Besides its partnership with Wokai, the Association for Rural Development of Yilong County (ARDY) partners with a wide variety of domestic and international NGO’s to implement development projects in rural Sichuan. ARDY’s 15-year history in the county, and its intimate personal connection with the residents of Yilong County, places it in a unique position to serve as a platform for many outside development organizations seeking to reach out to residents of one of the poorest areas of China. At one such collaborative project this last Wednesday, ARDY partnered with the Enable Disability Studies Institute 亦能亦行残障研究所, a Beijing-based disability outreach and advocacy group, to hold a day-long workshop for disabled residents of Yilong who had borrowed from ARDY. Additional funding for the workshop was provided by the Tiger Woods Foundation.
As ARDY’s Secretary-General Gao Xiangjun 高向军 explained at the start of the morning’s workshop, Yilong county in total has an estimated 80,000 disabled people out of a total population of 1,070,000. While rural peasants have a difficult enough time securing loans from local banks, the banks are even less willing to award money to disabled applicants. However, ARDY has been including disabled persons among its borrowers since 1996. Out of the 3,000 households total that have received microloans from ARDY, at least 8% included one or more disabled family members.
On this particular morning, 27 of those disabled borrowers gathered in the main conference room of the ARDY headquarters, along with a delegation from the Enable Disability Studies Institute and several local government officials. After Mrs. Gao thanked the participants for their willingness to come during the busy harvest season, she invited each of the borrowers in turn to share their experiences with the guests. One by one, each of the peasants took the microphone and told their stories. While some were quite gregarious and excited to talk, others were quite shy, at first giving only halting responses to Mrs. Gao’s questions. Even the shyer borrowers, however, when asked about the hardships they had faced, opened up and spoke passionately.
One of the speakers, the 46-year-old Liao Congbin 廖聪斌, had a very visible curved spine, an affliction he had suffered from since birth. “I first borrowed 3000 yuan from ARDY in 2000, to pay the start-up cost of raising crops. With the money I earned with the help of ARDY, I learned how to use agricultural machinery, and started providing information and consulting services to others in my village…with ARDY’s support and encouragement, I taught myself how to set up hydroelectric machinery, and I am now the only person in the village who can help others set up hydroelectric power generators…through helping others around me, I have received their respect, and have increased my self-respect, as well…I don’t think that disabled people cannot be happy, they can find their own happiness just like anyone else.”
Xu Faming 许发明, 49, ended his story with a passionate appeal for the others present to continue to work hard. “I became partially deaf as the result of a disease I contracted at two years old. Luckily, my father was a barefoot doctor, if not for him I would not be here today. I had always wanted to learn medicine from him, but because of the rural medical reforms, I could not get the proper medical qualifications to practice medicine. I remember in 1995 I went to Shenyang [in Northern China, 2,400 km away] to find part-time labor in a textiles factory. Because of my disability, my boss and colleagues looked down on me, and always gave me the most difficult work to do. I was a hard worker, though, and was able to get by. Now that I am older, though, I wanted to find a way to stay in my hometown and make a living. This year I borrowed 5,000 yuan from ARDY to start a shop, which is now doing quite well. So now I want to say to all of my disabled friends here today, stand up, and move forward together!”