Posts Tagged With: Women’s Self Help Groups in China

Farewell, my lovely …

The new breed … smarter, better, prettier!

My last two days in China were spent visiting Heifer International projects in Jingu and Fuxing Village … towns that were hit hard by the disastrous 7.8 earthquake that tore a path of destruction 500 kilometers through the heart of Sichuan province on May 12, 2008. These rural communities raised livestock and fruit, but inside the collapsing barns and houses most of the livestock were killed – along with 68,000 people.

The rebuilding of the Earthquake- Affected area by the Chinese government has been intense, but the Lizhou Poverty Alleviation Bureau chose to work with Heifer for livestock replacement because of its reputation for long-term results. (Or as the Heifer China staff humbly told me, “Our strict standards, high expectations of our farmers, and precise reporting of results make us challenging to work with. But I think we got chosen because we have a reputation for changing people, communities, and the government entities we work with for good.”)

Yang Shengxue, a master breeder & his wife Wuchang Lian in their newly renovated pig barn in Jingu.

The project started in March 2010  in the two villages (and six neighboring communities) with the establishment of 26 Self Help Groups consisting of about 20 families each. They met weekly to begin trainings in animal husbandry; breeding; group savings; animal barn improvement; Heifer concepts like the 12 Cornerstones in cooperation, sharing and gender equality; and value chain marketing.

Only then—after six months’ work – did the 505 families in Lizhou receive their animals. Some chose chickens, some pigs – depending on the land they had to raise crops and the labor required. But by the end of 2011, those original 505 families had recruited 505 more families to form new SHGs, passed on their trainings, and are getting ready to pass on the gift of animals in June of this year.

A captivating local pig!

And what a gift!! The pigs, in particular, are beauties.

The new breed of sows provided by Heifer are more shapely than the local stock (these are the words of the villagers, but I’m not taking sides as I kind of got attached to the local babe on your left), they grow heavier faster with more meat and less fat, and when they do reproduce, the sows have 13-16 babies in a litter. Unfortunately, there have been some fertility issues with the new breed and Heifer vet techs are working to encourage the farmers to feed the sows carefully with only raw food, give vaccinations, and keep their barns clean and hygienic to promote pregnancy.

Oh, Mama!

One of the indomitable ladies of Fuxing.

In Fuxing I met with the only all-women’s Self Help Group, as most of the men have left to work in the city, their teenagers are away at boarding school, and the women have been left behind to farm and raise animals.

Organic forage is best.

Communally, the women can support one another, meeting once a week to share their stories, discuss animal problems (for instance, when a pig develops a weak hind leg, you don’t just wait for it to die, you treat it with meds and stop feeding it so much protein and no cooked food…good to know!!). The women also work together to maintain the new road into town, clean the village, and build reservoirs to harvest water to get them through the 2-month drought period when they used to have to carry water up to the fields in buckets.

The villages are beautiful – blanketed with yellow fields of rapeseed (for oil), orchards, and neat fields, but the women have despaired of their children moving back here. “Emotionally we want them to come back, but financially, we know they can’t survive here. Our children can’t get used to the hard farm work we do or handle the risk of a failed crop or lost animals.”

“They’ll have an easier, better life in the city,” another mother says.

… I’ll be waiting …

I ask the mothers if they want to move to the city and they laugh and say in unison, “Never. It’s hard here but we can’t get used to the air and the noise in the city. Maybe things will get better someday and our children will come back to the farm.”

I’ll leave you with this haunting song from the women of Fuxing (sorry it’s dark but we were inside by a fire)!

Next stop… Nepal!!

Categories: Agriculture, Animals, China, Farming, Heifer International, Photography, Travel, Women | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

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

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