Jia Haixa and Jia Wenqi are environmentalist of a very unique sort. The former is blind, while the latter is a double-amputee. Together over the last decade, they have managed to use their symbiotic relationship to plant over 10,000 trees.
Unable to find jobs due to their impairments, and aware of environmental issues close to where they live, Haixa and Wenqi decided to do something quite extraordinary.
Working as one, they have become each others eyes and hands in the task of transforming a three-hectare stretch of riverbank in Yeli village, in north China’s Hebei Province. Planting the trees not only provides an income to feed their families, but it also helps prevent the flooding of nearby villages by strengthening the flood plains.
“I am his hands,” said Haixia in a recent interview with People’s Daily Online. “He is my eyes. We are good partners.”
The 53-year-old was born with congenital cataracts that blinded his left eye. His situation worsened in 2000 when he lost site in his right eye after a work-related accident.
Wenqi has lived with his impairment since he was 3, after losing both arms in an accident.
The two met in 2001. Both were unable to secure work yet desperately needed a way to earn a living.
Haixia speaks of how he wanted to provide for his family: “My son came home one day and said, ‘Dad, I smelled an orange when another kid was peeling it and it was like I could taste it’. I felt sorry for my son, that he couldn’t even eat his own orange.”
The words of his son stirred him on to succeed. “I had to live for him to have more.” Haixia said, “I had to work hard and focus on making money.”
So together, Haixia and Wenqi came up with a plan to combine their skills in whatever way they could.
This led them to the idea that they could plant trees; a move that would earn them the extra money they so badly needed.
They approached the local government to lease a large stretch of the riverbank near Yeli. In view of their poor living conditions the authorities decided to exempt them from paying rent.
And now ten years on, the two have planted nearly 10,000 trees.
Each day, they leave their home at 7am armed with a hammer and iron rod. Wenqi carries his blind companion across the fast-moving river to reach their portion of the bank.
Since they do not have enough money to purchase saplings, they have to manually collect cuttings, which isn’t easy considering their impairments.
Haixia, guided by his armless companion, slowly scales the trees to collect cuttings. He then returns to solid ground where he digs a hole and plants the new shoot.
Wenqi then takes care of watering the saplings.
It is a very slow process, however the two of them keep on going. “Though we did not accomplish much in dozens of years, we recognize the effort,” Haixia said.
Ultimately, they are independent. Haixia has been able to provide for his family against all odds, and together they are rightly proud of what they have achieved.
“We stand on our own feet,” Wenqi added. “The fruits of our labor taste sweeter. Even though we are gnawing on steam buns, we find peace in our hearts.”