When it rains ... he smiles

Updated: 2011-10-14 08:18

By Zhang Yue (China Daily)

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DONGXIANG, Gansu - Until secondary school, all Ma Qiang knew about tap water was from television and books.

It seemed quite a wonder compared to the village well that collected rain and a donkey that hauled water up from the river.

"Villagers cherished water even more than oil," said Ma, 28, who grew up in rugged Dongxiang county in Northwest China's Gansu province.

When it rains ... he smiles

Drought was a constant childhood experience, and when there was no rain, there were no crops.

"In severely dry seasons, even rivers in lower areas dried up. Water sold at 100 yuan ($16) a barrel."

His family grew mostly potatoes and corn on its quarter hectare of land as the crops required less water.

When Ma learned in school about many great water projects in ancient China, he sensed his future direction in life.

He started to work at the local water conservation and irrigation bureau after graduating from college. Now he can usually be found outdoors at irrigation construction sites and visiting villages, and sometimes he has to hold onto his glasses to keep them from flying off on the bumpy roads.

When more than 100 villages finally got running water in 2009, Ma went from household to household teaching everyone how to use and fix the taps.

"The first water running from the pipe was very dirty. Yet some older villagers stood there for hours to see what tap water looked like. They couldn't wait to squeeze near the tap and drink the water," he said.

Over the past seven years, eight water projects have been built in Dongxiang and its surrounding villages, and more than 110,000 people now have access to tap water.

Ma Handong, 62, who lives in Dafang village, even had to tie up his spout with wire.

"My grandson had never seen a tap and frequently opened the spout and watch water running for fun. Ma suggested we tie up the tap so the water isn't wasted," he said.

When Ma isn't talking with villagers or busy on a project, he can often be found standing in a field, checking the crops with his hands and frowning if they are withered.

His online chat name means "when the rainstorm comes". But he doesn't have much time to surf. Supervising ongoing projects in the villages requires that he leave early in the morning and get back, generally quite tired, in the evening.

"Water has long been a luxury to people in my hometown, and I'm trying my best to help every one of them enjoy the luxury," he said.