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Graduate's diary offers firsthand account of poverty mission

China Daily | Updated: 2021-02-10 08:54

TIANJIN-Graduating in 2018 with a master's degree in environmental science, Luo Yincheng did not seek a "decent" job with an internet enterprise or a university. Instead, he chose to work in a poor village in Southwest China's Yunnan province.

Luo, a member of the Communist Party of China, is among many youngsters who choose to serve the countryside through a national program of selecting excellent college graduates to visit rural areas for a short time to hone their skills and cultivate young talent.

The graduates then work at the grassroots level to accumulate experience, before being assigned to different job positions at various levels.

However, when Luo made the decision two years ago, he had no idea what true poverty was.

On Feb 25, 2019, he journeyed to the outlying Huangbanping village in Ninglang Yi autonomous county, over 2,800 kilometers away from Tianjin University, where he got his master's degree.

This was also when he began keeping a diary on his poverty relief mission.

Initial impression

Luo took a car to the village from Lijiang, about 120 km away. "The narrow mountain road was full of hairpin turns, with a steep cliff on one side and a valley down below," recalls Luo. "On the 20 km road crossing the Jinsha River, we descended more than 1,000 meters. My ears felt the change in pressure, just like when flying." He vomited twice on the way.

Though a native of Yunnan, the then 26-year-old was astonished at what he saw. Most villagers lived in the valleys stuck between two craggy mountains, with little arable land, a dearth of drinking water and limited access to the outside world.

The bunkhouse, made from logs cut just a couple of miles away in the forest, was far from the modern concept of home. The men there sported a year-round tan, while women wore hats the size of kites to protect them from the burning sun.

The tap water was too muddy and had to be left for a night before being boiled. His room had no lock and there was a long crack on the wall stretching up to the ceiling. When he woke up, he was often startled by ants or spiders on his pillow.

The reality was cruel. Among the 3,037 residents of the village's 739 households, 1,786 lived under the national poverty line. They also had to battle with frequent floods and mudslides.

"I often have to drive an hour and walk another hour to reach the farthest villagers," wrote Luo in one diary entry.

"I couldn't understand the local language, and they could not understand Mandarin. I had to have a translator with me at work. Later, I learned a few local phrases as a way to pull us closer," he says.

It took Luo over two months to visit every household and gain the trust of local residents. "They knew that I was just trying to help," says Luo.

Power of knowledge

"In the short term, poverty can be alleviated with a new house, in the medium term by boosting industries and in the long term through education." This is Luo's reflection on poverty reduction from his own experience.

Over the course of the last few decades, fewer than five people in the village had gone to university, and most began working at construction sites or in stores after graduating from middle school.

Luo has mobilized all local officials to bring those students who had dropped out back to school. Over the past two years, a total of 229 students have returned to class.

He also organizes various activities such as book corners and extracurricular classes for students in the village.

"The children were astonished when they saw pictures of skyscrapers in Beijing. The tallest building they've ever seen is a six-story house in the county seat (of government)," Luo says. "A child asked me questions about the launch of a rocket, and some told me that they wanted to be police officers or teachers when they grow up."

New goal

The rolling mountains not only limited their contact with the outside world, but also blocked their path to prosperity. Residents here used to rely on middlemen to sell their produce, such as honey and free-range chickens, which were often sold at low prices.

So, Luo and other village cadres rented a pickup and took their products to market themselves. Surprisingly, their first attempt brought back more than 10,000 yuan ($1,547), which quickly won over the villagers.

"With the help of the government, people in poverty should strive to take a step forward, embarking on a road free from destitution," wrote Luo in another diary entry.

In November, Ninglang, which had been plagued by poverty for thousands of years, became one of the last nine counties in Yunnan to withdraw its name from the poverty list.

As a grassroots official, Luo recorded the transformation of the village in his 692 diary entries. "Modern houses replaced wretched huts, muddy roads and the wooden bridge are now made of cement and concrete. Internet coverage is now complete, tap water has become clean, and the power supply is stable," he wrote. "Every inch of the village is a testimony to progress. Most of all, the villagers' mindset has also changed. They're more motivated."

"Shaking off poverty is only the beginning, the new mission of rural vitalization is our next goal," he says.


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