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Stories of the Brave and the Perseverant

Unique 'Paper Dome' highlights Taomi's community building success

九二一震災後九年 南投埔里桃米生態見證社區重建、產業重建的成果新故鄉文教基金會推動重建家園的啟示。

By Stephanie Low CNA Staff Writer
A peculiar white structure built of cardboard columns stands quietly aside a river across from Taoyuan Elementary School in the rural community of Taomi in Puli Township.

As unusual as it may be, the so-called Paper Dome from Japan has become the landmark of the community, but it has an even more significant mission: to serve as a platform to exchange community-building and post-earthquake reconstruction experiences, both within Taiwan and with communities in other countries.

"We hope this (the Paper Dome) will become a powerhouse, " said Liao Chia-chan, chairman of the Puli-based nonprofit New Homeland Foundation, which is working to build a network that links together the local communities affected by the Sept. 21, 1999 earthquake.

The Puli government building was collapsed in the 921 Earthquake. (Sep 21, 1999 CNA)

"Through the formation of a mutual-help body, the progress made by the communities will be seen and form an important part of Taiwan's social movement experience," he said.

The foundation promoting community building was established in February 1999, just seven months before the 7.3-magnitude earthquake struck near mountainous Puli.

In the aftermath of the disaster, which destroyed over 40,000 homes around Taiwan, including more than 6,200 in Puli alone, the foundation set up a "homeland reconstruction work station" to help local residents rebuild their lost homes.

Among the local communities rebuilding themselves with the foundation's assistance is Taomi, which has been transformed from an old, non-descript town into an environmentally friendly village promoting eco-agriculture.

Over the past several years, more than 40,000 tree seedlings have been planted in the village, with three hectares of wetland conserved and 25 household eco-ponds created. Also, two sewage treatment ponds and food scrap recycling plants have been set up there.

There are now nearly 20 legal home stays and a total of 30 field educators in Taomi, making it a popular site for outings by visitors from other parts of the country.

Puli citizens went back to hometown after the big earthquake, only to see houses reduced to rubbles. (Sep 25, 1999 CNA)

With Taomi's experience becoming a model for community rejuvenation, the relocation of the Paper Dome to the village in 2008 upgraded the underlying spirit of mutual help from a people-to-people level to a country-to-country level.

"It is not just a special building. More importantly, it brings together the dreams of numerous people," Liao said.

The rectangular-shaped structure built of 58 huge cardboard columns was the creation of Japanese architect Shigeru Ban. It was originally intended as a temporary church to replace a Catholic church that was destroyed in the Kobe earthquake of Jan. 17, 1995.

New Homeland staffers led by Liao first encountered the Paper Dome in 2005 when they were on a visit to Japan to attend activities held to mark the 10th anniversary of the Kobe earthquake.

Learning that the structure was soon to be torn down to make way for a new concrete church there, Liao proposed to the Japanese side that the memorable building be relocated to Taiwan to extend its existence.

The Paper Dome was officially inaugurated in Taomi on Sept. 21, 2008, the ninth anniversary of the 921 earthquake, and has since become part of a leisure park that is a site for local handicraft exhibitions, holiday farm fairs and ecological education.

Now, the 1,200 to 1,500 people visit the park on average during weekends and the 200 to 300 people who visit on weekdays come in close contact with the magic of community building and the passion and energy of a reborn community.

"Such interaction will allow the experience and achievements of community reconstruction to be seen and discovered and in turn become a new value and action," Liao said.

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