Taipei, Dutch priest Cor Willems, who is better known in Taiwan as “father of polio children” after caring for thousands of children affected by the disease during his time in the country, passed away in his native Netherlands aged 84 on Dec. 7, according to the Beunen Foundation in Taipei.
Born in 1936, Willems came to Taiwan as a missionary at the age of 27. At that time, polio was widespread as the country had a relatively undeveloped health care system, with many children receiving poor healthcare and education. Willems, his fellow Dutch priest Gerard Beunen and others established Wen-Sheng Rehabilitation Center in Jiaoxi, Yilan in 1971. Equipped with hydrotherapy and rehabilitation facilities, the center cared for thousands of children suffering from polio over the years.
In many cases, children with polio were rejected by their families, as many parents were unable to cope with the disease and unable to afford the medical bills stemming from related treatment.
After seeing how such children were treated, Willems persuaded their parents to send them to the Jiaoxi-based center. He even mastered the Taiwanese Hokkien dialect with a local accent, gradually winning the respect and affection of local people.
Hsueh Chien-chih (薛建志), director of the Yilan-based St. Francis Long-term Care Center for the Elderly, told CNA on Thursday that Willems also helped with the establishment of the center in 2016.
During the day, he would take children from the Wen-Sheng Rehabilitation Center to school and pick them up after class and sometime he would carry children paralyzed by the disease on his back to hospitals in Taipei for treatment, Hsueh recalled.
“Many abandoned children would even call him dad,” Hsueh added.
In his late seventies, Willems drove 7-10 kilometers from Jiaoxi to Toucheng, another township in Yilan to hold Mass, every day, rain or shine. He retired in 1995 and has since become widely known as “Father of polio children in Taiwan.”
In 2013, 50 years after first arriving in Taiwan, Willems was awarded an honorary county resident certificate by then Yilan County Magistrate Lin Tsung-hsien (林聰賢) for his decades-long charitable work.
At the end of the same year, Taiwan’s National Immigration Agency issued him with an Alien Permanent Resident Card also as a token of appreciation.
After his health declined in old age, Willems returned to the Netherlands in 2017.
Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel