship between parents and children, looking at them not as an object to be shaped, but as a unique, specific, absolute personality to bring out and strengthen. Depressed people are unable to work, lead to social disintegration, opposing the world of adults and the world of young people, and sometimes they commit suicide. For this reason, treating depression saves not only the individual, but also society.
Religions and friends
Are there any possibilities to change this situation? Does Taiwan have the resources to recover young people marked by these problems? I think so.
First of all, the government could facilitate the recruitment of young people, with an adequate salary and by launching social housing projects that alleviate the economic pressure and insecurity to which young people are subjected.
Then there is the need to transform family relationships, between parents and children. I was impressed to know that in Hong Kong a father spends only 5 minutes a day with his children. Of course, this is due to the pressing pace of work which now absorbs almost all of the adults' time. But this too can change: caring for young people is at least as useful to society as work and production.
It is also necessary that the time to be spent with the children is a time of listening, favoring the communication of their self, not only imposing laws and rules to be followed, on pain of rejection or humiliation.
Religious faith can also provide some help. Months ago, I visited Longshan Temple in Taipei Old Town. The central pagoda is dedicated to Guanyin Buddha, the Buddha of mercy, but the back chapels are dedicated to Taoist deities. On the right side there is the statue of the god of Literature. I was amazed to see dozens of 15-year-old boys and young people praying intensely to that god, asking for the possibility of passing the entrance exam and the strength to face the hardships of preparation.
It is said that young people in Taiwan are not religious. My little experience tells me the contrary. Of course, in this case it can be said that young people have recourse to God only because they need him for the exam; their faith is self-interested and has practical reasons. In any case, it is a dimension that broadens one's gaze on life and does not narrow one's eyes only on immediate things. Somehow this prayer raises a hope beyond everyday problems and pressures.
At the FuDa Catholic University, students are offered courses in the philosophy of life, on the most important values of existence, on friendship, comparing them with the teaching of the Bible and the Gospel. This too is an important way to understand that life is greater than immediate interests, that existence is more important than the clothes you wear or the food you eat: in short, that life has a wider horizon than material values, money and well-being.
Other (state) universities also have courses for teachers on the philosophy of life and friendship, helping adults to understand values such as respect, listening, free service, love as a gift of self. Another shining example of how it is possible to address and solve young people’s problems came from meeting a Taiwanese entrepreneur who is now retired. Dr. Che He Dao (Her Daw) was among Taiwan's brightest students and graduates. He then emigrated to the United States where he worked in the computer field, in Silicon Valley. Now that he is retired, he has decided to help the young people of a village of Yuan Zhu Min, in the center of the island, spending six months in the US and six months in Taiwan. In the village he and a group of Presbyterian missionaries have founded a remedial school, a kind of bushiban for the boys and girls of the village. They not only help young people in academic performance, but strengthen their self-confidence and friendship among themselves, also organizing a choir that is having performances all over the world. Many of them passed the university entrance exam – something that was very rare before. Furthermore, when young people go to the city to find work, thanks to their preparation and self-confidence they finally find their way and do not end up – as happened before – in crime or prostitution.
I asked dr. Che why he does this. He replied that his actions have no confessional religious reasons, since he does not belong to any congregation. He said to me: “Up until a certain point in my life, I have worked for myself and my children. Now the time has come to offer something to others”.
I believe that as long as there are people like Dr. Che, there is hope for the youth and for Taiwan, as well as for the world.
Solidarity is a very precious asset.
In conclusion, allow me to thank the IDIA again for giving me this year of studies and experience: thanks to all the staff, from the president, to the secretary, down to the doormen who have always helped me integrate. Thanks to my teachers, who have always been very patient and understanding. Thanks also to the young people I met, who, even under stress, face problems and difficulties with hope. I leave Taiwan enriched not only with the Chinese language, but also with your testimony.
Thanks to all of you.
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