A New Dawn in Taiwan with Canadian Roots: Providing Care to People with Disabilities

2 July 2021

Reverend Otto Dirks with baby daughter Paula; Elaine Dirks with son Steven; son Randall.

In 1968, a young Canadian reverend named Otto Dirks[1], his wife Elaine and their young son Randall left Winnipeg for what would be a 10-year stay in Taiwan as Mennonite missionaries. Soon after their arrival, they had a second son who was born with Down’s Syndrome, and they adopted a daughter who had both physical and developmental disabilities.

The couple quickly learned that in Taiwan, the stigma associated with disabilities was very strong. Many disabled children were neglected, abandoned, or hidden by their families.

The Dirkses soon recognized that through this mission, they were meant to support children with disabilities in Taiwan. Inspired to by their compassion and faith, they returned to Canada to raise both awareness and funds and take courses in special education. In 1977, equipped with some newly acquired funding and expertise, the young family returned to Taiwan and founded the New Dawn Special Education Centre.

Elaine Dirks (in white) with Steven and Paula (held by woman at far left); and unknown staff and clients of the New Dawn Special Education Centre in the late 1970s.

From Modest Beginnings to a Vibrant Centre

Forty-five years ago, the Centre began very modestly in the Dirkses’ home. Now, the New Dawn Educare Centre is housed in a 7-storey building and provides both day and residential services to 270 clients with a wide range of physical and developmental disabilities. The wide range of education and therapy methods includes music, animal and art therapies, vocational training and internships/employment with local businesses.



Animal therapy as part of the Center’s “Green Care” program

A Family Affair

New Dawn Educare Centre works hard to ensure that both the clients and their families are as equipped as possible to deal with the many different aspects of living with a disability as well as caring for a person with a disability. A serious issue many families face is that of ‘double aging’. Since people with disabilities can age earlier than the general population, elderly parents often find themselves no longer able to care for their children.

However, some residents do not have any family. For them, the New Dawn staff have become their ‘adopted’ family.


May’s infectious smile.

May’s Story

May was born with cerebral palsy. While this never impacted her intellectually, she has required constant physical care. She came to live at New Dawn twenty years ago when her mother fell ill and became unable to care for her.

Although she sometimes feels trapped in her body, the services she has received at New Dawn have greatly improved her quality of life and boosted her confidence. An incredibly positive and happy person, May always takes the time to remember every single caregiver’s name and is incredibly grateful for everything and everyone in her life.

In 2019, May was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her caregivers were beside her every step of the way while she underwent treatment. Sadly, in 2020, May learned that her cancer had spread and become terminal. Although she is afraid of what might come next, she has never lost her hope.


New Dawn Family in 2021

The Canadian Connection Lives On

Thanks to a generous donation from a Canadian physician born in Taiwan, Myriad Canada has been working with New Dawn Educare Centre since 2019, providing nutritious and specialized meals to 120 clients. This partnership could not have come at a better time as Covid-19 impacted the lives of everyone at New Dawn – including a decrease in the vital donations they rely on.

Gui-hua Liang, New Dawn’s CEO, was eager to express everyone’s gratitude for the support from Myriad Canada’s donor. “Thanks to this support, we have been able to continue to provide stable services despite the threat of the epidemic. Our gratitude is beyond words.”

[1] Otto Dirks was born in Soviet Ukraine, the grandson of the first Mennonite missionary from Russia to go abroad on mission (Sumatra,1869-1881). His father, a teacher, was arrested by the Soviet authorities in 1938 and never heard from again.

In 1944, the family fled Russia, facing four fear-filled years of recapture by the Russian army. They arrived in Canada in 1948 where Otto later became a Mennonite pastor. Rev. Dirks died in 2019.