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Disability inclusion key to rural revitalization

By Peter Ekblad | China Daily | Updated: 2022-03-03 07:16


The Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympic Games, to be held from March 4 to 13, will draw people's attention to the extraordinary abilities of elite athletes with disabilities. That makes it a pertinent time to reflect on the importance of including disability as a focus area in global development.

The second Global Disability Summit, which concluded on Feb 17, was held in Ghana to promote this very issue. In his opening remark at the summit, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stressed the urgent need to advance the rights of persons with disabilities around the world.

Disability-inclusive development is essential to reach several of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, particularly goal No 1: no poverty. Disability is a major contributing factor to poverty in the world for a number of reasons, including social stigma, prejudice among employers and the lack of willingness to create supportive structures.

To achieve disability inclusivity, it is crucial to learn from real-life know-how of addressing disability in poverty alleviation, such as China's experience. At the end of 2020, China announced that it had eradicated extreme poverty. This would not have been possible without providing specific measures for helping persons with disability in the overall poverty alleviation program.

In 2014, when the government introduced the Chinese household poverty registration system, it was clear that among the 84.3 million extremely poor, disproportionately many had disabilities. Indeed, one-third of the poor households had one or more members with registered disabilities. To address this problem, the government promoted programs aimed at including persons with disabilities in their local economies. As a result, between 2014 and 2019, the registered number of persons with disabilities living in extreme poverty fell from 7.19 million to 479,000, and reached zero by 2021.

There can be further enhancements to the social support structures and livelihood opportunities for persons with disabilities in China, but the fact that the poverty eradication goal was achieved signifies a remarkable success.

The International Fund for Agricultural Development, a specialized United Nations agency and an international financial institution, supported the Chinese government in these efforts from 2015 to 2020 through the Qinghai Liupan Mountain Area Poverty Reduction Project.

As a complement to traditional rural development interventions, such as improving agricultural infrastructure, the project introduced non-agricultural activities specifically tailored to persons with disabilities. The initiative, in partnership with the China Disabled Persons' Federation and local-level women's federations, offered classes in a variety of off-farm skills, from cooking local specialties for farm restaurants, to housekeeping services, to artistic craftsmanship in the styles of various local ethnic groups.

It also helped participants find employment or identify sales channels for their products after completing their training.

To understand the impact of this type of project, it is best to let the beneficiaries tell their stories. For example, the story of Wang Cairong, a woman in her late 20s from Huangzhong district of Xining in Qinghai province, exemplifies the astonishing achievements persons with disabilities can make if given proper support.

Wang told us that while growing up, she was scared to interact with people outside her immediate family. Like her father and sister, she has vision and speech impairments-disabilities that have weighed heavily on her self-esteem since childhood. And as a member of the Hui community, one of China's largest ethnic minority groups, she comes from a background in which being a woman with disabilities made her chances of earning a living especially low.

Even after getting married, she was unable to find a job. Agriculture is the dominant way of life in the rural areas of Wang's hometown, and opportunities in the agricultural sector for those with disabilities are limited. It therefore fell to her husband to provide for her and their two young children.

When the initiative came to Wang's village, she enrolled in an embroidery class-and right away, she was hooked. Not only was this a way for her to master an art and contribute to the family income, she was also able to work indoors in a comfortable environment, among people she knew, and could count on the support and facilities needed for her well-being.

Soon, she was impressing her instructors with the quality and artistry of her work. Her embroidery fetched good prices, and one of her pieces was showcased in an exhibition in Xining, the provincial capital of Qinghai. Able to earn a livelihood independently, her self-esteem grew. Today, Wang not only produces fine work for sale, she is employed as an instructor at the local vocational training centre, with about 30 students.

"Through the center my products can be sold into a relatively stable market, so I can earn a decent income for my family," she says. "What makes me even more pleased is that some friends of mine with reduced mobility have also started to learn this skill."

Wang is one of about 920 Qinghai residents who participated in disability-dedicated training programs. Nearly half of these participants have found employment, and another 13 percent are now self-employed. And many other persons with disabilities living in the region have been able to make the project's other activities work for them.

Among them are Anzu Feiye and Zhangsa Lihai, a Hui couple from Hekou village with three children. Both have visual impairment and, until recently, earned less than China's national poverty line.

Through the IFAD project, the family signed up to learn how to raise sheep. The project offered technical training and assistance for getting started, including supplies of fodder and other essential inputs and the construction of a shed. Since Anzu's eyesight is better than her husband's, they decided she would take the training.

Today, the family raises four to five times the number of animals as before. They've built solid sales channels, and are more confident of negotiating a good price. More important, their annual income from livestock rearing has risen to about 40,000 yuan.

Disability is a complex subject with unique challenges, not least of which is the diversity of persons with disabilities, and the social stigmas they might face. But as the Qinghai project has shown, working closely with organizations for persons with disabilities can help tap into their specialized knowledge and skills. Cooperation with such organizations adds value to rural development projects, providing the support needed for persons with disabilities to be able to tap into their many talents and capacities for their benefit, as well as the benefit of their families and communities.

The author is program analyst, International Fund for Agricultural Development China Office.

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