WUHAN -- As in many parts of rural China, the young people of Maoqi, a village along the Yangtze River in Hubei Province, left long ago. As they headed off to cities to look for work, they left their elderly parents behind in the countryside.
Located in the city of Ezhou, Maoqi has a population of just over 2,000 but less than 500 are permanent residents, 203 of whom are above 60 years old. In the absence of nearby family, however, this elderly population do have someone to turn to.
Since 2016, a dedicated community volunteer, 33-year-old Yu Qiao, has been a guiding light for the elderly population of Maoqi. Yu extends her helping hand to those who are confined by illness, unfamiliar with digital devices, or require assistance in accessing crucial health care.
In 2021, an unconscious 82-year-old woman was found in the woods. After receiving the call for help, Yu immediately informed a village doctor and rushed to the scene. With their swift intervention, the woman regained consciousness. Yu and her fellow volunteers also reached out to the family, working in tandem to arrange her transportation to the hospital for a thorough examination. Fortunately, it turned out that the elderly woman's dizziness was merely the result of a cold.
The incident deeply affected Yu, as it mirrored a similar event involving her grandmother. In 2018, her grandmother fainted at home, alone. Unfortunately, her neighbors noticed too late, and her grandmother had passed away before help could be called.
"I could not sleep for a long time," she recalls.
A few months later, she returned to work and gave her cell phone number to all left-behind seniors.
"I didn't want the same tragedy to happen to them," she said.
Like most of her peers, Yu did not see a future in the countryside. Following her high school graduation in 2007, she left for Guangdong Province in search of employment. However, in 2010, familial responsibilities brought her back home, as her father had become wheelchair-bound due to a factory accident. By 2016, she had found employment as a community patroller in Maoqi, and soon after she got married and became a mother of two.
Yu exudes remarkable patience and innate helpfulness. She diligently visits each household, meticulously noting down each individual's challenges and actively looks for solutions.
In her pursuit of enhancing village life, Yu is dedicated to personal growth. Her endeavors have seen her acquire driving skills, delve into legal studies, and undergo emergency medical training-all aimed at better serving her community.
Supported by the local government, Yu set up a volunteer team in 2019, which soon attracted more young people. Ever since, they have worked together to help those in need of assistance.
After her story was reported in the media, Yu won wide acclaim and a host of accolades, including the "Hubei May Fourth Medal," the highest honor for young people in the province.
Since then, numerous villages across the province have also set up similar teams to offer support for the elders.
Cooperating with local tech companies, all of the village's seniors now have emergency alert bracelets; a simple button press sends an alert to her office.
"Yu is the 'little cotton-padded jacket' of the whole Maoqi Village," said Ke Huanzhi, a local elderly woman, citing a Chinese proverb that likens a daughter to the garment as it brings warmth to her parents.
Amid China's ongoing urbanization, a significant influx of young and middle-aged workers from rural areas into major cities is evident. This migration has brought to the forefront a concern: the well-being of those left behind. The issue has even been highlighted in the government's agenda. Yu and her dedicated team have emerged as one promising solution to address the challenges.