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15 July 2015

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Fighting Poverty in China's Poorest Villages

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CHANGSHA, June 15 -- At 6 a.m. on Wednesday, Hu Piyu woke up and made himself a bowl of instant noodles for breakfast. As the leader of an anti-poverty work group stationed in Hangka Village in central China's Hunan Province, he had a full day ahead.


In addition to his typical routine of visiting some low-income households, he planned to check on infrastructure projects and a new farm in the village and to discuss poverty reduction policies with village cadres.


Hangka is one of the poorest villages in the area, with an annual per capita income of less than 2,000 yuan (290 U.S. dollars) and nearly 40 percent of its 1,100 residents still living below the poverty line as of the end of 2014.


Five years ago on June 14, the Chinese central government targeted 14 extremely poor regions across China that would become the country's main battlefields in its war on poverty. More than 500,000 officials at almost all levels have since been sent to live in villages, fighting poverty alongside villagers.


There are 6,924 villages in Hunan alone that urgently need poverty relief assistance. A work team of three to five officials is assigned to a village, and each villager is assigned an official to help them eliminate poverty.

 

A VILLAGE TRANSFORMED
Before assuming his post in January 2015, Hu was deputy director in charge of government receptions in the city, and had no experience in poverty relief. In order to win the trust of the local people, he has visited them repeatedly to learn about their needs and wishes.


He also applied for poverty alleviation funds to improve village infrastructure. Villagers' incomes have been boosted by an agricultural cluster for cultivating pepper, kiwi fruit, yellow peaches and tobacco and raising black swine.


Thanks to the funds Hu has raised, the village now has a photovoltaic power plant, new irrigation system, tap water, street lighting and Internet access, greatly improving local living standards. About 150 villagers from 35 households in the remotest parts of the village moved into new homes in the beginning of the year.


The village is not the only thing that has been transformed. Hu said he has lost weight -- dropping from 90 kg two years ago to 75 kg today -- as he has spent an average of 24 days a month working in the village.


BLENDING IN
By noon, Song Min and his team members had already visited four low-income families in Ranglie Village, a Miao ethnic village not far from Hangka.


In his notebook, Song scribbled down suggestions from local villagers and his own thoughts.


"This is my fourth notebook since I became an anti-poverty official here," he said.


The Miao people have a strong sense of their culture and land, which has sometimes made his job difficult. After eight months of trying, Song's team was unable to acquire land for a multi-purpose venue for the village.


To help blend in, Song brings a bottle of local liquor and a kilogram of salted pork to local villagers' houses almost every night.

 
"Villagers here are fond of drinking. If you don't drink a glass or two in their home, they will think you are not sincere enough," he said.


After two months, local people began to accept the provincial official as one of their own. Even the most senior villagers warmly greet him in the Miao language whenever they meet.


"Every decision is made after full discussion with villagers, taking their advice into consideration. When they feel assured that we are doing things for them with all our heart, they will accept us unconditionally," Song said.

His efforts to get to know the villagers have paid off. Last year, it took just a month for Song's team to acquire land for a photovoltaic power plant.


"The village's industrial park is being built. All infrastructure projects have been completed. My priority now is to train village cadres well before I go back, leaving an anti-poverty work team that never quits," said Song, who was tanned from the sun and wearing ethnic dress, just like his fellow villagers.


BUILDING TRUST
As dusk approached, Xiao Shijun finished a day's work of visiting households in Shuiyuan Village in another poor part of Hunan, where he leads anti-poverty work.


As soon as he got some rest, he began typing briefs for the day and work plans for the next day on his cellphone. Saved on his phone was a to-do list with hundreds of entries: "Huang Qiusheng has weak eyesight and lives by himself across the river, please visit him every day; Zhou Wanhua suffers from an acute cerebral hemorrhage and receives treatment in a city hospital, please raise medical fees for him...."


Xiao's eyesight has suffered due to habitual cellphone use during twisting, bumpy car rides along mountain roads. He closed his eyes for a moment of rest as he felt dizzy. But in his mind, he was still worried about a local villager who had just been diagnosed with cancer.


"Many villagers have slipped into poverty again due to disease or natural disasters. I was born and raised a village boy, and came into contact with poor people after I worked in a government petition office. I can feel their pain and worries," Xiao said.


Thanks to the hard work of Hu, Song, Xiao and hundreds of thousands of officials like them, more than 10 million rural residents succeeded in pulling themselves out of poverty every year from 2013 to 2016.


After supper, Xiao walked to the village secretary's home for a casual talk, mainly about poor households.


"Pressure used to come from the distrust of fellow villagers. Now it comes from their total trust in us," he said. He cannot let them down.

Source: Xinhua