Yeli Village: A once-barren bank of the Ye river in central China now has 12,000 trees thanks to unlikely but dedicated gardeners: two friends, one blind and one without arms.
The story of Jia Wenqi, 53, with no arms, and his blind friend, Jia Haixia, 54, is one of perseverance, environmental awakening and of finding a path in a country where it is difficult for the disabled to find jobs.
For the past 13 years, the two have planted and watered cedar tress near their village in Hebei province in what originally was supposed to be a commercial venture but became a mission supported by local officials to improve the air in a region more famous for its stifling pollution than for its rolling hills.
“This empty riverbank was only dry sand and pebbles. It was deserted for many years. For normal people, it was impossible to plant trees there,” Wenqi said. “But as the saying goes: Nothing is impossible to a willing heart.”
Jia Haixia and Jia Wenqi work to plant a tree in a field in Yeli village near Shijiazhuang city in China. AP
Every morning Haixia grabs onto the empty sleeve of Wenqi, who leads the way to the riverbank and then carries Haixia on his back across the shallow Ye river to their plantation.
Haixia climbs trees to prune them of branches to be used as cuttings to plant new trees, using his hands to feel for the branches. Wenqi digs holes for the cuttings, tucking a shovel between his cheek and shoulder to aim it and then using his foot to drive it into the ground. He also uses his feet to fetch water from the river with a bucket and pour the water around the newly planted tree.
Jia Wenqi, who doesn’t have arms, uses his foot to lift a bucket of water as his friend Jia Haixia stands nearby. AP
“Just ask a normal person to work with his arms in his pockets, like Wenqi!” Haixia said. “We handicapped people have an endurance that normal people don’t possess.” “We handicapped people often feel inferior. No one takes us seriously and we have to depend on ourselves,” the blind man said.
Haixia lost his eyesight in a work accident in a stone quarry in 2000. Wenqi was electrocuted at the age of 3 and both arms were amputated.
Haixia lost his eyesight in a work accident and Wenqi was electrocuted at the age of 3 and both arms were amputated. AP
“Our tree planting may not have much substantial benefit for the present generation, but it leaves a green environment to the next one,” Haixi said. “We are physically disabled but mentally healthy. We have this big dream in our heart to leave a stretch of green to our children.”