June 2018: The Zhang family, with tea packages that we designed for them last year
There was a village in the mountains called Xiaohusai. There was no running water; there was no electricity. The nearest school was 3 hours away on foot. In the village lived two children: Zhang Ruihong and Wang Yilan. They would climb mountains and build tire swings on trees, and play house with their friends while trying to avoid the poisonous snakes that often hid amongst the grass.
But even their childhood days were shadowed by economic burdens. After completing third grade at the single-teacher school in the village, Yilan dropped out to help with tea-picking, a business that had lasted for centuries in her family.
“Yilan,” Her mother said to her a few days after her sixteenth birthday, “Do you remember Ruihong?”
“We used to play in the creek together,” Yilan beamed, then asked, “Why?”
“I want you to get married.”
Fast forward twenty years, and today, there is a village called Xiaohusai. Zhang Jie and Wang Yilan are now in their late twenties with two children. Yet they've never thought about leaving the village. “We’ve thought about going on vacation,” Yilan says thoughtfully. “To Dali, maybe.” The destination in question is a nearby city, only a little over an hour away by maglev.
Things were a lot harder back in their childhood. The only way out of their secluded village was by foot. “It’s a bit better these days,” Ruihong muses, “because we have cars and motorcycles now. Our parents used to carry pounds of tea down the mountain for 3 hours.”
Good food was scarce and expensive as well. When Yilan’s parents went to town, they’d sometimes bring back oranges for her and her siblings. “I’d even eat the orange peels because I didn’t want to waste anything,” she laughs. She takes out her dusty Huawei phone, “Do you guys by any chance know a song called Diamonds?”
We continue chatting with her along with the tunes of Rihanna’s Diamonds blasting, as Yilan hums along lightheartedly. “I don’t know what the words mean, though," she admits bashfully.
“We must’ve gotten smartphones around...3 years ago,” Yilan says. She quickly urges us to add her on WeChat. “Running water came just last year, actually. Our water pipes used to just be bamboo sticks."
"Oh!” She suddenly cries delightedly, as if remembering something wonderful, “And electricity! These lights...they’re like magic. I never want to turn them off.” Yilan laughs.
However, a wistful look remains on Ruihong’s face, as he says, “Our daughter has been having a lot of health problems lately, though. She’s constantly in and out of the hospital. And Yilan has been complaining about migraines for a while now.”
“I’m okay,” Yilan protests at this, “We don’t have the money to spare right now.”
A few days later, we visit Ruihong and Yilan’s daughter, Zhang Shunyuan, in her school on the small town a few hours away. She says, “I want to become a doctor when I grow up, so my mom’s head will stop hurting and she will smile more."
“I wish I could visit Shanghai one day,” She continues with a dreamy smile, “I wish I could visit America.”
But the Zhangs have a large debt to pay off, as they still have tens of kilograms of unsold tea sitting in their warehouse. To alleviate their debt, we have been sponsoring their children’s education for the last year and counting.
And with the purchase of our Xiaohusai tea, organically grown by farmers from the village, you are directly contributing to farmers like the Zhang family who want, like all of us, a better life for their children.