- Posted April 10, 2012 by
- mprazmark, CNN iReport producer
From an Ancient Fishing Village in China to Washington, D.C.
This is a story about a young woman with severe physical disabilities who has lived a life against all odds. Zhao Chun Li, Angel, grew up in a rural fishing village near Yangshuo, China, with brittle bone disease and dwarfism, living a life many found not worth the cost of the food she ate. Without medical care, she suffered daily from the pain of broken bones of the body and a broken spirit from discrimination. For 17 years of her life, she never left her home village, not even to see the beautiful Li River that the fishing village was on. Through an amazing set of circumstances beginning with meeting a man of compassion, Chris Barclay, 12 years ago, she was able to come to the US to complete an Educational Leadership Internship in advocacy, special education and disability rights. This is in partnership with St. Cloud State University and Minnetonka School District.
She has a spirit of resilience and a laughter that lights up the room. Standing at only 91 cm tall, she only is able to sit, with not one day walking on her tiny legs. For such a small person, she has a vision and a dream for making a difference in the world. After having spent the last two and half months with her, I am convinced she will be the change agent she aspires to be. She has learned advocacy skills to be a voice for those who share a story so similar to her, who are locked away unable to attend school. China is making huge strides in improving the education for children with disabilities through signing and ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Zhao Chun Li, Angel, holds potential for moving this forward faster so that more children may attend school and live a life worth living.
Her story is one that asks people to not have pity upon the disabled, but compassion for them as individuals who are fully human, able to be contributing members of society. She now is employed full time and married to an incredible man. The two have a daughter, who is 3 and half years old, who they adopted after finding her as an abandoned baby girl on the street.
All her life, Angel has been told, "You cannot do that, you are disabled." "You can't... You can't... You can't..." Well watch out world, yes she can! She has brought audiences to tears of laughter and tears of compassion as she has shared her story to both young and old. She brings hope and inspiration to those who meet here, who expand the globe, as the hotel where she works, Yangshuo Mountain Retreat, welcomes foreigners from around the world. She will be an inspiration to children with disabilities in China. More than that, she is a role model.
She aspires to become a Global Ambassador for the UN, assisting China in the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Judy Heumann, Special Advisor to President Obama on International Disability Rights, anointed Angel officially as an "advocate" after her presentation to the US Department of State. Angel is taking this job seriously and sensationally, as her smile and wonderful sense of humor light up a room. Her story is a strong reminder of the children in the world who still do not have an opportunity for an education. Her mind is amazing, her intellect incredibly sharp for one who never left her house for her first 17 years, and her heart full of compassion for all children with disabilities, like her, who are still hidden.
A challenging day in Angel’s life was a day that brought joy and excitement to others in her rural, ancient fishing village near Yangshuo, China. On July 2nd, 1998, President Clinton was going to visit the village. The local authorities, in preparing for the visit of the President of the US, deemed her unworthy of being seen by such a man of influence. They forced her into hiding, so that while her family met him, she sat in isolation with tears of shame and humiliation. Those feeling were finally resolved as she finally, at the end of her internship, was able to meet President Clinton in Washington, D.C. on April 1st at a Clinton Foundation event. The magic of the meeting between the two was priceless, as time stood still while the two were reunited. President Clinton shared stories about others with brittle bone disease who he knew who had accomplished great things with their lives. When he posed the question to Angel on what her dreams were, she replied, “I want to build a school for children with disabilities in China.” President Clinton quickly replied, “I can help you with this!” The smile on Angel’s face said it all.
President Clinton further supported Angel by calling her up on stage with him during his presentation for the evening. He shared the story of how she was locked away while he visited her home and how she now has a dream of building a school for children with disabilities in China. She was the role model to all of the next generation of leaders who attended to believe that they hold potential for being the change agent they dream of becoming.
Angel and Xiao Mo returned to China on April 2nd. They continue to work with the team of committed individuals on the Ginkgo Academy Partnership. For information on how to support this project, please visit www.ginkgoacademy.org . Donations will support the development, implementation and sustainability of the model school Angel dreams of for children with disabilities in China.