In 1977, they returned to Taiwan and founded the New Dawn Special Education Center in Hualien. Their new ministry began with five people in their home. The school grew under their care, and even when the Dirkses eventually moved on, New Dawn kept expanding. In 1986, New Dawn relocated to their current site, and in 1992, they received a grant from the government of Taiwan to build a seven-story building. They later renamed their organization the Taiwan Mennonite New Dawn Educare Center.
The New Dawn Educare Center now serves more than 250 children and adults. They have a day care, residential care, and a sheltered workshop. The school also offers vocational training and employment services, seeking out internships with local businesses for people with disabilities.
New Dawn’s education and therapy methods are multi-modal. They include Montessori, music, equine therapy, horticulture, pet therapy, art therapy, sports, physical therapy, and work therapy. Students are given individual education plans (IEPs). They have a chime choir, a percussion band, and a choir. Work therapy can include car washing, working on their farm, or making crafts. The farm is organic and the school is committed to “green” practices. New Dawn sells produce from the farm and also sells handmade crafts in their gift shop. The Anabaptist values of peace, solidarity, simplicity and service continue to be foundational.
This year, New Dawn received a Presidential Culture Award from the Taiwan government. New Dawn has increased visibility, acceptance, and independence for disabled children and adults. The attitudes and culture regarding disability have changed greatly in the past 40 years, but they continue to look to the future. Their current project is attempting to decentralize and create smaller home-like centers for adults with disabilities. They are also raising funds to build a new center with an expanded program in Shoufeng, located about 20 km south of Hualien.
Thank you to Sheldon Sawatsky for his extensive help with research for this article.
Jeanne Davies serves as program director for ADN. She also serves as pastor for Parables Community, a new church start dedicated to creating a worshiping community for all people including those with intellectual disabilities and autism.