THE EARTH TIMES
AUGUST 7, 1995
Poorest of the poor: A new ray of hope
BY ASHALI VARMA
BEIJING—In the province of Shanxi lies Dali County, the cradle of the Yellow River and the very source of the great Chinese civilization. But some of China’s poorest people live here. Geographical conditions like poor soil, rugged hills and the vagaries of the Yellow River, which either floods or has very little water, have made life difficult for the people of the area.
“These people have no permanent form of livelihood and migrate from place to place for food and drinking water,” said Zhang Zhirong, who is the project director and coordinator of a new initiative called Program of Happiness, sponsored by the China, Population Welfare Foundation, China Family Planning Association and China Population Newspaper.
Started last February in Beijing, the program is aimed at rescuing mothers living in China’s rural areas from the effects of poverty. Wang Guangmei, wife of the late president of China, Liu Shaoqi, is the president of the venture.
“In Dali County we started a pilot project for 50 families. They were the neediest and we loaned them 10,000 yuan each to buy cattle,” said Zhang. “It was so touching to see the mothers come up to us and say, ‘We are overwhelmed that someone cares for us.’ They also spoke about the times they had got assistance, in the past, in the form of food and clothing, but this was different because now they could start earning a living.”
In addition, she said, county departments of health, education and agriculture decided to work together to help the families. Teachers volunteered time to teach mothers after school hours. The curriculum included learning to read and write, health and nutrition and how to raise cattle. Doctors from the county hospital and clinics gave families comprehensive health checkups and treatment.
“Another 300 families from different counties have been identified and will be given help to
start income generating schemes,” said Zhang.
The program is designed to respond to the needs of more than 20 million poor families, some of whom live in the deepest poverty, having an annual income of only 200 yuan (less than US$25). The women are the most affected as they have to struggle to get water, food and clothing for the family. In addition, Zhang said, a survey revealed that these women suffer disproportionately from gynaecological problems, and are in great need of information about
reproductive health care.
The Program of Happiness expects to raise funds from the public to support activities that will directly improve the economic, educational and health status of impoverished mothers.
Its three major goals are to combat poverty through economic development, which includes interest-free loans for small businesses, agriculture (including tea planting) and handicrafts; to create literacy programs; and to promote good health for the family.
“The main objective of the program is to enable poor people to help themselves through positive action” said Zhang.