Dongxiang county ensures seniors live in comfort

Updated: 2011-10-22 11:04

By Cang Wei (China Daily)

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Editor's note: Dongxiang county, in Northwest China's Gansu province, is one of the country's poorest counties. It is home to the Dongxiang people, an ethnic group in China. China Daily reporters spent one week with residents there and brought back stories.

DONGXIANG, Gansu - Although living in one of the poorest counties in China, senior citizens in Dongxiang, Gansu province, cannot be counted among the most unfortunate people in the country.

The county has a population of 284,000, of whom 182,000 live below the poverty line. And, of those, 3,460 are senior citizens who are living alone.

To take care of 134 elderly people who have no home to call their own and no living relatives, the county has established three nursing homes.

"Senior citizens living in nursing homes have their own beds, desks and chairs, and new quilts are distributed every year," said Ma Zhenglong, dean of a nursing home in the county seat.

"The meals that the seniors in our nursing home eat do not repeat in a week," he said. "The home has entranceways that are free of barriers and separate bathrooms."

The home also has special prayer rooms to cater for Muslims. If senior citizens who find it difficult to walk want to visit a mosque, the home will drive them, and the nearest mosque is just 300 meters away.

Most of the old people living in the nursing homes are optimistic and humorous. When greeted with "hello grandma", Wang Mei, an 89-year-old woman living in a nursing home, replied with a big smile on her face, saying "hello sis".

The woman, who lost her three children and husband 25 years ago, said she is satisfied with her life. Staff members at the home are willing to go to lengths to provide for her needs; they drive to another county to buy specially made shoes for her bound feet.

Ma Hailong, director of Dongxiang's bureau of civil affairs, said the medical expenses of the senior citizens living in nursing homes will be reimbursed, and each of them will get 20 yuan ($3) in pocket money every week.

"Students from nearby schools often visit the old people and sing and dance for them."

Ma Weiliang, 70, has lived in a nursing home with his wife for eight years. "I like playing chess and poker with my friends," he said. "I feel that I have nothing to worry about."

Seniors who live outside nursing homes receive an allowance of 1,600 yuan a year, and government workers and their relatives are asked to visit them.

In Dongxiang county, villagers whose annual income comes to less than 1,096 yuan can get a subsistence allowance from the government.

And senior citizens older than 100 can get a yearly allowance of 1,000 yuan, and those between the ages of 95 to 100 can get 700 yuan a year.

The county is home to 29 centenarians and 34,180 senior citizens older than 60, according to the local bureau of civil affairs.

Ma Hailong said 85 million yuan in 2011 will go toward taking care of the senior citizens in the county. And a new, six-story nursing home, costing 18.2 million yuan, will be put into use in May 2012.

He said senior homes will be established in 229 of the county's villages, and each of them will cost about 200,000 yuan to build. Four or five senior citizens will live together at a single home and look after each other, and professional nurses will be sent to check on them frequently.