In 2003, my wife, children, and I lived in a province of China located in the most southwestern part of the country. We were there to study Mandarin at the local university. During our time there, we noticed the many faces of poverty. One of my teachers, a local journalist, explained many local realities to me.
Children. One of these is the tragedy of some children who are reduced to work for their “owners.” They are intentionally amputated at a young age; someone brings them to their assigned street corner to collect money. My teacher told me that those responsible for these atrocities are often rich and living as far away as Guangzhou (a wealthy city near Hong Kong).
Migrant workers. Another face of poverty is the many migrant “workers” who come from the villages hoping to make a living. Some walk around the city looking for anything they can trade for money at a recycling warehouse located far away in the suburbs. On their backs (or by bicycle) they carry a very heavy load of cardboard, plastic, or paper. They are easy to recognize as their tan is dark from all the hours spent in the sun. Their young children are often with them. Many belong to one of the ethnic minorities present in this part of China.
Other migrant workers live in crowded dorms to cut down the cost of housing. After their employers deduct the room and board fees, there isn’t much to take back to their village after months of hard work. Additionally, the working conditions on the construction sites are not very safe and accidents are common. The children do not have access to local schools because the workers are in the city illegally.
Street vendors. After trying to make a living selling roasted corn, some street vendors have their equipment confiscated by local authorities (police).
Closure of factories. Many government factories have closed, thus leaving workers without a job. This has created a major problem in some parts of China.
Taxes and inflation. Farmers in the countryside are struggling to survive due to heavy taxes and a rise in prices.
Is There Hope?
There are several non-governmental organizations working in this province. For example, we saw a school for disabled children who have no opportunity to go to a regular school. The school has occupational therapists, and there are teachers who teach them various trade or language skills. There are also medical teams which offer clinical services and teachings on basic hygiene and nutrition (to avoid some of the common medical problems).
There is also a group of local Christians building and renovating homes for a small colony of lepers. They live on top of a mountain, very isolated from the rest of the world. New homes are built with water tanks that have solar-powered heating systems. These tanks were donated by a Chinese company. This project is a ray of hope for lepers who remain there even after they have received treatment for their condition. It would be hard for them to re-integrate into society. This is home for them.