- Posted November 26, 2012 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
What’s your secret spot in Beijing?
The Barrier of Begging
Last summer, I met the most amazing young woman in the world... Zhao Chun Li "Angel". She was born with brittle bone disease and dwarfism. Her story is one of despair, discrimination and yet hope. Angel, at age 16, was locked in hiding during President Clinton's visit to her rural fishing village near Yangshuo, China in 1998, being deemed unworthy of being fit for the eyes of a President. Now, at age 29, she is rapidly becoming one of the leading advocates for individuals with disabilities in China.
On April 1, 2012, Angel was finally able to meet President Clinton. The moment of the meeting was amazing! Both were speechless...Angel is now leading a Commitment to Action for the Clinton Global Initiative to build a model school for children with physical disabilities in China. Yet, the reality for the majority of children with physical disabilities in China is illuminated within this photo of a young woman with brittle bone disease in Shanghai, taken in October of 2012 (photo credit: Richard Lytle). This was Angel years ago... Individuals with disabilities in China are still known as "beggers." Their lives are deemed often as not worthy of the food they eat.
This is what Angel heard growing up, a life not worth living. For the majority of these children, education is simply not possible. This is not only due to the physical barriers within the school grounds, but more so due to the attitudinal barriers that reside within the social cultural values towards individuals with disabilities.
Angel represents the possibilities, the hidden potential, that once tapped, ignites human capability beyond belief. Angel never attended school, never left her rural fishing village, but is fluent and literate in English and Chinese. She was provided an opportunity to learn by a man of compassion, Chris Barclay, one of the volunteer interpreters for President Clinton's delegation in 1998. He saw the potential, not the broken bones.
My question for you is, how many have walked by a disabled begger on the street in China, dirty, filthy, disgusting? They walk up to us, with their can in hand, eyes empty, souls lost of hope. What do their minds think, when so many are intellectually competent? Trapped in a body that does not work, confronted with the barrier of begging...When in China in 2006, traveling with my mom and daughter, my mom continued to give yuans to the empty cans of the pityful who approached us. I finally had to tell her to stop, that we cannot provide for all of them! So many of them are children, with an identity of a broken body equating to that of a broken mind.
Have you looked into their eyes? Have you stopped to drop a few meager yuans into their begger cans? How often have you walked by and been disgusted? This is not what they need. They are human beings. They have value. They have worth. They hold potential. Who amoung you will continue to walk by, to say, "So sad...such a pity..." and yet do nothing.
Touring China has become a place of destiny, of desire, of dreams. To climb the Great Wall, to see the Terra Cotta Warriors! Wow! What a life dream! And yet, we walk by those who have no life dreams. They only hope that the hunger in their stomachs will be stopped by nightfall. Children with disabilities are often the abandoned, the forgotten, the throw aways. Limited support systems are available for parents,especially in the rural communities. With a desire for a boy, many girls face a double challenge of being disabled and a girl.
Angel was fortunate, her mom was her advocate. She would not let go of her love for her daughter, who cried every night growing up from the pain of broken bones. Angel is a gift in my life. I have so much to be thankful for through her friendship. So many forgotten begging souls do not have such good fortune. They continue to live in hardship, with discrimination, dispair and no hope. I ask you, what can you do to make a difference? When traveling China and seeing the beautiful sites, do not ignore the beautiful people begging on the streets. They are people who have a story to share. The story of Angel is one that holds potential for making a difference in the lives of many disabled in China, but so many have unheard stories.
Take a moment to listen, to reach out, to see the potential. Lives worth living...in sitting down on a hot, June day in 2011, I asked Angel to share her story. I had no idea what I would hear. My life will never be the same. Listen to their stories. Ask. Listen. Then act. If not you personally, individually, then seek to get your work involved, your school involved, your university involved. Together we can break the barrier of begging and seek to give worth to the lives deemed not worthy of living. Angel is one of these individuals, and I have to honestly say, my life will never be the same since meeting her. Nor will hopefully the lives of multitudes of individuals with disabilities through the work and advocacy of Angel. Who will change your life? Take the risk, ask...