Zhang Xiumei

Zhang Xiumei, HEAL advocate

Zhang Xiumei and son photo by Adrienne Yu

My name is Zhang Xiumei. I am a 24 year-old mother of a two year-old son, and we live with my husband in rural Yunnan in China. My little boy has big eyes and a huge smile. These eyes watch intently while my husband and I work in the fields and the barn. We do not have a lot of material wealth, living on around 30000 RMB or 5000 dollars per year. After becoming a HEAL health advocate due to my husband’s advice, I am able to share my knowledge with my family and village. At first, I was reluctant to become an advocate because of my young age, but upon the request of many, I finally agreed. I decided that I could not waste this chance at being a role model. I found that I could also make a difference in my father’s village, which is approximately 180 kilometers away.

As we are conducting an interview with the visitors from Shanghai, my husband is currently with my father, teaching the villagers information regarding personal hygiene, nutrition, and the prevention of diseases. For the past several years, my father has been extremely supportive of my being a health advocate. Given his age and persistence to uphold tradition, he was at first reluctant to listen to my advice. However, I persistently invited him to our village, where the changes were already underway. He was impressed to see the impact that I had made on our village. My father then travelled back to his village and gushed excitedly to my mother about what he had seen. I knew, at this point, that I had succeeded in convincing him. During my entire childhood, garbage had always been thrown at will. However, after my health lessons, my father became aware of the severe consequences to our environment caused by the random scattering of garbage. Therefore, he instructed his village to designate a specific location for all waste items. After several weeks, we were invited back to witness his efforts. My husband and I looked excitedly at the pile’s astonishing size and watched it go up in flames. The health trainers said that although this method is far from sorting and recycling, it is the best we can do under given circumstances. I saw this village took a step forward that day, and it will continue to grow with our knowledge.

Although our efforts did make a difference, we still needed something more. We needed water. Last fall, many people in our village worked together with international students to dig trenches for water pipes and to install faucets with the help of CWEF, and now we are experiencing the advantages of the easy and reliable access to clean water. The health packets and trainers all taught us to brush our teeth, wash our hands, and take frequent showers, but this would be impossible on a daily basis with the lack of a reliable water source. Yunnan experiences its annual drought season from March to May, with nearly no rain and dried water sources. Each family in the village would travel for more than one hour to carry buckets of water back home, where they would sustain the lives of our cattle, cooking, and drinking. In these months, even the thought of a shower was a luxury. Every drop made a difference. My husband and I would repeat these hour-long trips every three days, in the least. Now we see clearly the importance of personal hygiene and environmental protection, and together with a reliable source of clean water, we now we have a place to grow.

Based on an interview with Zhang Xiumei and written by
Angelina Tian, a senior high school student
Concordia International School Shanghai

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