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Disabled people find growing opportunities in Zhejiang

China Daily| Updated: March 14, 2023 L M S

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Yao Keyou works in a factory belonging to the Fenghui Bamboo and Wood Products Company in Huzhou, Zhejiang province. FENG XIAOYING/CHINA DAILY

Bamboo factory helps boost income for blind, deaf and others

Disabled people in remote villages in Zhejiang province have found extra ways to earn money in recent years as the country focuses on achieving common prosperity.

For example, Yao Keyou, who is physically disabled, is responsible for the maintenance and repair of bamboo packaging at a factory in Huzhou city, and earns about 5,000 yuan ($726) per month.

Miao Yonghong, who is unable to hear or speak, earns a similar amount weaving curtains at the same factory, which is near her home.

Fifteen other disabled people like Yao and Miao work at the 50,000-square-meter factory. They have jobs thanks to an entrepreneur who set up a business providing work for people with disabilities in Zhejiang and neighboring Anhui province. As a result the incomes of 42 families have increased and they are now living better lives.

With an annual output value of 120 million yuan, the Fenghui Bamboo and Wood Products Company was founded in 2005 by Liang Ruirong, who himself has a physical disability.

Located in his hometown of Meixi township, in Huzhou's Anji county, the company makes a variety of bamboo products, from daily household necessities and woven items to bamboo utensils, as well as bamboo fiber products and building materials.

Many left-behind residents and people with disabilities in rural areas previously lived alone and had little-to-no chance of securing a stable job due to their physical condition or age, according to Liang.

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Bamboo products on display in a showroom at the factory. FENG XIAOYING/CHINA DAILY

He understood this plight all too well.

Born into a poor farmer's family in Dushantou village in 1960, Liang contracted polio when he was a child, which complicated life.

After failing to pass the national college entrance examination, he made a living working in fields and collecting pig droppings for manure.

After about a year, Liang seized the rare opportunity to become a full-time employee at a bamboo whip factory in a neighboring town. Humble, curious and hardworking, he was promoted to workshop director after five years, and developed 50 new bamboo and wood products.

Over time, the idea of setting up his own company began to take shape. "We didn't have the money," he said. "I had to borrow it from friends. I set the factory up near home with 10 colleagues."

During the first few years, when the products were ready, Liang traveled with the delivery van to present them to customers in person.

"To save on accommodations, I often slept in the van with the driver at night," he said.

As his business grew, Liang never forgot about the hardships he had to endure because of his physical disability.

As company chairman, he created jobs on the processing lines, which do not require physical exertion and are easy to master. To ensure that as many people as possible could benefit from his success, the company set up a charity in 2010.

Each year, the charity donates 250,000 yuan to help people with disabilities in Meixi township and 1.37 million yuan to improve the infrastructure in communities.

After nearly two decades of rapid development, Liang's company is now renowned for being one of China's largest manufacturers and exporters of bamboo and wood products. It is also one of the country's largest producers of natural food packaging containers and restaurant utensils.

These green and environmentally friendly products are not only popular with Chinese customers, but are also well-received abroad, particularly in the United States, Europe and Japan.

"The company's overseas sales reached $13.27 million last year," Liang said, adding that the products will help contribute to national goals to peak carbon emissions by 2030 and reach carbon neutrality by 2060.

For Liang, the company has set an example to the world, showing that it is possible to strike the right balance between economic development, making money and environmental protection.