APRIL is a month of azalea blossoms in Bijie, a remote city in southwestern China’s Guizhou Province. Lugging heavy suitcases, I set off for the small city I had never heard of before some 1,000 km away from Xi’an. I wasn’t going there for the well-known scenery.
Three years previously on December 1, 2015, I joined the poverty alleviation program of my employer Evergrande Group, one of China’s real estate giants, and was sent to Bijie.
Leaving family and friends behind, and working on a totally unfamiliar project, I encountered numerous difficulties during my first months in the city.
Little Min’s First Toy
Working in Bijie was a deliberate decision on my part, but I was still taken by surprise when I arrived. Born and raised in northern China, I am accustomed to eating flour-based food and had no palate for spicy food. However, local people in Bijie eat pepper and fish mint nearly every day. Their soup made of pickled vegetables and kidney beans was especially a challenge to me.
A poverty alleviation worker in the process of evaluating the situation of a poor family.
Local people are hospitable, but we communicated mostly with body language in my early days there, as I could not understand the local dialect. Encircled by rolling mountains, the city has a long rainy season and stands at a high altitude. The morning fog always made me feel trapped in some kind of prison.
However, despite my frustration and homesickness, I was determined to persevere no matter how tough the conditions were.
The Evergrande Group has developed an aid program for left-behind children, children in need and orphans. The program receives donations from all over the nation.
What impressed me most was a visit I made to a little girl named Min last April. I, together with some coworkers, went to her village to deliver some donations. It was a weekend, so Min was off school. Her family had no phone, so I had to make contact with a village official before setting off. When we were about to arrive at her home, we found a little girl squatting beside the street, with arms clutching her knees and head turned away out of shyness. The village official told us that this was Min.
It turned out that she had been waiting for us there as soon as she heard we were coming. She had been squatting there for the entire three hours it took us to reach the village, and wouldn’t budge despite her family calling her inside. It humbled all of us to hear this, and this shy girl then led us to her home.
When we gave the stationery, clothes and a teddy bear toy to her, she took them shyly with an evident hint of joy. Holding on tightly to the toy bear, her eyes brimmed with tears, but she said nothing.
Just as we were about to leave, I felt someone grab my sweater from behind. I turned around and saw Min with tears in her eyes and heard her whisper something I couldn’t understand. “She asked when you will come again,” her father explained, telling us the teddy bear was the first toy she had ever had. My eyes turned misty.
A local poverty alleviation team visits a poor rural household to assess their situation.
A Chinese saying says a man does not easily shed tears until his heart is broken. Min made a case for this. She helped us learn that there are still many children like her, families like hers and people in even worse situations. At that moment, I realized what it really meant to fight against poverty. I knew that I had a great responsibility, and that I had to carry on no matter how hard it was.
Orange Juice Toast
Behind Evergrande’s targeted poverty alleviation campaign is a legion of people devoted to the cause. They have been working with local officials and visited every household to collect first hand information and match the data to tailored measures for poverty reduction.
In the mountainous region of Bijie, the distance between each household usually takes several hours of traveling, often on foot. Transportation difficulties, inclement weather, attacks by wild dogs or snakes and landslides are frequent.
Regardless of these difficulties, we have been aiming for the best in pursuing our shared goal of helping local people lead a better life.
I recalled a day in July 2016 when we planned to visit a remote small village deep in the mountains. The sky was overcast early in the morning, suggesting heavy rain was on the way. But we insisted on the original plan to make sure things could proceed on time.
Our truck travelled along a narrow rural pathway for more than two hours, after which we had to continue the trip on foot as the road ended in overgrowing weeds and steep mountains. We proceeded in pouring rains for another two hours and finally saw a house ahead. On hearing the barks of a dog, a rawboned middle-aged man walked out of a ramshackle house in the middle of nowhere.
Three generations of the Zhangs had lived in the dilapidated hut for 12 years prior to September 2016.
Learning of our intentions, the man took out a half-bottle of orange juice to offer us a drink. We later learned that his home was so far away from the nearest town that he rarely made it to the market to buy groceries. The juice was bought last Spring Festival, and he cherished it too much to drink it, only bringing it out on special occasions.
We told him that his conditions met the criteria for relocating poor people to where they could lead a better life. On hearing this news he was so excited that he couldn’t stop grinning from ear to ear.
Due to the long distance, we only visited one family that day, and it was already 11 pm when we returned to the office. Later, we learned that the “orange-juice” man had been moved to a new residential community funded by the Evergrande Group and had even started his own business. The news made us all very happy.
Every time such a success story comes to mind, I have a better understanding of what we are doing in poverty reduction efforts. We are changing people’s lives, and it is a great honor to be part of it.
With a tiny change in mindset, people like me who work for poverty alleviation on the frontline could bring significant changes to poor people’s lives. Although our work may seem simple, our responsibilities are immense.
A Bamboo Crutch
On one particular trip, we were caught in a rain shower en-route to a rural family, which made the muddy slippery mountain roads impassable. After one of our coworkers became trapped on the treacherous road and got lost in the rising fog, Zhang Zhongzhi, a local village official familiar with the conditions of the region, risked his own safety to rescue our colleague, and voluntarily carried him to safety. He then cut bamboo poles and gave these to us to help keep us stable during the walk back. This is an indication of the difficulties in our daily work.
Throughout the process of the targeted poverty alleviation campaign, thousands of officials at the grassroots level like Zhang Zhongzhi are sparing no efforts to work for the cause. Now, a bamboo pole has become ubiquitous among my coworkers when visiting rural households. It is no longer just a plant, but something that connects us to officials at the grassroots level and the public in advancing the poverty reduction projects.
The promising area of Bijie is like a second hometown to people from the Evergrande Group who are devoted to poverty alleviation. Dishes of fish mint and soup of pickled vegetables and kidney beans now taste delicious because they have become the flavor of my new hometown.