China: Village development and social partnership
We left early in the morning to go and visit these villages. They are all located in the vicinity of Chengde, a city which is approximately 200 km away from Beijing. The province has a population of 71 million; 54% of its inhabitants live in cities. It is one of the poorest regions in China.
We came to the village Huangtuliang, where we helped workers supply 300 homes with running water. Thanks to our help, it was also possible to regulate the stream’s water flow. This will control the flooding that happens every year. The houses looked unfinished. Children were playing on the streets. Farmers were working in the fields using simple farm tools or even donkeys. There was a low-rise housing complex in the village center; it wasn’t modern, but it was new and built with practical considerations in mind. This is where the government officials who are in charge of village development live. They are sent to each of the villages for a two-year period and work on development strategies and action plans with local residents. We were greeted by community officials and Ms. Nubgjun Zhang, the project leader. “The Buddhist community has financed the village’s street lighting. Now we are currently working on solving its water issue. There are only 10 houses left; all the others have running water,” said Ms. Zhang. A quote by President Xi Jinping, who is also the General Secretary of the Communist Party, emblazons the wall of the housing complex in red: “Do not forget to begin. We support you.” We visited several families who now have running water. We saw the regulated stream. Gazing at the temple on the outskirts of the village, we saw how it attests to deep respect for many different faiths, traditions, and emotions.
The village’s women’s association treated the entire group to a hearty lunch. It was a celebration. We said our goodbyes, knowing that we had helped the people in this village.
We arrived at a tomato production operation in Nanguan, located five kilometers away. The state has supplied the village with more than 80 hoop houses. Families cultivate tomatoes here. We saw large amounts of ripe fruit lying on the ground. Some of the women were sorting them out to sell them. The only thing that’s missing is a warehouse. A warehouse would provide a structured environment to sort and package the tomatoes; it would also make it possible to store the harvest in a cool place. Currently, the tomatoes have to be harvested and sold right away. The price is very low this season. If the tomatoes could be stored somewhere, the village would be able to sell them on the market later at a higher price. We were very impressed by the large-scale initiative. “In addition to cultivating corn, which technically serves as a food source for families, the idea was to also create a source of income for them.” Once they have money, the families can start to think about better schooling and education for their children and can improve the village’s structure.
After being on the road for more than half an hour, we arrived in the villages of Xidigou and Changgoumen. Mr. Lee is the driving force here. “82% of our 200 families are extremely poor. Corn production only provides very little income, if at all. We asked ourselves how we could create sources of income in our mountainous region." The state’s ecological initiative to make cities greener gave the villagers an idea: “We run a tree school. We grow pine trees and sell them to nurseries once they’re between 3 and 4 years old.” We did notice that the cities, which are growing nonstop, attach a great deal of importance to creating green spaces. “We’ve planted 180,000 saplings so far. All we have to do now is wait until the trees are large enough to be sold.” He proudly showed us around the tree school’s mountainous terrain. It’s freezing outside, but the sight of it is heartwarming.
It’s getting late. We have to go back to Beijing. The men insist that we stay and drink a cup of tea with them. We have the feeling that the village, the project, and the tree school are in good and motivated hands.