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Salon owner beats disability to find success

By Li Lei | China Daily | Updated: 2020-05-25 09:29

When Liu Yanzhi was a teenager, she would secretly apply her mother's lipstick and go out onto the streets in her wheelchair with her younger sister.

However, many passersby gave her contemptuous looks, muttering that it was silly for a disabled person to wear makeup. Her sister was often embarrassed and pleaded with Liu not to do it.

"I was quite angry," said Liu, who has been unable to walk since she contracted a fever when she was 8 months old. "Which law says disabled women can't wear makeup? Every woman has the right to pursue beauty. Wearing makeup makes women like me confident."

At age 25, Liu-then a single mother with a baby daughter-used an interest-free loan arranged by the local government to open a beauty salon in her home county in Anhui province.

Now, the 31-year-old owns a factory that produces her own brand of cosmetics.

Her success has been an inspiration for millions of women, especially those with disabilities who are especially vulnerable to extreme poverty because of inadequate access to schools, workplaces and affordable rehabilitative services.

That success did not come easy, though. In 2009, Liu took the gaokao, the annual college entry exam, and won a place at a vocational school in Hefei, Anhui's capital.

After touring the campus, she declined the offer. Without her parents, the lack of accessible facilities would make her journey between the dormitory and teaching building an ordeal every day.

"I lay in bed for three days thinking about what I should do," Liu said. "I dared not cry, because I could see how heartbroken my mother was."

Instead, she sold ice cream, tended jewelry stalls and distributed leaflets. Whenever possible, she spoke with other retailers, looking for ways to achieve financial independence.

Then, she worked in a local beauty salon for a couple of years. She earned a meager wage, but discovered her vocation, learning massage techniques and how to apply makeup. She also became a qualified beautician and dietitian.

In 2012, she married and had a daughter. Then came the "darkest part" of her life-divorce, which left her a single mother.

"My weight plunged from 40 to 30 kilograms," said Liu, who was listed as an impoverished person in 2014, amid a national campaign to end domestic poverty before 2021.

As part of the campaign, she obtained a 50,000 yuan ($7,000) loan, rented a street-front shop and opened a beauty salon.

In the first two years, the salon lost money. Liu's mother pleaded with her to give up, but she brushed concerns aside and traveled around the country to attend training sessions run by noted beauticians.

She traveled alone as far as Shenzhen, Guangdong province, relying on the goodwill of strangers to navigate the city.

"Drivers waited patiently for me to cross the street without honking their horns," she said. "Students helped me on buses. Hotel employees helped me reach my room. I was very grateful."

When she incorporated all she had learned into her business, things picked up and she attracted more than 100 regular clients.

Liu quickly earned enough to repay the loan and open three more salons. With the profits from her salons, she started her own makeup brand, CosFancy, and opened her factory last year.

Her success helped her indulge her passion for charity. She signed up as an organ donor, established an association to aid disabled people and created a dance troupe for 10 disabled performers. She has also been elected as a local political adviser.

May 17 marked the 30th National Day for Aiding Disabled People, celebrated on the third Sunday in May since 1991.

The poverty rate among disabled people has fallen significantly over the past 30 years and social involvement has also improved.

The China Disabled Persons' Federation said the number of disabled people in extreme poverty nationwide had fallen to about 480,000 by the end of last year, from more than 7 million in 2013.

An average 300,000 urban jobs for disabled people are added annually, with more than 9 million working in all sectors, the federation added.

"Being disabled is not frightening. Never use disability as an excuse for self-pity," Liu said. "Destiny never fails those who try."

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