Extra Special Delivery

Fr. Dan Troy
May 21, 2008

Physically-challenged Chinese earn income and self-esteem by creating and shipping Christmas cards around the world.

You have probably read stories about the dramatic economic growth and social transformation of China. Indeed, the changing landscape of China has been remarkable.

But, as you can imagine, not all Chinese people benefit. I see this first-hand with special-needs people in Wuhan City, a city of more than 7 million people located in the central Chinese province of Hubei.

Happy anniversary! Li Qiong and Yuan Hong celebrated their first year in the Columban Crafts Project with a party and a cake.

Happy anniversary! Li Qiong and Yuan Hong celebrated their first year in the Columban Crafts Project with a party and a cake.

In April 2006, I started the Columban Crafts Project to help special-needs people develop work skills and earn a modest income by creating and selling beautiful Chinese-themed Christmas cards.

The first people to join our project were Li Qiong and Yuan Hong, who have been our friends for five years. Li Qiong suffers from cerebral palsy, and Yuan Hong has serious visual impairments. The China government provides few opportunities for special education or employment for citizens such as Li Qiong and Yuan Hong.

Li Qiong could not walk until age 10. All of the black-and-white photographs from her childhood show her sitting. She was never accepted into local schools; teachers feared that she would have poor exam results, reflecting poorly on the teachers. Li Qiong is a bright woman, but her mobility and speech difficulties mean that she has never had a job.

Yuan Hong opportunities for regular employment have been receding as his sight continues to worsen.

The idea behind the Columban Crafts Project came as Columban missionaries and I began to discuss the possibility of a project that would provide work, social interaction and basic income for Li Qiong and Yuan Hong. The project involves having Li Qiong and Yuan Hong make Christmas cards in their homes with material supplied to them by Columbans who live in Wuhan City.

They use plain cards, pictures, glue, ink stamps and wood guide tools to make the cards, which are then packed and shipped to people worldwide who have been generous in their support for the project.

The project provides more than just work; the social interaction is just as important. Our twice-weekly visits to Li Qiong and Yuan Hong offer visitors to Wuhan City the opportunity to meet the participants and to lend support and encouragement to this new Columban initiative.

With great glee, Li Qiong urges us to take group photographs with the visitors—photos she adds to her collection of childhood snapshots.

More activities for Li Qiong and Yuan Hong have grown from the initial project. We make occasional visits to local parks, and Chinese friends of Columbans in Wuhan City are helping to run the project.

We realize our contribution is small. However, the good humor of Li Qiong and Yuan Hong as well as the generous support of those who buy our Christmas cards reminds us that something positive is emerging for our two friends who live on the margins of Chinese society.