Blue canvas shoes start man’s trek out of poverty

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Publish Time: 2022-06-14 Author: From: China Daily

Sangye Lekpo, left, chats with an village official on April 15, 2022. [Photo/Xinhua]

LHASA-Sangye Lekpo was the first in his family to have shoes.

In 1963, at the age of 19, he trekked 300 kilometers barefoot and bought his first pair of shoes-made of blue canvas with white soles. They cost about a third of his monthly earnings.

"Those were the only shoes in my family. I only put them on when heading to town," said Sangye Lekpo, now 78.

Sangye Lekpo hails from a village in Baibung township of Metog, a remote county deep in the Himalayas in the Tibet autonomous region. He is a Monba ethnic, one of the smallest ethnic groups in China.

Before the peaceful liberation of Tibet in 1951, most Monba residents in the mountainous area lived in a primitive tribal society, with slash-and-burn cultivation and slow development.

With an average altitude of 1,200 meters-much lower than most of Tibet-Metog’s climate is humid and rainy. Local farmers have grown rice, corn, finger millet and other crops for generations.

Sangye Lekpo still remembers the days without shoes while toiling in the field.

Once, his foot was cut by a rock when he was working in the rice fields.

"Without a hospital to turn to, I had to spread hot lard oil on the wound, and wait for it to heal," he recalled, adding that work on the rice plantation was delayed for days because of his injury.

Because of the geological isolation of Metog, people had to climb over a snow-capped mountain to the nearest township to buy necessities. The round trip took seven days. Trekking barefoot in the snow often left the feet numb, said Sangye Lekpo.

Even now, Sangye Lekpo suffers from skin irritation on his feet that worsens in the winter.

"My suffering is not that serious, compared with a fellow in the neighboring village. He lost his toes because of frostbite," he said.

Things began to change after the peaceful liberation of Tibet in 1951.

The region carried out democratic reform in 1959 to abolish feudal serfdom, established the socialist system and implemented regional ethnic autonomy, and pressed ahead with reform and opening-up as well as modernization.

In the 1960s, the government started building a highway to Metog, and many villagers were hired for road construction. Because of the complicated geological conditions and frequent natural disasters, the construction of the highway took decades until its completion in October 2013, when the Metog Highway opened to traffic.

Metog, known as the country’s last roadless county, ended its isolation with the opening of the highway.

"With the road access, young people can work in cities, and bamboo wickerwork and other local specialties are sold out of the mountains," Sangye Lekpo said.

By the end of 2019, Tibet eradicated absolute poverty, with 628,000 impoverished residents lifted out of poverty.

The per capita disposable income of farmers and herders in Metog county exceeded 14,000 yuan ($2,100) and the per capita disposable income of urban residents reached more than 40,000 yuan last year. All eight townships in the county now have road access.

Sangye Lekpo today has many pairs of shoes from loafers and slippers to athletic sneakers.

His grandson Tashi Phuntsog, a soccer lover, likes buying soccer cleats online.

Tashi Phuntsog is in college in Yangzhou, Jiangsu province. He expects to return home after graduation and contribute to the development and growth of his hometown.

"A decent pair of shoes can take us to better places," said the 20-year-old.

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