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Stories of the Brave and the Perseverant

A-Moms struggling to keep colorful dreams


By Flor Wang CNA staff writer

Nantou women launched “921 patch crafts exhibition” in Central Research Institute on Oct 28, 1999, hoping to raise reconstruction funds.(Oct 28, 2000 CNA)

Visitors to the central country of Nantou who become familiar with Chungliao township after the devastating 921 earthquake will have no trouble finding the building that houses A-mom's Dyeing Workshop, as it stands in the town as it did 10 years ago.

The difference now is that very few customers are calling at the shop on Yungping Road, even on holidays or weekends.

The flood of people that poured into the area after the 7.3 magnitude earthquake struck on Sept. 21, 1999 has trickled off and so has business at the hand dyeing shop.

Established by a loosely formed group of local women after the earthquake, the shop sells items that are colored with dyes made from natural plants that grow in the nearby mountains.

It also offers do-it-yourself classes for visitors to learn the basic techniques used by the over 10 mothers and housewives -- known as A-moms -- to dye the colorful pillows, cellphone pouches, sheets, notebooks and other items on sale at the shop.

The women learned their craft from professionals provided by the Taipei-based ROC Community Resources Exchange Association, and the shop got off to brisk start after it officially opened in 2003 with financial assistance from the Council of Labor Affairs.

However, the colorful dreams of the A-moms are being crushed by the bitter reality of fewer and fewer visitors over the years.

"We will not give up, because we don't want it to be just a flash in the pan, " said Wu Mei-chen, manager of the workshop.

In their efforts to revive the business, the women refurbished the run-down workshop and set up the classroom where visitors can learn and practice the basics of dyeing.

"At one point, we even hired fashion experts to teach us how to pose and model and this helped to attract some visitors and boost our revenues for a while," said Wu. "However, in the last two or three years, very few tourists have been calling at the workshop, and we'd be lucky if 10 people a day come by on weekends."

This is mainly because large crowds of people are no longer visiting the Chungliao area as they did after 921 earthquake, she said, adding that another factor is the township's relatively remote location.

The variety of colorfully dyed products on display in the workshop are also not moving off the shelves because the women lack knowledge of the marketing process and government assistance has dried up, Wu said.

The other women also expressed concern over the future of the business to which they have given so much time and effort and which now earns them only a few thousand New Taiwan dollars a month. One of the women, Chien Chien-mei, called for the government to assist them in exploring markets and setting up a system to certify their products.

But the women are not sitting back and waiting. They are trying on their own to think of new ways to put the workshop back on its feet.

To raise reconstruction funds, Nantou 921 Earthquake victims held a pottery crafts exhibition in the Legislature Yuan on Nov. 11, 2000. (Nov 13, 2000 CNA)

"We are mulling a transformation plan to achieve sustainable growth for the workshop, which we established from scratch, and we will continue to strive for its success despite the tremendous difficulties we are experiencing," said Wu.

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