Stall owner who lost his home in floods is rewarded for generous donations
When Chen Yan recently received a cash award for his charity over the years, the 67-year-old immediately said he would donate the money to a worthy cause.
The 5,000 yuan ($739) award, given by e-commerce giant Alibaba to promote welfare work, may not seem like much. However, it equates to four months' income for Chen and his wife, Sun Xiuhua.
The couple operate a small street stall in Harbin, capital of Heilongjiang province, and rent a single room in an apartment they share with other families.
Chen made his first donation after the Wenchuan earthquake in 2008, and since then has given about 60,000 yuan to people in need. He keeps receipts to document most of his donations.
"Lots of people in Harbin have brought me great warmth, which made me decide to repay the city I consider my second hometown," he said. "I just want to try my best to help those people in need."
Back on their feet
In the summer of 2001, Chen and his wife arrived in Harbin from Dazhang village in Suzhou, Anhui province, after their house was destroyed by floods. They could not afford to look after their three sons, who were left behind with relatives in Suzhou.
"Without any savings, we had to borrow money to buy the train tickets and lived in my uncle's small apartment after arrival," Chen said.
"My wife and I tried every method to earn money, including collecting and selling recyclable trash and doing odd jobs at factories and construction sites."
Six months later, the couple rented a 10-square-meter room in an apartment in an old building for 250 yuan a month. They still live there. "I will always be grateful that the owner of the apartment gave us a lower price when he got to know my situation," Chen said.
After acquiring a place to live, they began to sell peanuts and sunflower seeds from the back of a modified tricycle. "Every day we had to move to different areas to sell our goods as well as to avoid chengguan," Chen said, referring to urban patrol officers.
"Living in the south for decades, the extreme cold in Harbin's winter was a great challenge for me. But I really love winter because my business is better, especially during the days before Spring Festival."
In 2006, the couple set up their stall at an outdoor market and no longer had to move around.
However, in the first several months they earned little money as they didn't know what goods to sell. Seeing the couple's anxiousness, neighboring stall holders gave them advice on how to operate their business and took them to suppliers who would offer them good deals on products.
They started selling daily necessities such as socks, towels, gloves and cloth shoes, and sales steadily increased. "We received lots of help from our neighbors," Chen said. "They often gave us their old clothes and sometimes gave us food if we had to return home late."
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