A Hop And a Skip

Sunday, 25 February 2007 00:00 Tzu Chi Foundation
One leg,
one long mountain road,
a period of youth,
a dream,
and an unforeseeable future.

In Guizhou Province, China, clear weather never lasts more than three days. The mountain winds blow all year long in Huolong Village, which is over 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) above sea level. Liao Qi-mei (廖奇梅), 14, "walks" to school on a rocky road. "Walk" is in quotation marks because it is not the best description. Strictly speaking, she jumps to school like a kangaroo, because she only has one leg.

Even while sitting on a stool in the front of her class, Liao is a striking figure. Her excellent grades set the mark for her classmates.

When she was two years old and just learning to walk, a lump began to grow near her groin. It kept on growing until she was eight years old, when her leg atrophied and developed necrosis. Medical resources are scarce in villages, and many small illnesses are left untreated until they become quite serious. Her father, Liao Xiu-huai (廖修懷), sent her to a major hospital in a big city for an examination, but a farmer like him couldn't pay for the follow-up medical treatment. Their condition seemed hopeless, but the family suddenly received help from a non-governmental organization. In August 2005, her father took her to Yunnan Province in southwestern China to have her leg amputated and to receive a new prosthesis. But for some reason, whether she couldn't get used to the prosthesis or was growing so the prosthesis no longer fit, Liao stopped using it. She has been hopping around ever since.

In a small rented house outside the campus, this bed is where Liao sleeps with her cousin at night. It is also where both of them study and do homework. Liao's good grades are earned on this makeshift desk.

At seven in the morning, she hops to school. Her slightly bent body looks like a full-drawn bow as she hurtles past the person in front of her.

On the weekend, it takes Liao 90 minutes to jump home from school. "She even goes to school during a typhoon! She never skips a class!" Her father is heartbroken, but also proud of her.

On rainy days, her father is reluctant to see her jumping to school, so he carries her on his back. Their warm conversations during the trip dissolve their uneasiness about her handicap.

At home, she helps her father do house chores such as light the fire and cook. She is very skillful with these chores and is attentive to every detail. Mountain children are good at understanding and accepting their fates.

The rugged road isn't a problem for her. She can hop over half a meter (19 inches) high. And we could hardly catch up with her even when we ran.

Other people may feel sorry for her, but she doesn't see herself that way. Having one leg is not a problem for her. The conversations between her and her father about her past never reveal any complaints or regrets.

We believe that a 14-year-old girl cannot pretend to have such inner strength. We're sure that she genuinely likes to laugh in her present life. However, we are also concerned that her world is so small, because she knows so few people and has little contact with the outside world. She still retains the naivete of a rural person. The simple villagers all treat her kindly. Try to think of it: She will someday come to the age when she wants to work and wants to get married.

We hope that when she finally goes to the other side of the mountain and out into the world, she will maintain her smile at whatever she encounters.

She is standing on top of the mountain and looking into the distance with a smile. Her unique childhood is still valuable no matter how different it is compared with those of other young girls.

By Wang Jun-fu
Translated by Lin Sen-shou
Photographs by Hsiao Yiu-hwa

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