Peng Rei and her brother PengZhen live in the countryside in YongShun in Hunan Province in China. They live there together with their grandma and their mum. They belong to an ethic minority group in China called the TuJia people. They have their own traditions and culture which are a bit different from most Chinese people. Because they belong to an ethnic minority group, their parents got permission to have more than one child.
Rei (the girl) is in third grade and Zhen (the boy) is in fourth grade. Reis` favourite food is cabbage and rice, but Zhens’ favourite is definitely meat. Zhen likes Mathematics, but his sister Rei likes all the subjects at school.
They both are happy to have a sibling, because they can play together when they have finished their homework. They both enjoy school. However, life has not always been so easy.
When Rei was newborn, their father went to the city to seasonal work. It is very common in China for farmers go to the big cities to find work for 8-11 months a year leaving their kids with grandparents (or their mother) on the farm to take care of any animals and farming. This way, the parents are able to earn enough money for the family to live on. However, since their father went to the city nine years ago, they have not heard from him. They suspect that there may have been an accident and they presume him to have died, but they are not sure. Their mother, Peng ShuiYing (36), has therefore been taking care of the children and her mother-in-law, Chen YinNan (80). It has not been easy to make ends meet. Certain periods of the year, they have not had enough food for their family and YongShun is very cold, also inside, so the winters are tough if you clothes are not warm enough.
Last year, their mum, Peng ShuiYing, started a course in Brocading which is a part of the International Biogas Project in China. The type of brocading art she is doing is unique for their ethnic group, the TuJia people. So, when Rei and Zhen are at school and she does not need to work on the fields, their mum is now making very pretty carpets. She is able to sell these easily, and they thus have some additional income. They are not rich, but life has become a lot better than it used to be says their mum Peng ShuiYing.
“Now, I have got a new winter coat and don’t need to be cold any longer! » says Rei with a big smile on her face and shyly but proudly shows me her new pink coat. “Now, we have got pencils and notebooks and can do our homework better” says Zhen. What is the best think about mum being able to do Brocade? I ask. “The best thing is that we can eat meat!” says Zhen and smiles so that his eyes light up. In the countryside in China, many families are so poor that they cannot afford eating meat except for perhaps once a year at Chinese New Year (this is a celebration that in some ways is similar to Christmas celebrations in Europe). This was also the case for this family. «Since mum started doing brocade, we eat meat almost 10 times a month! » says Zhen and gives me another big smile.
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