Training programs bulge purses of impoverished ethnic women

Besides cultivating fresh flowers in pots, 25-year-old Mu Zhiminai can also make artificial ones with her needles and a ball of wool.

Besides cultivating fresh flowers in pots, 25-year-old Mu Zhiminai can also make artificial ones with her needles and a ball of wool.

   Sitting in her hand-weaving training classroom, Mu knit and purled, with a little pink woolen flower soon blooming on her hand. She honed the skill through a two-week training course.

   Mu lives in Dongxiang Autonomous County of northwest China's Gansu Province, the only county in the country where members of the Dongxiang ethnic group are in the majority.

   Dongxiang is one of China's most impoverished counties due to its inhospitable climate and sterile land. About 87 percent of the county's 300,000 residents are from the Dongxiang ethnic group whose indigenous language traditionally had no written form.

   As the family's only breadwinner, Mu's husband works in a restaurant outside the county, supporting the family of four with his meager income. Most men in Dongxiang earn a living away from home, leaving their wives behind to do the chores and raise the kids.

   To help those "left-behind" women earn money at their doorsteps, the county's vocational and technical school offered various training programs for free with the support of the local government.

   "We used to provide many training classes for men," said Tuo Fengying, principal of the school, adding that she had conducted numerous studies to find training programs suitable for ethnic minority women.

   The school cooperated with a local crochet company and opened the course in September 2019, with Mu joining as one of the trainees this May. The company provided raw materials for the women, as well as orders for their hand-made products.

   "The women can take the orders at home in their spare time. Skilled ones can earn almost 2,000 yuan (about 286 U.S. dollars) a month," said Ma Chunmei, trainer of the class.

   To attract more young Dongxiang women to learn a craft, the school also launched a training program on beauty and hairdressing.

   "It's hard for a local bride to get her wedding makeup and hairdo here in Dongxiang, and it's expensive to hire a dresser or a stylist from other places," Tuo said. The training program thus provides locals with a cost-effective solution.

   Holding a makeup brush, Ma Yue tried to apply eye shadow for her classmate under the teacher's guidance.

   "I've dreamed of being a cosmetician since childhood, but I never had a chance to learn," said the 25-year-old Dongxiang mother of two, who greatly enjoys the training course and plans to open a beauty salon.

   "We had problems with food and clothing in the old days, and the pursuit of beauty was something I never dared to imagine," said Tang Saifeiye, Ma's mother. Her only memory of putting on makeup was on her wedding day when she penciled her eyebrows with matches and painted her lips with red-dyed paper.

   Bai Yan, 20, was among the first group of students in the beauty training program. Talented and hard-working, the unemployed young woman soon became the teaching assistant of the class.

   "Girls love beauty, and they are very active in learning," Bai said.

   The school has so far arranged four beauty and hairdressing courses and trained nearly 100 Dongxiang women who have since found jobs after mastering their skills, according to Tuo. All other courses, such as cooking and excavator driving, are also provided free of charge.

   Over the past five years, a total of 220,000 impoverished women from rural areas in Gansu have benefited from various training courses, with their annual per capita income increasing by more than 2,000 yuan, statistics of the provincial women's federation show.

   "Suitable training programs will help them find jobs at home and shake off poverty," said Tuo. 

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