Zhang Yaping overcame the difficulties of a polio-induced affliction and a tough family situation to not just pull herself out of poverty, but her fellow villagers as well, Wang Ru reports.
Zhang Yaping told her story of fighting against disability-induced poverty at a meeting with journalists organized by the State Council Information Office on Friday. The 32-year-old woman was awarded a poverty-alleviation prize by the State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development earlier this year. Despite difficulty walking, she overcame poverty through her own effort, and helped many people around her.
Born in Jone county, Gannan Tibet autonomous prefecture, Gansu province, in 1988, Zhang contracted polio at a young age, which affected her ability to walk. When she was a junior high school student, a traffic accident caused permanent injury to her father's leg. Zhang had to drop out of school to take care of her father and, for several years, continued learning by herself. She was enrolled by a secondary technical school in 2009.
After graduation, she didn't want to leave home, and decided to work in her hometown. "My brother and sister were quite young, and my mother couldn't take care of both of them as well as my disabled father, so I could not go far," says Zhang.
She tried her hand at various jobs, including the role of purchasing agent at a supermarket, but found it difficult because of her leg ailment. She then became aware of some large pieces of vacant farmland in the village and, inspired by other villagers, she decided to grow crops in a large scale.
At first, she rented 20 hectares of farmland, took out a loan of 100,000 yuan ($15,260) and started planting. The highland barley and oats she planted grew well, and she achieved a profit of 60,000 yuan just a year later.
Although she enjoyed a good start to her farming career, she didn't think it was lucrative enough, and she would sometimes worry about her sales channels. As a result, she decided to add an animal husbandry element to the business, with the resting crop being used to feed the livestock. She opened Fengyu husbandry farmers' cooperative in 2016, which has both a farming and an animal husbandry businesses.
"At the beginning, I didn't have enough money or labor, so I went to villagers' homes every day trying to persuade them to join me, as well as exploring every means to collect money. Finally, I persuaded six people in my village to be members of my cooperative, and raised one million yuan (including bank loans) as the initial fund to start the cooperative," says Zhang.
It wasn't long, however, before problems began to interfere with her carefully laid plans. Since Zhang's hometown is located in the mountains, a landslide caused by heavy rain and an earthquake in 2017 resulted in heavy damage to her cooperative.
"The loss just robbed me of my confidence to continue. I had already invested all of my money to start, and the cost of repairs was another heavy financial blow. However, it occurred to me that it was I who encouraged other villagers to join the cooperative. If I gave up, I would be lacking in my responsibilities to them," recalls Zhang.
During her darkest hour, villager Zhang Changwa, a member of the cooperative, lent her 20,000 yuan he had saved for his son's university tuition, encouraging her not to give up and reassuring her that everything would be fine. Finally, Zhang Yaping found her resolve, borrowed enough money to repair the cooperative with the help of local government, and restarted her business.
Zhang Changwa's words came true. The cooperative gradually developed into a large-scale operation. This year, it commands 80 hectares of farmland, more than 700 sheep and 120 cows. In 2019, it boasted profits of 500,000 yuan.
The cooperative has benefited 206 households, 96 of which were registered as poor. Some people provided funds to become shareholders of the cooperative, some worked in the cooperative, and others transferred their land for the cooperative to use. Those who provided funds or transferred their land receive an annual dividend.
Many of those working in the cooperative are people with some kind of disability. "Since I have problems in my legs, I totally understand their difficulties, so I want to help them," says Zhang Yaping.
"Thanks to her, I don't have to migrate to other places to earn money for my children's education and I can work in my hometown, making it easier to take care of my blind husband," says Niu Guihua, 45, a member of the cooperative.
Niu and her husband both work in the cooperative. They also transferred their land to the cooperative for use. Their family's income this year is estimated to reach more than 30,000 yuan. "With the satisfying income, I don't need to migrate to other places for work, and I am no longer worried about how to support my children's higher education," says Niu.
Government support was also very important for Zhang Yaping. She says that the local government provided some funds for her cooperative, dispatched professionals to guide its operation and provided many annual training courses related to agriculture and animal husbandry.
"In the future, I want to expand the scale of the cooperative, form my own brand, promote deep processing of our products and apply more technology in raising our livestock. Although I walk slowly and take longer to get where I am going, I believe that someday I will overtake many others," says Zhang.