Monday, November 23, 2009

Rural Poverty Issues

As I've described in previous posts, one of the main fieldwork projects I've been involved in at the NGO where I work has been one in which we're giving out cash grants to a number of particularly impoverished rural farmers, with funding we received from the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation.  We've distributed money to 120 out of the total 300 households that will receive the grants, and met with local village leaders a couple weeks ago to receive nominations for the remaining 180 recipients. 

This past week, we returned to the countryside once again to conduct home inspections of the remaining 180 nominated recipients.  Because money tends to be scarce for almost everyone in the countryside, my colleagues want to ensure that we are giving the funds to those who need it most and that the nominees weren't recommended because they happen to be a friend or family member of the leader who nominated them, or because the parameters of the project weren't clear to those making the nominations.  We visit every home, look around the inside and take photos for later reference, talk to the resident to get a better understanding of his or her circumstances, and generally evaluate whether or not we agree that the person's situation is particularly difficult or impoverished. 

The home visits, while exhausting (I actually contemplating crying and refusing to work one damp, snowy day because I thought I might actually freeze to death), have been insightful and have shed tremendous light on some common situations in rural China.  The most prevalent phenomenon, by far, has been that of family members leaving their home to seek work in some of China's larger cities, as there is no way to earn an income from rural subsistence farming.  While I was familiar with the sight of migrant construction workers toiling away on Beijing's highrise buildings, or the inflection of restaurant staff whose spoken Mandarin hinted at simple origins in a distant province, I was never fully aware of the extent to which this phenomenon occurs.  In every single household we visited, the majority of the working-age family members (those over 18 years of age up to those who were not yet grandparents--roughly in their 50s) had left the countryside to seek work in other cities and provinces.  Guangdong and Xinjiang provinces were particularly popular markets for their manufacturing and coal mining industries, respectively.  Still others had headed for Beijing, Zhejiang Province, and Shenzhen, to seek construction work, restaurant work, or a host of other odd-jobs.  The workers send monthly remittances back to their family members in the countryside, allowing for a cash flow into rural households.  However, it also leads to a situation in which many children are raised by their grandparents and only see their parents once annually, at the Chinese New Year holiday.  Spouses who work in different cities will also often rarely see each other; in extreme cases, some may even leave their families and never return home--a few households shared stories of parents who had left behind a sick or disabled child, who had met another partner while working in the city and divorced their spouse, or who had simply left to work in the city, never to be heard from again.

No comments: