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China's poverty relief project brings jobs to middle-aged villagers



GUANGZHOU -- It was the first time for Ding Xingwu to join the epic chunyun, the busy travel period around China's Spring Festival. Instead of being bored by the trip like most migrant workers, he felt proud.


"I have never worked away from my hometown before," said 41-year-old Ding from a remote village of Huayuan county, Central China's Hunan province when aboard a train heading to his hometown from Guangdong province.


Ding was one of the 71 poor villagers aged above 40 in Huayuan who were hired to work in Guangdong last year in a government-backed labor scheme. Middle-aged migrant workers are often denied work in factories in developed areas as they are seen as being inefficient and in poor health compared with younger workers.


Before the father-of-three started work in a Guangdong ceramics factory in June 2016, his family could barely feed themselves.


A couple of years ago, he worked in a mine but lost the job when the local government reined in excessive mining and the mine closed.


The factory job arrived after a pilot scheme was launched to transport poor villagers in Hunan and Hubei provinces to work in Guangdong. The move, which started in April 2016, was a response to the central government's call for "precision poverty relief."


In Huayuan, more than 100 companies from the Pearl River Delta held recruitment fairs for rural job-seekers. The local government offered free training for the job-seekers in accordance with employers' demands.


The ceramics plant signed a three-year contract with Ding and pays him more than 3,000 yuan ($437) a month.


"I keep hundreds of yuan a month and give all the rest to my wife," he said.


Huang Jihui, 45, also from Huayuan, was hired by the ceramics plant along with Ding. He said he was too poor to find a wife.


"Young people in my village told me that factories in coastal areas do not want workers older than 35," he said. "We are not well educated. We do not have skills. Without the government's help, what can we do?"


Long Mingjiang, a Huayuan official in charge of the labor scheme, said that middle-aged farmers who were longing to work in developed regions were not uncommon in the county, but their dreams were rarely fulfilled due to their age.


Ding and Huang were luckier than others who hurried to buy a train ticket during the Spring Festival travel rush. They received free tickets for special trains launched to bring poor migrant workers in Guangdong back to their hometowns.


"Back in the village, finally I can tell my neighbors, 'I make money now,'" Ding said.


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