The We-Chat Store
Rural Ningxia has long been officially designated as an area of poverty in China. With the third smallest GDP in the nation, high labor costs that ward off manufacturers, and a small consumer market because of the low population, many people live in abject poverty. Our destination, DaGouYan village, is no different, as people toil and live on the edge of survival while a facade of beautiful rolling hills and gleaming red government subsidized roof tiles hide their inner pain.
To get there, we had to take a train ride seventeen hours long, from Beijing to Yinchuan, the capital of Ningxia. Tongxin required another lengthy commute of five hours, passing over spotless highways that saw few cars and even fewer houses. Instead semi-arid land stretched into the far distance until shadowy mountains blocked a further view.
Tongxin county is one of the poorest in Ningxia and remains mostly agrarian. Just another half hour drive away lies our destination, the town of Dagouyan. While it boasts several thousand in population, there only exists one factory that employs roughly two dozen workers depending upon the number of orders at the time, while the remaining population survive by seeking temporary employment at larger cities or depending upon farming.
In Ningxia, and especially Tongxin, there resides a substantial Muslim population. Although China usually opposes Islam, Ningxia is classified as an autonomous province for the Islamic Hui people. As allies of the communist party since the Civil War of China, they receive significant religious freedom. There still remains significant discrimination, however, against them in the job sector, and their conservative religious beliefs create an entrenched patriarchal society; The majority of the Hui people believe in the conservative Gedimu sect of Sunni Islam. Additionally, agrarian communities like DaGouYan exacerbate gender inequality, since men are traditionally relied upon to farm the land and to provide for the family, giving women little power or voice. Together, these factors serve to marginalize and keep women in the home.
As a result, while our primary focus is on alleviating poverty through the creation of economic opportunities, we also want to do so in a way that benefits marginalized groups like women and the poor. So when we incubated the two online stores in China, we made sure the primary beneficiaries would be those minorities.
Both stores were founded in June upon the mobile platform wechat, a popular form of online communication in China that serves as a combined store, facebook, and instagram for the people. One of the stores sell handcrafted shoes, while the other sells organic produce: dried wolfberries unique to western China, packed ingredients for eight treasure tea, and dates, all believed to hold a medicinal quality by many people in China and especially Ningxia.
The shoe store specifically hires women from needy families to make their handcrafted products, while the organic produce store depends upon the only factory in the town. Specifically, this factory buys their ingredients at above market rates from farmers in the town, hires almost half of its production line workforce (3 out of 7) from needy families, and also donates supplies to the town school and organic fertilizer (chicken manure) to farmers for their produce.
Two specific low-income families working on the production line are the Peng family and Ma family. Grandmother Peng was specifically hired because of her family’s sad condition. One of her son and grandson died in a car crash on the way to find job to alleviate their financial hardship. Since the family had no money for court, they received a paltry 5,000 yuan (around $750) for the two deaths. Additionally, her other grandson, Jonathan, has a heart defect that required surgery at 6. Currently, he is periodically wracked by diseases because the family could not afford necessary medication (12,000 yuan a year).
In the Ma family, Ma lan works at the factory and has several diseases from arthritis to cervical spondylosis. Needing 16 medicines at once - so far costing 360,000 yuan - her condition seems to only decline. Additionally, her son needed 200,000 yuan for a disease and her son in law is completely paralyzed from the neck down after a car crash. The family finances, 350,000 yuan in debt, are in ruins.
When people in China buy out of those online stores, they directly support the employment of those two families, slightly alleviating their poverty. Furthermore, out of each dollar either store makes, two cents go to into a fund NanoSeed controls that aim to help out the poorest district of the town; the mountain village. There, we specifically help out a family of three who currently lives on the edge of survival. The old grandmother, closing sixty, lost her hand in an accident to a farming machinery, while her daughter suffered permanent brain damage after a high fever when she was three; she was unable to pay nor travel to the nearest hospital in Tongxin county. The grandfather supports the entire family with farming, but fears he might collapse from the exhaustion at any day.
There’s a lot of people in Ningxia, even Dagouyan, who need our help. The problem is large and seemingly insurmountable, but actions always start small. We hope to tackle the problem of poverty by incubating businesses with low-interest loans to help out the most disadvantaged in society. Just like how small seeds grow into large trees, we hope our actions can encourage others to serve their community.