from an article by Jenny Zhang, syndicated from, Apr 27, 2015

Looking at the lush, green, tree-filled stretch of land north of the Yeli Village in Sunzhuang Township, Jingxing County, Hebei, China, it’s hard to imagine that just 12 years ago, those plains were filled with nothing but rocks and weeds. This miraculous transformation is all thanks to the hard work and dedication of an elderly blind man named Jia Haixia and his friend Jia Wenqi, a double amputee with no arms. For more than 10 years, the duo have been planting thousands of trees in an effort to protect and preserve the natural ecology of the land surrounding their village.

53-year-old Haixia was born with congenital cataracts that left his left eye blind. Then, in 2000, he lost his other eye in an accident at work, leaving him completely without sight. Wenqi, also 53, lost both his arms in an accident when he was just 3 years old. After Haixia became fully blind, the two friends were having trouble securing jobs, so they decided to lease over eight acres of land near the riverbank from the local government with the goal of planting trees for future generations. While working towards this noble objective, Haixia and Wenqi have also been able to help protect their village from flooding, while also earning a modest income from government funding.

Each morning, the two friends rise at 7AM and then head out for a day’s work. With little money to buy saplings from the store, they rely on taking cuttings from grown trees and planting them to create new life. After years of living and laboring side by side, the close duo have learned how to work together in order to overcome their individual disabilities. Wenqi often carries the sightless Haixia on his back across the rushing river, while Haixia climbs to the top of trees to cut off the boughs that will become new trees. After climbing back down, Haixia digs holes in the ground to plant the cuttings; it is then Wenqi’s job to take care of the growing saplings by watering them. With this unique system of teamwork, the friends estimate that they’ve planted over 10,000 trees in over a decade.

When they began working together on the project, other villagers were cynical, Haixia explains. “They didn’t believe what we were doing was possible,” he says, “the whole riverbank had been bare for years and there were hardly any trees.” But after a few years the trees grew, the area became greener and the villagers changed their attitude choosing now to assist the two men.

“They help us to fix our tools, water the trees and trim the weeds,” Haixia says. “They even bought us saplings to plant.”

For Haixia, recent news from doctors means his blindness could soon be reversed. He is currently on the waiting list for a donor, having been told he is a suitable candidate for a cornea transplant.

But if he does regain his vision, he is adamant he’ll carry on planting trees with Wenqi. “it doesn’t matter if my eyesight comes back or not, I’m going to continue my work until my last breath,” he says.

Click here for  a full article and photos by by Kathleen Hawkins