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Story and Photos by Yu Hongshui | Anhui Regional Project Manager | Heifer China
In September, the Huai River was still stewing in the sweltering heat of midsummer, and Zhang and his grandson sat down to eat an early dinner in Zhangying village. Once the day cooled down, the pair hurried out the door, inviting their neighbors to walk with them, saying, "Come on! Let's go see our new home!" The group soon multiplied from two people to eight and they eventually reached their destination: an activity center for children and the elderly that the villagers built from scratch.
The brand new activity center in Zhangying, a village in Jiangou town, Shou county, covers more than 1,000 square feet and features ping-pong tables, badminton, jump ropes, various exercise equipment, TVs, mahjong tables and other options for recreation. The center's library contains a wide assortment of nearly 10,000 books.
As soon as the doors opened, the center began to bustle. Some of the older community members relaxed by playing mahjong or watching TV. Others engaged in more active pursuits, such as ping-pong matches. Still others delved into the shelves of library books and studied topics such as the skills necessary to succeed in business. Children were content to read age-appropriate books and play with toys.
From the first mention of the activity center, neither the children nor the elderly could suppress their excitement. They continuously thanked the government, Heifer China and the Shou County Poverty Alleviation Association.
In 2002, the Shou County Poverty Alleviation Association began to report to Heifer's projects and, in the second year, started projects of its own. A women-implemented livestock-raising project, that took place in six different villages in the towns of Jiangou and Fengzhuang, helped empower 616 rural farmers to move toward escaping poverty, with the average household income increasing between 3,000-4,000 yuan renminbis, or about $480-$640, per year. The largest recorded annual income increase was a remarkable 10,000 yuan renminbis, or about $1,600.
At the end of the project, the project partner and local government coordinator held discussions with representatives of relevant districts about next steps. They unanimously decided to pass on Heifer's compassion and help the villagers who needed the most care−children and the elderly. They wanted to share the warmth of society and family with these groups. To this end, activity centers were built where the highest number of children and elderly reside-Zhangying and Jiangmu villages. The compassion demonstrated by these farmers prompted local town and village governments to donate funds and skills. In September 2012, the Zhangying and Jiang activity centers opened.
On September 27, local governments and project participants celebrated the new centers with a ceremony. All local mainstream media outlets attended and reported on the event. An emotional town mayor summed up Heifer's influence by saying, "The success of the Heifer project in Renshou County is due to the concept of ‘Not a Cup, but a Cow.' "