Paper recycling in Luchun, China

by on 週四, 08 七月 2010 評論

Haniland Products/King Fishers

Behind the red door decorated with dragons and lanterns in Luchun alley we’ve discovered a courtyard where ten female workers are set in motion. Outside, multiple sifters are being prepared for filling with some paper grinded to a tee and mixed in great basins; in one room, shelves of already coloured and pressed sheets of paper are on display while drying up; in the next, three women are cutting and gluing postcards while the envelopes themselves are taking form in another pair of agile hands at the entrance of the building. In other words, welcome to the main district of the King Fishers project, today based on the activity of paper recycling, work done by women in difficult situations.

A small company indeed, King Fishers was founded last November by a couple of Singaporeans who desired to offer their support to women in need, KC Leong and his wife Nan had arrived in Luchun five years ago. They had time to learn the Hani language, time to get on well with the villagers, time to appreciate this small town that is still strongly characterised by its traditions, but also time to listen to stories of personal hardships and the choice of intervening with whatever means they’ve got. They think about feasible products with local materials, since the majority of businesses in town supply and assemble in Kunming where they eventually send the merchandise they produce; it is just “a waste” according to the couple…

In 2009, they had an idea: retrieve magazines and journals that were obsoletely stored in governmental buildings and recycle them in the form of postcards. Once the license was obtained, the couple began to experiment with their idea, step by step… “Making recycled paper seems really easy when you look at some Internet sites; in fact, with such an activity one can entertain the whole family for the weekend. But since we are talking about selling it after the production, there is the homogeneity of thinness, of colour… which is much more difficult to achieve.” And so they learned together with some of the first women engaged in the project. When grinding the journals for example, Miss Nan “broke four kitchen robots!” before trying out a more sturdy machine and also a much less expensive one. One that is used throughout the region for crushing grains of Soya needed for the preparation of tofu. Those who are tentative succeed: from the onwards, the machine has been on every day in order to provide the raw materials for the women. Then, it was necessary to learn how to gauge the quantity of water as well as the quantity of paste placed in the sieve. The fabric was expensive and indispensable in the final stage of drying up the coloured sheets of paper: a friend had pointed out to them that big hotels sometimes rushedly dispose of bed sheets; Miss Nan acquired an agreement with multiple hotel managers to salvage cotton items that are no longer desired. Apart from those nice papers there is nothing left to do but to cut up the motives and glue them on the bottom of the card following the designs created for them by their Singaporean friend. We also need to explain a raison d’être for the cards, bearing in mind the locals do not have the habit of giving cards, as well as lessons in cutting, as their fingers though agile the area of embroidery are not used to chiselling or the paper guillotine; “today, all the women are working better and faster than myself, I’m truly proud of them.” And their products leave for the orders in Kunming (the capital of Yunnan), in Singapore and in the United States.

The ten women who are currently working for the company all come from neighbouring villages and often have a painful personal story. From the one who fled her violent husband to the one who lost her small home in the torrential rains two years ago, they all display a strong will to learn the work, backed up by a real need. They all have another small job in the morning: they sell fritters and vegetables from their gardens on the market, etc. and thus are making the postcards on a part-time basis. For this they get a minimum salary, which constitutes the main cost of the project as opposed to the raw materials, which were nearly all retrieved free of cost combined with the adoption of the door-to-door selling using the Leong’s couple network of relations. “We didn’t have much money to invest of our own, but we have come up with an organised activity for ensuring a redistribution of the majority of profits to our workers.”

hist_recycl_luchun2But this lively couple’s company goes beyond the simple making of wish cards. They hope to assert certain aspects of the Hani culture, which is the majority in the region, starting by reviving certain traditional motives of the culture such as coifs emulated in the designs of the cards. This will also happen, as Miss Nan hopes, by reasserting the botanic knowledge of the elders who knew the plants and notably the coloration process whereas the younger generations don’t use anything but artificial colours to dye their clothes. “I know that I can find at least four colours in the traditional plants: violet, red, yellow from certain leaves and a blue extract from flowers. I have already tried to use them, but it looks like the paper doesn’t fixate the molecules very well. I am currently looking for a good fixing agent or some other formulas of my grand-mother that will in the future allow me to have chemical colours in my papers.

The women who, for the most part, never had the chance to sit behind school desks receive courses in reading and writing Hani. Sanitary training is given to them, especially for maternal breast-feeding which happens to be the major cause of more than 30% of malnutrition in the region’s town. Regular medical check-ups are offered to the children. Moreover, sixty children from the towns are sponsored by Singaporean families in order to support their schooling and look after them for almost 10 years, “thus preferring the long term for a certain number of student in comparison to short term for more of them but what would be the point?” explains Mr. KC. These same children come 2 or 3 times a year to the centre in order to better their English by playing games of Uno etc. and thus compensate the pedagogical shortfalling of the traditional schools, KC. said. After the production of postcards, the range of ‘Haniland products’ already includes little baskets made of rolled pages of magazines that is more interesting for the local market. They are already thinking of selling an organic tea that comes from the small farms of their workers. Finally, the couple has proposed to multiple men, the production of candlesticks made of bamboo to integrate them little by little into their thought process and offer them an income without seeing them leaving their village for an ordinary urban town.

KC concludes with this sentence: “We are the shepherdess of these often marginalized women. And soon, they themselves will be the shepherdesses of other women.” In giving dignity and hope to their workers and at the same time confidence with the ever-rising responsibilities, the Leong couple wishes, above all else, to see the day when they pass the relay baton and, perhaps, multiply similar initiatives.

We have received a beautiful lesson in motivation and dynamism! And a new seed in our orchard of possibilities…

Visit King Fishers' website

Translated from French by Adam Materna. Photos by Amandine and William

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Read here the French version of the article

Histoires Recyclables

Histoires Recyclables (Recyclable Stories) is a project initiated by Amandine and William, two young French adventurers and travelers who want to ally their interest in discovering other cultures and their will to volunteer in humanitarian projects. Thus, they aim to bring about a reflection on our lifestyle and habits of consumption, through accounts of holders of projects and local stories about water, recycling and biodiversity. Amandine and William will travel from Luang Prabang (Lao PDR) to Toulouse (France) over 18 months, going through China, Mongolia, Central Asia, Iran, Caucasia, Turkey, Europe.


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