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Jia Haixia, 53, is blind in both eyes. His friend Jia Wenqi, also 53, is a double amputee with no arms. Despite the odds, these two friends have planted over 10,000 trees on a barren and rocky stretch of land just outside the Yeli Village in Hebei, China.
Over the last 13 years, Haxia and Wenqi have completely transformed the land surrounding their village. The once empty plains are now lush, green, and thriving with vegetation. The men estimate they’ve planted around a thousand trees each year, which has been no small feat considering the physical limitations they’ve overcome.
“I’m disabled and I don’t want to be a burden on my family, so I plant trees.” – Jia Haxia
Jia Haxia is completely blind. He was born with congenital cataracts in his left eye and in 2000, he lost his right eye in a work-related accident. Haxia’s childhood friend, Jia Wenqi, is a double amputee who lost both arms in an accident when he was just 3 years old. Wenqi says the village officials always looked out for him when he was young, and when he graduated from school they got him a job with the local forestry team, which is where he learned how to plant trees.
The two friends reconnected in 2000, shortly after Haxia lost his sight completely. They were both struggling to find work at the time, and their options were limited due to their disabilities, so they created their own jobs. Planting trees would allow them to earn a modest living while also protecting and preserving the land around their village. The men approached the local government and leased 8 acres of land along the riverbank with the goal of planting trees for future generations.
“I am his hands. He is my eyes. We are good partners.”
Haxia and Wenqi have been living and working together for over a decade and they have developed a very unique system of teamwork, which has allowed them to plant and care for over 10,000 trees. Every morning at 7:00 am the men head out to their parcel of land, which is situated opposite a rushing river. Their daily “commute” is not particularly easy, so Wenqi carries the blind Haxia on his back and provides safe passage across the river.
The men earn a very modest income from government funding and can’t afford to purchase saplings, so they must make use of what they already have. To create new trees, Wenqi guides Haxia as he climbs to the top of mature trees to obtain freshcuttings. Then Haxia digs a hole for each bough and Wenqi waters and cares for the newly planted trees.
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“They didn’t believe what we were doing was possible.”
When the duo began their project, the other villagers from Yeli were very skeptical. They couldn’t imagine how these two men could possibly plant trees in an area that was barren for many years. Eventually the trees began to grow and the villagers could see the riverbank coming back to life. They were so impressed by Haxia and Wenqi’s efforts that they decided to get involved. Now the villagers help care for the trees and many have donated saplings to the project.
“We stand on our own feet. The fruits of our labor taste sweeter. Even though we are gnawing on steam buns, we find peace in our hearts.” – Jia Wenqi
Wenqi and Haxia make very little money and their living conditions are poor. The project requires patience and it takes awhile to see progress, but the two friends are happy with their work and proud of the results. Despite the odds, the pair has succeeded at planting trees for future generations and they have protected their village from flooding. The’ve even inspired the villagers to take part in the planting efforts.
The men have received a tremendous amount of support after their story went viral in China earlier this year. According to reports, generous benefactors have pledged to provide the two with pensions and some have offered to pay for a surgery that would allow Haxia to regain sight in his left eye.
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How will you be celebrating Earth Day?
Haxia and Wenqi’s story is inspirational and shows how anyone can make a tremendous impact with very few resources. If these two men can combine their abilities to plant 10,000 trees, then surely we can each pledge to do one “green” act of kindness this Earth Day. Don’t be discouraged if you can’t devote your life to planting trees! Many small efforts can add up and make a significant impact. So go ahead and pick up that piece of trash, bring your reusable grocery bag, and recycle that coffee cup, because a little thing can lead to a lot of change.