Jia Haixa and Jia Wenqi are the most unlikely pair of environmentalists we’ve ever come across. The former is blind, while the latter is a double-amputee. Yet, they’ve managed to use their symbiotic relationship to plant over 10,000 trees in the past decade.
Haixa and Wenqi began their beautiful partnership when they were unable to get jobs due to their impairments. They have now become each other’s eyes and hands, and taken on the task of transforming a three-hectare stretch of riverbank in Yeli village, in north China’s Hebei Province.
“I am his hands,” said Haixia. “He is my eyes. We are good partners.” The 53-year-old was born with congenital cataracts that blinded his left eye. Then, in 2000, he lost sight in his right eye as well after a work-related accident. Wenqi, on the other hand, lost both arms in an accident when he was only three years old.
The duo met in 2001, when neither of them was able to secure work elsewhere. Although their prospects seemed poor, they had to find a way to earn a living. “My son came home one day and said, ‘Dad, I smelled an orange when another kid was peeling it and it was like I could taste it,’” said Haixia. “I felt sorry for my son, that he couldn’t even eat his own orange. This motivated me to live on. I had to live for him to have more. I had to work hard and focus on making money.”
So the pair hatched a plan to combine their skills and plant trees that would help them earn money and also benefit future generations. They leased a large stretch of the river bank from the local government for the purpose. Given their poor living conditions, the village authorities decided to exempt them from paying rent.
Each day, Haixia and Wenqi leave their home at 7am armed with a hammer and iron rod. Wenqi carries his blind companion across the fast-moving river to reach their portion of the bank. Since they don’t have money to purchase saplings, they have to manually collect cuttings, which isn’t easy considering their impairments.
Haixia, guided by his armless companion, slowly scales the trees to collect cuttings. He then returns to solid ground where he digs a hole and plants the new shoot. Wenqi then takes care of watering the saplings. It’s obviously slow work, but the duo have kept at it for so many years that they’ve managed to plant 10,000 trees – way more than what most normal people have done in a lifetime. And they have no plans to stop.
“Though we did not accomplish much in dozens of years, we recognize the effort,” Haixia said.
“We stand on our own feet,” Wenqi added. “The fruits of our labor taste sweeter. Even though we are gnawing on steam buns, we find peace in our hearts.”