Blind man, armless friend plant thousands of trees in China

Blind man, armless friend plant thousands of trees in China

A once-barren bank of the Ye river in central China now has 12,000 trees irrigated by a small canal, thanks to unlikely but dedicated gardeners: two friends, one blind and one without arms.

For the past 13 years, the two have planted and watered cedar trees 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.

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.

"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 in an interview on the riverbank. "But as the saying goes: Nothing is impossible to a willing heart."

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.

"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."

The two childhood friends share a surname but are not closely related, though they both grew up in Yeli Village, part of the Hebei city of Shijiazhuang.

Unable to find work, they started their venture in 2002 with the modest goal of planting around 800 trees a year. But a drought devastated their first crop, and they have never made any money from the plantation.

Instead they get by on modest government assistance for disabled people. However, they have stuck with the tree-planting and now feel they have a purpose: to improve the local environment.

Their village is part of the industrial hub of Shijiazhuang city, which was China's third-worst-polluted city in a list by the Environment Ministry earlier this year. Seven of the top 10 cities on that list were in Hebei province, a heavily industrial and coal-burning province.

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