Across China: Father gives disabled youth a chance to work
YINCHUAN, May 20 (Xinhua) -- Zhang Jianxin is passionate about working on the farm. Every morning, he gets up on time at 6:30 a.m. After making his bed and washing, he begins cleaning the yard or feeding the geese.
One year ago, Zhang's parents could not imagine that their intellectually disabled son would one day be able to have a job like other young adults.
After graduating from a school for the disabled several years ago, Zhang returned to his family home in Lingwu, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. Zhang's father took his 20-year-old son to a job fair targeted at the disabled last year.
At the job fair, they met Ma Changxing, who was about to open a farm and was specifically looking for disabled job seekers. Ma, 64, has an intellectually disabled daughter, and has been an active volunteer for people with disabilities in his role as deputy head of regional association for the mentally disabled and their families.
"As a father, I know the difficulties faced by these young people and their families. I want to help them discover their true abilities, be self-reliant and feel part of society," he said.
Among all disabled in China, people living with intellectual disabilities are the group facing the most severe challenges in terms of employment. Their employment rate is less than 10 percent, comparing to 43 percent for the disabled population as a whole.
"Some intellectually disabled young people can handle simple farm work, and scientific studies show getting close to nature can increase their quality of life and improve their functional independence," Ma said.
With the support of a local fund, Ma rented 200 mu (13 hectares) of farmland at the foot of the Helan Mountains. His farm opened in May 2017.
Zhang was among the first five employees at the farm.
"The intellectually disabled face challenges learning, you have to take your time to teach them, but when they have mastered skills, they are very hardworking," Ma said.
"As their conditions differ, they are best suited to different kinds of work. For example, Zhang is good at looking after animals. Others enjoy doing field work," he said.
Working on the farm has helped Ma's employees improve their social skills. "Zhang was once stubborn and introverted, reluctant to communicate with people, but now he is more easy going and always ready to say 'hello,'" said Ma.
The farm is not Ma's first business that helps the disabled. In 2012, he opened a car wash and hired some intellectually disabled staff. Some other car wash owners later joined his lead. Dozens of disabled found jobs washing cars.
China has been intensifying its efforts to improve the life of disabled in recent years.
No disabled people should be left behind in the national poverty fight, the China Disabled Persons' Federation (CDPF) announced earlier this month. About 5 million disabled people have shaken off poverty in the last five years.
Ma works in the fields with his employees everyday. Due to a shortage of capital, he has not been able to hire enough workers, but has some volunteers who sometimes come to help with the farm work.
He aims to expand the farm into a company with 30 to 50 disabled employees.
"Hopefully, the farm will become a joint-stock company, and every worker can hold some stock, so that they will have a more stable income," Ma said.
Zhang likes surfing the internet and talking to friends on the WeChatmobile phone app in his in spare time. "I feel happy here, and I want to work here forever," he said.