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Armless but not defeated

By Xu Wei and Sun Ruisheng | China Daily | Updated: 2013-04-16 08:41

Her plight would have made a lesser person give up, but Luo Fengzhi had the love, courage and perseverance to move forward in life despite her disability. Xu Wei and Sun Ruisheng report in Taiyuan, Shanxi.

Born armless, Luo Fengzhi, 30, has proved that feet can be capable alternatives. Luo, from Taiyuan, capital of Shanxi province, has been a subject of extensive media coverage since she was in primary school and her story has been a source of inspiration to many.

She became the focus of the media again recently when she became the life tutor of a 3-year-old, also born armless, abandoned and then adopted in Taiyuan earlier this year.

Armless but not defeated

Whenever Luo Fengzhi has time, she visits Wu Zhenfeng, 3, also born armless, and tutors him on how to use his feet. Yan Yan / Xinhua

"I kept telling people: It does not make sense to complain about life. Even if you are disabled, your life can still be wonderful," she says.

Life has never been easy, but looking back, Luo says she has survived, and experienced both bitter and sweet moments with the help and support of so many kind people. She says she also needs love, courage and perseverance and that's what she hopes to share, to inspire and encourage others.

"I might not have a life as splendid as many aspire to, but I do have a life that I enjoy," she says. "I hope, through me they can see the future of the child and hold on to it," she says, referring to the adoptive parents of her little charge.

Luo, born in Wucun village, Qingxu county in Taiyuan, was abandoned by her biological parents. She was abandoned a second time by another family who took her home before being finally adopted by her current parents who lived in the village nearby.

"My mother told me I barely survived the low temperatures in April and there were already ants in my belly when my uncle took me home," she says.

Despite the bitter episodes in her early life, Luo says her childhood was happy and she never found it difficult getting along with other children. She says she barely remembers how she gradually got used to using her feet to eat and to get dressed, and eventually, to cook, to sew and to write with her feet.

"Probably it is part of our survival instinct," she says.

The biggest challenge for Luo was the stigma in society.

"My mother had to keep pleading with the school principal to enroll me and try to convince them that I would not be of any trouble to them," she recalls.

At the age of 12, a letter she wrote to Sun Wensheng, the then governor of Shanxi province, brought her unexpected fame. In the letter, she voiced her support for a water diversion project in the province and told the governor of her personal story. She also included her savings of 11.9 yuan ($1.90) in the envelope.

"I saw television reports about the project and how important it was. So I thought I should be part of it too," she recalls.

She did not expect Sun to respond to her letter, followed by numerous reporters wanting to interview her. The media coverage also helped her get the attention of many people, who started mailing her packages of books and snacks.

The media spotlight gradually faded as she went to junior high school.

After graduation, she was enrolled in a technical school in Taiyuan, but was refused admission after "the teachers took a look at me". That experience taught her a hard lesson.

"It made me realize that despite all the media reports and attention, you still have to rely on yourself," she says.

She wrote a second letter that changed her life, this time to a radio program dedicated to helping the disabled. The radio station took up her case and negotiated with the school administration, and the school eventually agreed to accept her into the college.

She chose business English as her major, hoping to become a translator or interpreter someday.

However, when she graduated three years later, "it seemed I could never compete in the job market," she says. "In most cases, the human resource person would tell me they had already got the right person for the job."

It took her one year to finally land a job as an operator at a telecommunications company. She was more than content with the job even though it required working 24 hours for each shift.

Months later, she quit the job and got married to Xu Jin, a security guard. Their baby was born in 2007, one year after they got married and the baby brought her the happiest days in her life, she says, even though they had to live a very frugal life.

Unfortunately, they lost the child to congenital heart disease when he was just one and a half years old.

Luo says she thought of killing herself several times after their son died, but realized that losing her as well would be too cruel to her husband.

"I felt guilty as well: If we had more money, we might have been able to save our baby."

She started job hunting again and eventually decided to open an online store on Taobao.com, China's largest online marketplace. Her store now brings in about 3,000 yuan a month.

Luo says the balance between giving and taking is one of life's central issues for her, a result of all that continuous media coverage over the years. Even today, many of her customers at Taobao.com buy her goods after learning of her stories and she often receives phone calls offering to send gifts, which she always refuses.

"I think my current life is good enough. I don't want to be a subject of pity. I never regarded myself as any different from others," she says.

There is one request that Luo never turns down, and that is to speak at schools or orphanages. "I learned from experience that there are many kind people in society. Giving lectures is probably the only thing I can do to pay it forward. As long as it helps people, I will do it," she says.

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