There is a tea-farming village tucked away in the mountains of rural Yunnan. The dirt road leading to the village is steep and bumpy, melting into mud during the rainy summer months. Its houses are built by hand — held together with plain bricks, wood, and thin tin roofs. Lush vegetation and tea plantations on steep slopes surround the village. When the mist dissipates each morning, the view of the surrounding mountains is breathtaking.
That village is Xiaohusai.
...but it can also be painfully bleak.
More often than not, children are forced to leave school and help their families with farming tea. For Xiaohusai's poorest families, education is an impossible investment — tuition for two children can make up over 50% of their yearly income. Most members of the older generation have not received education past elementary school.
Xiaohusai's local school is run by one teacher, with children aged from preschool to grade 3 lumped together into one class. The nearest middle and high schools are a tiresome two hours away; many children are sent to boarding school as early as age 7.
Most students drop out by high school, limited to a life of tea farming. In the entire village, only one person has received a college education.
Ethnicities: Han, Lahu
Last official government census: 2006
Elementary school: <50 students
Closest clinic: 19 km
Closest middle school: 19 km
Yearly income per capita: 2,000-5,000 RMB (290-730 USD)
In Xiaohusai, everyone has known each other since they were children. Hospitality is the norm: show up unannounced at anyone's door, and they'll enthusiastically invite you in for tea and snacks. Meals here, though simple, are delicious and fresh. Drinking often begins at noon, and smoking cigarettes with friends is also the norm. In Xiaohusai, it is a tradition to tattoo yourself with values such as love, compassion, and integrity.
For Xiaohusai's inhabitants, life is peacefully simple...
Poverty in Xiaohusai (and other developing areas)
Like millions of people in China and around the world, the residents of Xiaohusai find themselves trapped in a systemic, generational poverty cycle. The global wealth gap is also increasing more than ever. Low-income families are stuck at the bottom as the wealth and development of the rest of the world continues to surge. To Xiaohusai's farmers, opportunities to pull themselves out of the poverty cycle often seem out of reach.
Still, the village has seen an impressive burst of development in the past few years. In 2015, water pipes were built in Xiaohusai, providing a steady source of running water throughout the village. Soon after, cell service and smartphones reached Xiaohusai, and with that came the Internet, social media, and a new level of global connection for Xiaohusai's locals. Roads down the mountain to the nearest township were built, alleviating the village's isolation.
Yet, due to Xiaohusai's rapid development, the village has developed its own wealth gap of sorts. The wealthiest families in the village have annual incomes of around 60,000 RMB, large and accessible tea plantations, and newly renovated homes. Meanwhile, the poorest families earn little more than 10,000 RMB, own small plantations far from their homes, and live in decades-old, dim shacks.
With Xiaohusai, we hope to tackle poverty in one little corner of the world. Our philosophy is to deeply understand the situation of one village, and to tailor our solution to the needs of its people.
We've chosen to tackle two aspects of poverty: fair pay and education. By directly purchasing tea from Xiaohusai's farmers, we ensure that our suppliers are paid above-market wages and free from the exploitation of conventional middlemen. Our direct-trade approach is the short-term aspect of our solution; the long-term component is our investment in education. Education is a long-term investment that can show massive returns if people are given a chance at proper schooling and university. Having a college degree and specialization doesn't just open the door to a higher-paying job – it gives people the chance to break out of the poverty cycle.