Villagers carve tunnel to a new life

Villagers carve tunnel to a new life

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Villagers carve tunnel to a new life

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Together with her fellow villagers, Deng Yingxiang used hammers and shovels to cut through a mountain, carving a path from her isolated village to the outside world.

Mahuai Village, in southwest China’s Guizhou Province, is surrounded by mountains. Villagers have been living in poverty for generations. The nearest road is only a few hundred meters away as the crow flies, but it used to take over two hours to get there.

Born in a neighboring village, Deng married a man from Mahuai in 1990. On her wedding day, the 18-year-old had to climb over the mountains to get to her husband’s home. On her first night in the village, she was impressed by the darkness. “There was no electricity and even the moonlight was blocked by the mountains,” she recalled.

Villagers would get up around 4am to take their vegetables to market but it took so long to get there that their produce was past its best by the time they arrived.

To build a new home, villagers had to carry construction materials on their backs, one basket at a time.

Children suffered the most. The nearest primary school was a two-hour trek over the mountains.

Change was in the air in 1999 when the village was earmarked for connection to the national power grid, but the mountains got in the way as usual.

When villagers started to look for easier ways across, a small cave was discovered and they decided to embark on a painstaking endeavor to transform the cave into a tunnel

“It was narrow, and we had to kneel down or even lie on our stomachs to cut the stones,” Deng said. “After cutting for a while, we would sit on the ground and pass the stones and sludge out.”

One night in 2001, Deng suddenly heard shouting from the cave: “We’re through! We’re through!”

The 200 meter passage shortened the journey to the road from two hours to 15 minutes and work to connect the village to the grid could begin.

Easier access to the outside world opened the villagers’ eyes. Many left for jobs in the cities. In 2006, Deng walked through the tunnel to find a job in a shoe factory.

In 2010, she went back home for her daughter’s wedding. It was raining and her daughter, in a white wedding dress, had to walk through the passage knee-deep in dirty water.

“The path was still too narrow, so I decided that we should widen it into a tunnel which can allow the passage of cars,” Deng said. She started the project by herself with hammers and chisels, but more and more villagers joined her.

“With money, cement and explosives from the government, we worked day and night,” she said. By the summer of 2011, the job was done.

Since then, development has been rapid. Roads were laid in the village and over 80 percent of residents have moved into new houses. Some have bought farm vehicles and cars.

Deng, now head of the village, has been leading the villagers to plant medicinal herbs. “Leaving the village is not the ultimate solution to poverty. The village cannot become rich without a pillar industry so we are trying to develop specialty agriculture,” she said.

“Reliable transport is a powerful support for agricultural development,” she added.

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