There is a story I came across the other day that I want to share with you. It is not overly to do with demography, but it does illustrate a few key ingredients that are essential to family life and to the bringing up of future generations: love, self-sacrifice, the desire of good for the other, perseverance and courage. In short, it illustrates many qualities that I think parents should have and that I would like to have in greater abundance.
The story comes to us from rural China: Fengyi township, Yibin county, Sichuan province, about 2,000 miles to the west of Shanghai. Everyday, 40 year old Yu Xukang gets up at 5am. He prepares a lunch for his son to eat at school. Then he helps his son walk to school, about 7km away over a rugged mountain road. His son, Xiao Qiang is 12 years old but he cannot walk to school. He is physically disabled from an unidentified disease: only 90cm tall, with twisted arms and legs and a hunched back. The nearest schools did not have the facilities to accept him. His father explains:
“I know that my son is physically disabled but there is nothing wrong with his mind. However, I couldn’t find any school here with the facilities to accept him and was constantly rejected. In fact the only place where I could get a place for him was at the Fengxi Primary School in Fengyi township in Yibin county in Sichuan province – which is a five-mile walk away.”
There are no buses, no public transport to make the journey. Thus, Xiao must walk. But Xiao can’t walk. That’s where Dad comes in. Everyday, Yu puts his son into a specially constructed basket and straps him onto his back. Then Dad (only 1.5m tall himself!) carries his son 7 km to school. Then Dad walks 7km back home to work on a farm for the day. And in the afternoon he does the same thing in reverse. 7km walk to pick up his son. 7km walk home with his son on his back. A 28km day! Over the last 6 months he estimates that he has walked more than 2,500 km.
Because of the unidentified disease, the son could not start school until he was 12. Further, his father and mother separated when he was three years old (the reports do not specify in what circumstances). But all of these hardships do not seem to have limited his academic ability according to his proud father:
“My son with his disabilities is not in a position to walk on his own and it also means that he can’t ride a bike. Despite being 12 he’s just 90 cm tall. But I am proud of the fact that he is already top of his class and I know he will achieve great things. My dream is that he will go to college.”
With his father putting in hard yards on Shank’s pony Xiao is certainly getting every opportunity that this will happen. Furthermore, since this story broke in the local media, the local government has announced that they will rent a room to the Yu in the near future so he can be closer to school. In the meantime the school will be adapted so that it can take boarding students, including Xiao. While I’m sure Yu will enjoy the break from the punishing physical labour, will father and son miss their time alone together every day discussing school and their dreams for the future?