Leaving for the Project Sites
Our group set out at 8:30 a.m. from the hotel to visit two main projects near the smaller city of Dingxi, 1 ½ hours away by bus. As we’d be traveling high into the mountains, on bumpy, narrow roads, 7 mini-vans had been hired rather than one huge tour bus. There was a group of about 35: Amity English teachers (whose countries included Canada, America, Britain, Sweden, Finland, Germany and Austria), a number of overseas’ sending agency representatives and Amity staff from Nanjing and Hong Kong. In a biting 10 degrees, we loaded onto the vans under Lanzhou’s hazy skies and off we drove out of the city.
The main expressway was first to bring us into Dingxi, where local government officials were there to greet us.
Almost all Amity’s rural development projects are a cooperative effort between the local county or provincial government, the beneficiaries of the projects (in this instance, the villagers) and the Amity Foundation. This partnership is created to empower and support the projects from within rather than just being Amity giving free hand-outs to those in need. Funding for projects focuses on a 3-party system with each putting in their own portion of money, time and effort: villagers, local government and Amity. In the case where villagers are not able to fund a project due to lack of money, Amity and the local government will take over that role.
Our visits for the day were to see the rewards of Amity’s micro-credit loan system and biogas, although many other projects in the region were likewise going on.
Amity’s Micro-credit Loan System
In China, limited loans from the bank are available to anyone who has an income. No income, however, means no loan. This makes it very difficult for the very poor to bring themselves out of poverty to help themselves.
Another difficulty in bank loans deals with who gets the loan. The signer of the loan is often allowed only by the man as the women villagers have no incomes. The men are the ones to migrate into the larger cities, spending months at construction sites getting more money to send home. The women are left in the villages to tend to farming or household chores. If the man is not present, or if a woman has no male in the family bringing in a salary, there is a problem.
Banks in China will just not give loans to such women or too low-income individuals, thus Amity has taken up this problem with its micro-credit loan program.
Any villager or family can apply for a loan of up to 2,000 yuan (about $300 US) from Amity. Those with little family income or individuals who have no income are not discriminated against. Of course, those who apply for loans have a carefully detailed plan of what they will do with the money, how it will benefit them to become financially independent individuals and how they will pay it back. In the case of these kinds of loans, the primary endeavors by locals include opening up small stores, raising livestock and farming. (In Gansu, potato and corn are the two major crops grown in the region.)
A majority of the micro-credit loans are given to women who can then help support the family at home while the men are off in the cities. This gives them a feeling of pride and success, being able to contribute greatly to the family income. It also benefits the village, raising living standards and allowing others to service their community.
According to those working in this program, almost all loans are paid back to Amity.
In Gansu, the dry weather creates a burden for women to clear areas of grass and what little wood there is to burn for cooking. Deforestation has been a major problem due to this and also a great hardship for women who have to spend hours finding fuel every day.
But there is a safe, environmental alternative for these dessert-like regions to get fuel and that is using bio-gas.
Basically, with bio-gas, a special tank is built under the ground into which is placed human and animal waste. The tank is sealed with a heavy cement lid. The natural gasses that build up inside this tank are fed out through pipes into the home and can then be used as a constant source of energy. It flames the gas burners for cooking in the home and also heats the stove to warm the room or boil water.
Those wishing to have such a system installed for their homes must put down 900 yuan ($135) with the further costs covered by Amity and/or the local government.
The benefits of such a system are amazing, not only for the environment but for the time, energy and hardship involved for searching the land to burn other things for fuel use (coal, corn husks, grass). Then, too, the problem of what to do with livestock or human waste is taken care of. Into the tank it goes, creating a sustainable source of clean energy.
While the bio-gas system is a great one, Amity and government organizers are still struggling with convincing and informing more villagers of its excellent benefits, both to themselves and the land itself. 900 yuan is a fortune for many of these poor families. They’d rather continue in the way they’ve always done than spend money on something they’ve managed without for generations.
A Potato Opera and a Tug-of-War in Friendship
We visited two villages. One had been re-located from the high mountain ranges, meaning their homes were 2-story cement buildings and located on accessible roads. They were also in the lower-lying plains.
The second village was more rustic, found high into the mountains with typical mud-walled houses and no bus routes, stores or schools within miles.
At the first village, we were entertained by village performers. We had an erhu (Chinese fiddle) duet and a local opera performance about potato farmers in the field.
At the mountainous village, we participated in a tug-of-war contest as an ice-breaker. We were also treated to boiled potatoes with salty condiments after our tour of the village and its Amity-benefited projects.
Amity’s Rural Development Work in China
Both visits gave us a vivid, and moving, understanding of the work Amity does for people in need, and the work yet needing to be done in China. Many times, those overseas’ only see on TV the wealthy cities, the prosperous regions, the “rich” China. Even we as teachers, located in our cozy cities and college campuses, see little of such areas, where a majority of our students are from.
These kind of reminders make us realize there are still millions who need a helping hand. What a blessing it is that the Amity Foundation is here to help, and an even greater blessing that we as Amity teachers were able to see Amity in action during our time in Gansu.
As for those of you out there who will never make it on an Amity project tour, I hope you enjoy the photo album. They say a picture is worth a thousand words and in this case, I’d have to say that’s right.
From China, here’s sending you Ping An (peace) for your day.
Note: The Amity Foundation is a United Methodist Advance Special. UM Churches wishing to support Amity and specific Amity projects, including Bible Printing in China, can easily do so via the Advance.