Armless youth lends hand to villagers in poverty

Updated 2018-04-30 08:41:03 Xinhua

Chen Zifang always lends a hand to those in poverty - despite being born armless in a remote rural village of central China's Hubei Province.

The 29-year-old started an online business in 2016, helping other villagers sell farm products and local specialties.

Once shunned for his disability, Chen is now a role model to millions for his unyielding attitude.

Life was hard when Chen was little, not just because of his disability. When he was nine months old, his father, the family breadwinner, died of a stroke. His 12-year-old brother dropped out of school to support the family.

Neighbors suggested his mother give the armless boy away to ease the pressure, but she refused.

Chen understood the family's hardship and began training his feet. He learned to stand independently at four years old, then mastered picking up chopsticks, pencils and sickles. His toes had many cuts, but became as flexible as fingers.

He pushed himself each day, dressing, chopping firewood, washing clothes, cooking and herding sheep. At age nine, Chen went to school, too.

At first, no school accepted him. His mother begged for admission to eight schools, and teachers finally agreed when they saw Chen use his feet to dress, drink and write.

He travelled 4 kilometers along rugged and narrow mountain roads to school. He fell often, but his worst humiliation was asking classmates for help in the toilet. In 2005, Chen quit high school.

In 2009, a villager gave Chen a ewe and he began raising sheep. Six years later, his flock numbered 35 and helped him earn 10,000 yuan (1,579 U.S. dollars). Chen was very happy and confident.

In 2016, he learned to use a mobile phone with his toes. The Internet fascinated him and he soon opened an online shop on e-commerce platform Taobao to help his family and villagers sell local specialties, including tea, eggs and oranges.

Chen also found his value online: "For a long time I got through difficulties with help from others. But now, I earn a living by myself and it is time to contribute to my hometown."

Yang Kun was one of hundreds of villagers Chen helped. Yang came from a poor family and made a living growing potatoes.

"Most buyers are very demanding about size, but not Chen. He always pays the same price for big and small potatoes," says Yang, who can now earn 10,000 yuan a year on Chen's shop.

After his story was reported in the media, Chen won wide acclaim and a host of accolades, including "Hubei May Fourth Medal", the highest honor for young people of the province.

He also touched millions online. "You're a role model. Compared with you, I have nothing to complain about," said a comment on the Xinhua News App.

Supported by the local government, Chen opened a bricks-and-mortar shop in his home town with his brother this year.

Business is growing, but life is still hard. He worries about his mother and dreams of a normal family.

"I've tackled one difficulty after another and never stopped. I kept confronting new problems and challenges, the biggest of which is myself," he says. "Once I came to realize that, I was able to conquer it."

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