Not exactly a Tiger Mom.

Jisu Erxi is 70 years old, poor, and living with her husband Leer Wujia and her three grandchildren in Gudu community, Zhaojue County, Sichuan Province. She’s missing some teeth and there’s no doubt that the years have not been easy on her. Her eldest son is in jail, having left behind his two children with Jisu & Leer when they were infants. Her second son married a nice girl from the village but he is a migrant worker miles away. And when Jisu’s youngest son disappeared, his wife fled the drug-filled marriage, leaving another baby behind for Jisu & Leer to raise.

The Wujias definitely don’t follow writer Amy Chua’s Tiger Mom rules for perfect Chinese mothers: (1) schoolwork always comes first; (2) an A-minus is a bad grade; (3) your children must be two years ahead of their classmates in math; (4) you must never compliment your children in public; (5) if your child ever disagrees with a teacher or coach, you must always take the side of the teacher or coach; (6) the only activities your children should be permitted to do are those in which they can eventually win a medal; and (7) that medal must be gold.

But whatever Jisu lacks in forcing her own children to achieve, she more than makes up for in kindness: the entire time she was telling us the sad story of her children’s failures, she was stroking, caressing and hugging the grandchildren they left behind. Her diligence, caring and hard work is what brought her to the attention of Abi Shiha, leader of the Gudu Women’s Self Help Group.

The irrepressible Abi Shiha

“These women lead really harsh lives,” says the relatively affluent Abi, “but they were working so hard, I felt like I should help them find new channels to succeed.”

And those new channels led to Heifer and some really great pigs.

Established in March 2009 with the help of Heifer International, the Self-Help Groups Project consists of about 80 female-headed families in Zhaojue County who agreed to participate in livestock trainings, group savings accounts (each woman contributes $1/month and from that fund any member can borrow), and in community- and income-building activities like hog-breeding and community clean-ups that teach group responsibility and achievement (Tiger Mom maxims).

Everywhere you look, it’s women doing the work.

It’s step-by-step learning for women whose daily lives are a struggle against deprivation and despair.

A stockpile against hunger of beautiful maize.

Zhaojue is an outlier community: peri-urban, beset by AIDS and drug abuse, and predominantly female, as the vast majority of males have left for work in the cities. Typical income is less than $300/year and there is very little land to farm. But with the gift of Heifer pigs, the women’s income increased more than 3,000 RMB in a year, and some families increased 10,000. (Abi & her husband raised these prize winners:)

Gudu women  have learned to be self-reliant, help each other, and establish hygienic habits in their houses and the community, even petitioning the government to build clean, healthy biogas stoves. They also adopted Heifer’s Farmer Field School trainings to plant pasture for their animals and vegetables for their children, and by November 5, half the women had Passed on the Gift of animals to another 80 needy families– a full six months’ ahead of schedule.

As we sat in the yard talking & admiring Jisu’s 3 Heifer sows, 1 fattening pig and 9 piglets, the grandchildren, who were rather withdrawn at first, reverted to their feisty adorable selves. They are all in school now (the better township school Jisu proudly told us) and they finally have enough food to eat and clothes to wear. “Before, we had nothing to sell so we couldn’t even buy shoes,” she explains. “But now we have pigs.”

The promise of a new generation: Jisu’s daughter-in-law and youngest grandchild.

And in Zhaojue, pigs are better than tigers any day.

Categories: Animals, China, Heifer International, Hunger, Photography, Travel, Women | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 33 Comments

Post navigation

33 thoughts on “Not exactly a Tiger Mom.

  1. Humbling and awe inspiring Betty

    • Thanks so much, Lulu –and as moms, we all can only IMAGINE what it would be like to inherit three babies at the age of 65… with absolutely no resources!

  2. Amanda

    so moving

    • Jisu really stuck with me, Amanda — because she was so sweet and affectionate with those children, and despite their hardships, they were adorable kids.

  3. this is precisely why you have taken your year and devoted it to Heifer and the people and communities they serve. No one could read this story and not share a little of their resources with this beautiful woman.

  4. Reblogged this on myownstormypetrelwords and commented:
    An amazing story. A gift to Heifer makes a wonderful mother’s day gift.

  5. I really appreciates what you are doing Betty! Changing peoples lives. As I travel around China rurals area; I also have seen a lot of kids that lives with their grandparents–without parents. Sad, but, that’s what they have to dao sometimes. Inspiring story!

  6. Betty, that’s so great. I’m smiling big at the Tiger mom analogy(not)! So glad I get to read these stories and know that people care and are doing basic things like this.Everywhere their is despair but you bring light, I will have to pass this on about donating to your cause. You hit the nail on the head w/ grandparents raising kids, they give love cause they know that’s what kids need the most and want, whereas parents can be self absorbed and busy. In America people move away and do not have that grandparent love around them anymore, kids lose out on a simple basic gift from the older folks!:)

    • Kim — Boy, you said a mouthful with that comment! I am always deeply touched by grandparents stepping in to raise their grandkids (one of my favorite local causes is a GSU-founded Project Healthy Grandparents that sends nursing students and master’s students studying to be social workers in to help keep grandparents healthy and emotionally supported as they raise the children of their children). Many of these rural communities in China are profoundly disturbed as literally ALL the men leave for migrant work, either with corporations or in factories and construction .. and that is really hard on the fabric of the community. I’m really happy you wrote & of course, would love any support for Heifer that you feel called to give! xoxoxo

      • teresa hart

        I want want to call these women brave, but really they are survivors, they have to be brave. My mother raised my younger sisters daughter because she was a drug addict. Mom said raising her grandaughter gave her determination and courage. Mom had many illness, diabetes, breast cancer, but she stubbornly hung on till her grandaughter graduated from college….I used to say she was just to onery to lay down and die. But she did it and my niece did really well in college…Women are amazing, never bet against us!!!


  7. Ah, Betty, these people can inspire others because you bring their stories to the world. Evertime I read one of your posts, I am so grateful.

    • It’s a big privilege for me to be able to meet these folks and to share their stories & beautiful faces with everyone I can reach. Thanks so much for reading, Renee!!! AND HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU!!

  8. In each country, the story is simultaneously heart-wrenching and a tribute to the amazing strength, courage, resilience and dedication of women! Heifer’s awesome work around the world positively impacts hundreds of thousands of lives. Thank you, Betty, for sharing these powerful stories through such a unique lens.

    • My lens is always unique, Tamara — that’s for sure. Tee hee .. thanks for the kind words and I’m so SO happy you’re along for the journey, Sister Mama!!

  9. Pingback: Seven Quick Takes Volume 43 « Knowledge Hungry

  10. Martha Radatz

    This is a very inspiring pre-Mother’s Day post! These women are beautiful in every respect.
    First I’ve heard the term “peri-urban”. Does this just mean countryside, or one band beyond suburban?
    We saw some of the blockbuster construction going on in the larger cities in China when we were there, done by men (probably from this village!) who work around the clock for a pittance. This shows me the other side of the coin, the women left behind in the villages. Once again, Heifer is doing amazing work here!

    • I think peri-urban, which is a term that Heifer China uses, means that it’s on the outskirts of an urban area and that is definitely true of Gudu. The city is almost right next store, and yet this town is totally rural… and most of the people have only small plots of land but no income other than farming. Pigs can be raised quite effectively in a small shedded area, if given good food and a bit of exercise — so it’s a legitimate enterprise for these women and can really add to their income. I did love this family, and even the woman left behind (the young girl with the baby) had such a tender, loving face … really happy that Jisu and Leer have her in the picture!!

  11. Gary

    A terrific organization and a terrific story. Inspiring. Keep it up, Betty!

  12. Another great post, Betty! Thanks so much for sharing these stories!

  13. I’d heard the term “Tiger mom” before, but your listing of their priorities on child-rearing paints a sad picture of where society can go wrong. When juxtaposed with this selfless grandmother, raising her abandoned grandchildren, I wonder about where the real poverty lies.

    I am continually struck by your tales of the marvellous work that Heifer does.

    More people need to know about Heifer.

    • I am really touched by your take on the poverty-of-values of the Tiger Mom set. A love of learning has nothing to do with gold medals or racking up your GPA — what a crock that is!! I can tell you that the mothers I saw in Nepal and China were so focused on educating their kids, and the kids were so eager to learn — it was in stark contrast to America, where half of our population is dropping out of high school. I totally agree that more people need to know about Heifer, Sybil – I’m doing my best to make that happen!!

  14. How do the men in the community earn a living?

    • Hi EOSR … the men in the rural communities mostly leave to get jobs in the cities — either in big factories, or in construction, or the businesses we outsource to China. The men left behind are mostly farming… or doing whatever they can to make a few dollars, maybe shopkeeping or blacksmithing or perhaps working in local government. Thanks for the comment!!

      • So do the men live away for long stretches, or even semi-permanently, when they can earn a wage in the city? Am loving your journey.

  15. As a woman this touched my heart. It’s so beautiful, so sad and so inspiring.
    This line…
    “Before, we had nothing to sell so we couldn’t even buy shoes,” she explains. “But now we have pigs.”

    Where are the men? I don’t know who said this:
    “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he’ll sit in a boat and drink beer all day.”

    In the video with the pigs was that a packet of chips on the far left?
    The young mother in the bottom photo isn’t a family member but someone else who lives in the village?

    • I should have put a caption, Rosie! The young mom is the daughter-in-law of Jisu — she’s married to the one son who is not in prison but has moved away to work in the city. I actually do think the men are hard-working — but they can make a lot more money in the cities, so they leave the farms and their wives and children and send money back home. (Love that beer quote, though!) The child in the video WAS holding a bag of chips — good eye, Rosie!! And YES, I find it really so inspiring how the gift of animals can provide an income that can really change the family’s life and future — and being able to feed your family and clothe them and take care of them is fundamental to a sense of dignity and self-respect. I am so happy to be writing these stories!!!

  16. Phoenix

    I’ve been in those shoe and know what it is like to need just one helping hand. I have also visited many places such as the one posted here. I love these women. I share their burden and heartache. I am VERY glad that Heifer has provide a hand-up. Hopefully we will see more of this for the downtrodden in America as well. Perhaps another visit in the USA will be on your agenda?

  17. Dear Phoenix — You are so right that we have many, many people struggling in this country with poverty and hunger — and I am going to be going to the Delta and Appalachia in July to visit Heifer projects there & writing about what I witness. So .. stay tuned! Thanks so much for the comment & I hope someone helped you when you needed it!

  18. Perhaps this is a bit off topic but in any case, I have been surfing about your wetisbe and it watchs really neat. impassioned about your writing. I am creating a new site and hard-pressed to make it appear great, and supply excellent posts. I have discovered a lot on your site and I look forward to additional updates and will be back.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: