Moving mountains to find jobs for rural women
Trainees of the Lyuliang Mountain Nursing Workers' Project hone their cooking skills in Lyuliang, Shanxi province. [Photo by Guo Yuhui for China Daily]
A training project is helping them gain employment as caregivers in major cities
"The embarrassing memory is fresh in my mind," said caregiver Liu Fengqing, from the Lyuliang Mountains, an impoverished area in Shanxi province."I didn't know how to prepare a brown and wrinkled fruit for my client, which I later learned was called an avocado."
Now, making different meals for a variety clients is a breeze for 51-year-old Liu, who works as a caregiver in Beijing's Haidian district.
She has worked in the capital for eight years and mainly looks after nursing mothers and their infants. Liu is classified by her employer as a "gold medal" babysitter and can earn more than 10,000 yuan ($1,494) a month, an astronomical amount compared with the 10 yuan a day farm laborers are paid back home.
Liu attributes her success and strong knowledge of neonatal care to a 2016 nursing training program she participated in, which was organized by the Lyuliang government and designed to improve enrollees' job skills and employability.
"The stomach of a newborn is only as large as the thumb of an adult, so they can only take 30 milliliters of formula at most," she said, demonstrating her knowledge.
She has not only been taught how to look after nursing mothers and their infants, but also the elderly and the sick, and she can prepare different types of meals to meet the needs of a wide range of clients.
Since April 2016, a total of 54,210 people have enrolled in the Lyuliang Mountain Nursing Workers' Project, with nearly half of them from impoverished families.
More than half of the participants have found jobs as caregivers in North China, according to the Lyuliang government. For trainees from poverty-stricken families like Liu, the caregiver program is free.
Liang Xiangnan, director of the Lyuliang talent center of the city's bureau of human resources and social security, said high poverty levels prompted the government to launch the project.
According to statistics provided by the poverty alleviation office of Lyuliang, by the end of 2014, nearly 600,000 residents lived in poverty, equating to 9.2 percent of the city's population. The average national rural poverty ratio was 7.2 percent at the time.
In 2015, the Lyuliang government sent Liang and his colleagues to assess the potential job market for caregivers in Beijing.
They found there was a huge demand for home caregivers that could be met by the largely idle workforce in Lyuliang if people were properly trained.
The Lyuliang government organized a training session at the city's health school in September of that year, which was the predecessor of the nursing workers' project.
In April 2016, the project was officially launched, with five vocational schools and five private training agencies joining by the end of that year. Liu returned to Lyuliang to train as a caregiver for mothers, infants and the elderly.
She lives in a dormitory provided by a Lyuliang household services company that has established a branch in Haidian.
Liu shares the dormitory with nine other workers from her home village. Due to the housing benefits, Liu has sent 300,000 yuan back home over the past two years.
In May 2018, Chai Laifeng, in her 50s, trained as a caregiver for the elderly. Most of her 150 classmates were of a similar age, and two-thirds of them are rural women who were eager to increase their employability.
Chai said the instructors taught them how to insert a feeding tube and oxygen pipe, and how to turn bedridden patients over.
"Everybody felt that going back to school in middle age was exciting and we cherished the study opportunities. We tried our best to learn the skills and knowledge," she said.
Li Kejun, one of the project's instructors, said it usually takes time to get the trainees disciplined enough to attend a lecture. "They chat, talk on their cellphones and take a stroll out of the classroom to go to the toilet whenever they like,"Li said.
To instill a sense of discipline in them, the school employed retired soldiers to instruct them on how to adapt to campus life. The effects have been obvious, as common client feedback on the Lyuliang nursing workers is that they are "disciplined, efficient and hardworking".
Liu Shuliang, head of the training department of Lyuliang Health School, said the mainly middle-aged rural women enrollees had the spare time and desire to attend training and find a job after their children had grown up.
He said 85 percent of the trainees are female, with about 80 percent of them aged between 40 and 55. Compared with the younger generation, people who are less educated and middle-aged more likely work in service jobs, Liu Shuliang said.
"Working in cities, the women not only bring money back home, but also the experiences they have had of modern city living," said Han Sijiu, deputy director of the Lyuliang talent center.
Liu Fengqing said she plans to return home to Lyuliang when she becomes too old to care for others."I will come back to teach my fellow villagers how to do the job. Although I don't have that much theoretical knowledge, I have a wealth of experience. That is my strength," she said.
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