Forest of Inspirations

Wen and Hai are two good friends living in the same village.  They are particularly close because they were friends since childhood and they have something in common – both are handicapped.  Wen has no arms and Hai is blind.  Other than that, they are pretty ordinary – no high education, no special talent and no wealth.  But these two 60-year-old men made headline news around the world because they did the unthinkable – creating a forest together with one pair of hands and one pair of eyes, combined.  

Wen lost both of his arms when he was 3 years old in an accident.  He didn’t give up on life.  Almost everything others did, he learned as well, including taking care of himself, writing, going to school, planting trees, working as a forest ranger, then in a performing company exclusively with handicapped people.  Hai’s left eye was blind since birth due to an eye disease.  Then his right eye was blind in an accident when he was 36 years old.  It felt like the end of life, but his family kept him together.  His wife refused to divorce him and took away knifes, ropes and anything he could use to commit suicide.  

At this time, Wen had to quit his traveling job with the performing company in order to take care of his paralyzed father back in the village.  Without any income, Wen came up with the idea of planting trees partially to make a living and partially to reforest the nearby barren land.  It was a job he had done before.  But this time, he decided to invite the newly blind Hai.   

Together, they signed a contract with their village to manage a piece of land about 10 acres in size with full profit and loss responsibility.  Without money to buy tree sprouts, they decided to cut nearby tree branches and plant them.  While Wen used his eyes to navigate and his cheek and shoulder combined to operate the shovel, Hai used his hands for more demanding work like climbing tall trees and cutting branches.  Accidents do happen from time to time. In the first year, they planted 800 branches, but only two survived due to lack of water.  People started to make fun of them. Hai was about to give up, but Wen persisted: “It doesn’t matter how slow we are, as long as we make consistent effort, we will make progress over time”.

Wen’s optimism inspired Hai.  He thought: I have only been blind for 2 years, but Wen has lost his arms for nearly 40 years.  He must know more about resilience and patience than I do.  I will trust his wisdom.   

The next year, they learned their lessons and decided to plant trees closer to the stream.  To get tree branches, sometimes, they had to walk several kilometers to find the right trees, cut them, then carry them back.  They usually spend one day cutting tree branches, and one day carrying water from the stream, one bucket at a time.  Each bucket could only water two trees.  Each day, they had to go back and forth from the stream at least 50 times.  At the beginning of planting season, when the knee-deep stream water was still freezing cold, to prevent both of them getting cold and wet, Wen would cross the stream once to drop off the branches, then come back to carry Hai cross on his back. Although they only have one pair of eyes and one pair of arms, together they make a powerful team.  

After the spring planting season, they needed to continuously water, trim and remove weed in the next two seasons.  Most critically, during the dry winter season, they must do their best to prevent fire.  The following year, 100 trees survived, a big improvement over the previous year.  They then decided to create an irrigation system to supply sufficient water for trees far away from the stream.  In the next 10 years, they planted about 3000 branches each year and on average 1000 trees survived.

At one point, they didn’t need to cut tree branches from far away, but from their own trees.  Wen joked that some of the grandpa trees and grandson trees can now live next to each other.  One of the peach trees they planted randomly also borne fruits.  After 15 years of hard work, a forest of up to 2-meter-tall trees have emerged.  Hai said: it is very much like raising a child.  When we started, my son was only 4 years old.  Now he is taller than me.  So are the trees.  

Words about their actions went around, and people from far away came to see their forest.  Now, they are known around the world.  However, something unfortunate happened.  The biggest rain falls of that region in 20 years took place in 2017 and the flood completely destroyed their forest.  It was devastating.  

However, life has to continue. The flood destroyed their forest, but not their dream. They will continue to plant trees.  This time, Wen and Hai contracted another 20 acres.  The plan is to plant trees up the hills to make another forest and maybe another fruit orchard.  As long as they can work, they will keep planting until the hills are completely covered by greenery.  What a spirit!  Two amazing human being who through their ordinary lives shined the brightest lights.  We wish them well and that their story continues to inspire us.   

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