Li Guimin: business matters

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Li Guimin: business matters

Li Guimin, aged 50, lives in Donghao village, Hebei province, China, where she has been head of the Village Women Deputies Committee since 1995. In addition to farming, she and her husband have a small grocery shop and a tree nursery. They also rent out part of their son's house as a nursery school "…to solve the problem of kindergarten" and free up women's time. In support of this initiative the local government has provided a minibus to transport children to and from the kindergarten.

Another initiative supported by Li is a suicide prevention project for rural women. Formerly "…many had attempted to end their lives". The project helps women realise that "one should value life when living, and living persons should have a sense of responsibilities… Now, the group organises activities. [Villagers] gather together and can chat to exchange [ideas]. [If someone] has some mental problems, they can talk withothers, then get rid of their worries."

Li and other women in Donghao would like to set up a cooperative. "We have made…aprons, bags and bedcovers. We're really interested in making this cloth", she says, but they need "the initial funds" as well as training in marketing and promotion. "If everyone takes out some money [for investment], can we get the money back? That's the question that will be raised," Li acknowledges. Without any collateral, they are unable to raise loans from banks or other credit institutions.

Li has personal experience from the other side – as a businesswoman – of ordinary people not being able to repay their loans. "My family used to sell construction materials, selling concrete reinforcing bars… Those who came to us were friends and relatives who wanted to build a house to help their sons find wives, they had to buy on credit. After that, you went to ask them to pay back the money... They couldn't pay it back. As a result, we lost our capital and couldn't continue the business…"

Inadequate health services and poor infrastructure are both issues of concern to Li. The nearest hospital is far away, and her own daughter-in-law died due to lack of timely treatment when she fell ill. "We waited for a long time [for the ambulance], but the vehicle didn't come. Because the section of the road is very bad to travel...the vehicle must go slowly, if not the chassis could be broken…one pothole after another."

According to Li, "We farmers cannot bear [the expense] if we have to be hospitalised. Only the cost of medicines can be refunded, but not the other charges…" She complains that people are forced to rely largely on local doctors who "don't have good skills, or a strong sense of responsibility" and often charge too much for medicines of dubious quality.

Li talks about the pressure on the land: "…some people who invested in mines came here and took over farmers' land", and "construction is expanding, and has taken away some land". She says that the environment "has been ruined by those who are exploring ore mines. They cut down so many trees. But the local government only wants to have economic development in their mind."