Meng Lihua — Dreammaker
Despite the frequent interviews she gives, Meng Lihua still avoids the camera. She stands upright, holding her hands tightly, and repeats herself: “Everyone will help people. Everyone is doing it, not only me.”
One of her friends told her that she had been named as the “March Eighth Red Flag” for her country. She has very little Internet access, and no time to read newspapers. She serves as the president of the Chen Meng Love Helping Society in the city of Jingmen, where she helps the elderly and people with disabilities . For her, it was only a matter of dreaming to build shelters for people with disabilities.
Yuanmeng Workshop is located at the junction of urban and rural areas in Palou Town, Dongbao District, Jingmen City, and is surrounded by low-rise buildings and various auto parts factories. On a busy road outside the workshop’s gates, trucks pass by from morning till night, feeding into various construction sites around the area.
The workshop is a large, clean area occupying more than 1,000 square meters. Although the view may not be spectacular, the workshop’s canteens, dormitories, training rooms, activity rooms, and rehabilitation rooms weave together to create a lively scenery.
There are more than thirty people with disabilities living here independently. Life is simple and enjoyable.
Excellent Workers in the Production Line
Every day at 8 am, a unique landscape emerges outside the gates of the factory. The disabled workers collectively put on customized work clothes and enter the workshop one by one. They have a wide range of physical and mental disabilities, and they’re of various ages as well, ranging from 21 to 59 years old.
For such a special group, finding a suitable project is easier said than done. Prior to this, Meng Lihua ran an electronics factory and organized everyone to produce accessories. They would use glue guns to solder things onto circuit boards, but building electronic products requires precision, and workers with disabilities had a difficult time achieving their production standards. Damage to a part could lose more than 100 yuan.
Meng Lihua took her workers to a ballpoint pen factory and a food packaging factory; they’d assemble pens, and label boxes of wine, but they ran into many setbacks.
Zhang finally found the owner of a funeral supplies factory. “I hope you can give them a chance. I guarantee that they will be able to do a good job!” The factory owner was touched by the sincerity of Meng Lihua, and decided to give plastic flower production to them.
The production of plastic flowers seems simple, but it is cumbersome. After seven or eight processes such as kneading and splicing, each piece of the petal, the leaves, and the flower must be pieced together. Ten flowers are tied, and an average of six or seven hundred flowers are made every day. But some of the workers felt their pay was not sufficient, and left.
The workers who stayed behind were content, though their labor efficiency was limited. The workshops would pack food, and handle the raw materials provided by the merchants, and recycle packages. Their wages would range from 600 to 1,000 yuan per month. There are no intermediate links and the wages are paid directly to the workers.
In Meng Lihua’s eyes, they are all “excellent workers in the production line” and each step is unambiguous. To start production, we must keep up with the pace of the market. “Whatever you do, try to be productive. And remember it is not the people who are disabled, but the products that are disabled.” To catch up with the Spring Festival and Ching Ming, the two peak seasons of the year, the workers consciously work overtime. Adding some points, we have also created a labor competition. “It is the driving force of money; That is to say, we have a great sense of value!”
The Birth of a Dream
A few years ago, the workshop was an abandoned factory covered in bushes and debris. At that time, Meng Lihua was managing a bus line in Jingmen. In her spare time, she went to work as a volunteer at a hospital, an orphanage, and at welfare institutions.
One day in the fall of 2009, Xu Huajun of Xuchang Village, Wuli Town, Shayang County saw a report on Meng Lihua on TV and called her for help.
Overcast and rainy, the village road was muddy, and it took more than two hours for Meng Lihua to find Xu Huajun’s home. Xu Huajun was leaning against a doorless door frame.
Meng Lihua’s eyes became red at the sight. The house was dirty and chaotic, smelling pungent. Because Xu Huajun suffers from severe urinary stones, blood is found in the commode. On the stove, there is only one sweet potato.
Xu Huajun was the same age as Meng Lihua. He was sent by his parents in Langzhong. When he was 19, he went out to work and accidentally fell from a high building, resulting in paraplegia and him lying in bed for ten years. He did not want to be a drag on his elderly adoptive parents, but to instead live alone, and rely on the strength of the villagers to repair their home appliances.
Although well-intentioned people in society send money and deliver goods, they can only solve the worries of the moment. Disabled people can only solve their fundamental problems if they help themselves. Meng Lihua Meng had an idea: Build a home for the disabled and let them support themselves.
When she explained this idea to her three like-minded partners, they loved it.
Zhou Yalan from the Kaijiag Administration Company has long been concerned for empty nesters. He is a model of morality in the community. Gao Chubing, a teacher from Jingchu Institute of Technology and the Red Cross Volunteer Service Committee of Jingmen City, is helpful and has donated bone marrow to save people; The winner and former president of the Jingmen Autism Association, Yan Xuesong, is also a long-term helper and has himself been disabled since childhood.
In January 2014, they initiated the establishment of the “Jingmen City Dreams Helping Society”, with Meng Lihua serving as President, and Zhou Yalan, Gao Changbing, and Qi Xuesong serving as Vice Presidents. Qi Xuesong contributed his own idle plant. Gao Caibing took more than 10 volunteers from the Jingchu Institute of Technology to remove the grass and garbage. It took a full week to clean up.
as word of the project spread there was a surge of love from the community for the building of the disabled home: Gezhouba Group donated five tons of cement; Jingchu Ceramics donated 110 square meters of floor tiles; Nippon Paint Company donated nearly 6000 yuan of paint. But the materials donated were far from enough. Meng Lihua sold more than 70,000 yuan of her assets and Zhou Yalan took out 40,000 yuan to invest in construction.
From July to September 2014, it took 3 months and the brand new factory was completely renovated. The useless open space was transformed into a place where Jingmen’s disabled people could live their dream.
Hot Dry Noodle Shop Girl
Helping the disabled is an ordinary thing for Meng Lihua herself, but many people do not understand her motivations.
Some people say she wants to be famous. Some people speculate that she is defrauding the nation and pretending to benefit people with disabilities. There are even people who secretly drive their cars to the workshop to look at them. “Oh, there are people with disabilities working! There is more than one room, and there are several houses!”
Meng Lihua still retains an old bed sheet from 40 years ago. This bed sheet envelops her memories of her childhood. She was born in poverty and was the fourth daughter in her family. At the age of 3, she was taken in by adoptive parents in Jingmen. At the age of nine, her adoptive parents had their own daughters. Meng Lihua, who had only studied for two years, had to drop out of school to take care of children at home. When she was young, she was often beaten. Four years later, her adoptive parents added another child. Meng Lihua became an extra mouth to feed.
In the summer of that year, a 7-yuan bus ticket brought the 13-year-old girl and her bed sheet from Jingmen to Wuhan. When the bus arrived at Hankou Xinhua Road Bus Terminal, it was already dark and everyone was gone. Meng Lihua walked and cried, and went to the door of a hot dry noodle shop. When it started to rain, she wrapped herself in her bed sheet, shivering under a shed and trembling all night. At 4 a.m., the boss opened the door and Meng Lihua sat up with tears in her eyes. The good-hearted boss gave her a large bowl of hot-dry noodles to eat. when the dawn rush of customers arrived, she raced to help, taking the initiative to wash tables and help out. Soon, everyone on the street knew her, “The little girl who rushed to the noodle shop.”
At a nearby rice factory, a woman named Aunt Tao looked at her and asked her to be a babysitter to take care of her one-year-old son. Aunt Tao was very good with her. She later taught her to study and helped her find a job at the rice factory.
Meng Lihua said that it is good people who have saved her heart and made her thankful for her life. So when you see people who don’t live well, you want to help them out of instinct. In these decades, her helping hands, in addition to banknotes, had been sent to the widowed old people in the orphanages, buying bags for children who were not in school, and wheelchairs for countless persons with disabilities.
This includes her adopted son Xu Liang. When Meng Lihua was a girl, she was paid 400 yuan for one month and every month she took out 100 yuan to subsidize Xuliang, an orphan in the mountains. Until she talked about marriage with her husband, she was still under pressure from all sides and took her children into the family. Since then, Meng Lihua’s daughter and her husband have been laid off. They have never abandoned their adopted son and sent him from Wuhan University to Peking University and then to a doctoral student at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom.With the encouragement of adopted children, Meng Lihua’s daughter was also admitted to Tsinghua University and sent to France to study abroad.
Meng Lihua and her husband are ordinary workers; one is a contractor for a bus company, and the other is a plumber with a meager income. More than a decade ago, in order to support her son for college, Meng Lihua sold the only suite in their house for 55,000 yuan and began to rent an apartment. Now, she and her husband live in low-rent housing of 50 square meters, and are content. The memories of the years of hunger go deep into her bone marrow, and it also cultivates her strong heart: if it is not there, she will not fear losing it.
She said that a suite changes the future of a child, which has some value; a workshop changes the future of a group of people with disabilities, which has more value.
Unprecedented Sense of Belonging
Jingzhou, Zhongxiang, Shayang, and Enshi… People from all walks of life entered the “Dream” workshop and became a family, and found an unprecedented sense of belonging. It is seemingly contradictory that people with disabilities are burdened with the difficulties of livelihood and optimism in life, but they complement each other in the workshop. Relying on real work with their hands, the splicing of flowers and leaves, and the introduction of one needle and one thread, they gradually settled and lived in equal dignity.
Wei Yinyin had worked at a well-known shoe factory and had been paid more than 2,000 yuan a month. However, in an environment where not all people are healthy, no less bullied; Li Li with disabilities in his left hand and left leg was unable to carry weight. But here, “Everyone is as happy as a sibling.” Some workers used to be discriminated against in their own homes, and some by their own parents. “But here, we can all lift our heads.”
The biggest change is Li Wei. Li Wei, a boy with a mental disability born in 1997, was an orphan. He grew up in a welfare home and he was raised in a chicken farm to work. Last winter, Meng Lihua went to the countryside and went to the chicken farm. Li Wei slept on a straw mat in a chicken shed every day. He was responsible for gathering eggs and cleaning chicken manure. Others wore cotton-padded jackets. He was still undressed, his expression was sluggish, his hair, clothes, and shoes were all covered in chicken droppings.
Meng Lihua brought Li Wei back to the workshop. In the first two months, Li Wei did not say a word. Coworkers taught him how to write, wash, and play games on their mobile phones. Slowly, he became cheerful. Meng Lihua always bought him a snack. He secretly hid it. If anyone stole it, he would immediately know.
When these funny things were said, Li Weixiao smiled and shook his head. Where did Meng Lihua go? Where did she go? His words are limited, but as soon as he saw Meng Lihua had difficulty with cooking, he immediately began helping her.
There are also two couples who are in a “dream of dreams”. Li Li arrived here in 2015 and married Xu Yaoqian, a mentally disabled girl, in 2016. Now her daughter is 10 months old. Their mental state is very good. Yang Hongzhang and Zhou Yueyuan, their sons are almost two years old.
Unlike other factories, Meng Lihua often visits home and knows the situation of each worker. In these families, the situation is much the same: it is hard, bitter, and gloomy, because there is a child with a disability who cannot see the light of day. Employees have come and gone. For the 31 permanent workers, Meng Lihua has expanded the aid program. Free medical examinations are performed every year, and various kinds of sympathy and subsidy are also sent. She is not relieved of these disabled people and always chants, “If we don’t help. what will they do?”
She thinks her responsibility is heavy. The plastic flowers they produce are contaminated with toxic chemicals, and the act of weaving fishing nets is prone to errors. But it is not a long-term solution. When she needed to build support in the past, she could push and push. In the past two years, when she had a chamber of commerce activity, she took the initiative to participate. Hundreds of companies have inquired about and always wanted to find a better project. “This crowd is not out of poverty. The family is also unable to escape poverty. But when they became independent, the family saved themselves.”
– by Meng Lihua
Born in 1970, Meng Lihua was the banknote coordinator of Jingmen City Public Transport Group Co., Ltd., the president of the “Chen Meng Love Helping Association” in Jingmen City, and the founder of “Yuan Meng’s Disabled Shelter Factory”. SHe has won honors such as “National Filial Piety and Respect for the Elderly”, “Hubei Province May Day Labor Medal” and “Hubei Province Moral Model”. In March 2018, she was named the “March Eighth Red Banner”.
This story is part of a series of articles published as an exclusive editorial exchange between China Press for People with Disabilities & Spring Breeze and ABILITY Magazine.