After immersing himself in his studies for several years, Tungamirai Eric Mupona, 23, a postgraduate student from Zimbabwe at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, finally had a chance to go to China’s countryside to find out answers to questions he had in his mind.
Mupona is from a village in Mashonaland Central Province, Zimbabwe. After graduating from high school at the age of 17, he came to China as an international student to study applied physics at the Zhejiang University of Science and Technology. After graduation, he went to Zhejiang University for postgraduate studies. He actively participated in social activities, hoping to gain an in-depth understanding of China, especially the development and changes in China’s rural areas.
During his stay in China, he visited rural areas in Ningxia, Jiangxi, Zhejiang and other places to learn about China’s poverty alleviation experience with the aim to apply it to his hometown.
“I have been going to the grassroots level after I came to China. I grew up in rural areas and have a very strong affection for the countryside. I hope to tell others what I have seen and heard in China when I return to my home country,” he told ChinAfrica.
During his visits, Mupona experienced local Chinese culture, and witnessed rural revitalisation and functioning of grassroots governing organisations.
Chinese model of ending poverty
In August, when visiting Jinyun County in Lishui City, Zhejiang Province, Mupona was deeply impressed by ancient Heyang Village, the scattered remains of ancient dwellings of Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1912), and the cultural heritage of Wuju Opera of Jinyun.
“I saw that the traditional culture of the county was very well preserved. Its exploration of rural revitalisation and common prosperity is based on traditional culture,” Mupona said.
The experience showed Mupona that developing cultural industry enables their culture to be better inherited and protected, and cultural heritage development also brings employment opportunities, revitalises rural economy, and enhances community identity.
Last summer, Mupona and more than 10 young Africans came to Xingxian County, Shanxi Province to study poverty alleviation campaigns in this former national poverty-stricken county. During a week’s visit, he found that the local households had moved from earthen caves in the mountains to residential areas furnished with complete living facilities.
Through the development of paper cutting, millet planting and other industries under the guidance of the government and village cadres, the income of the villagers had been continuously raised.
“I was surprised to see that the first secretary of the village branch of the Communist Party of China knew every corner of the village and every family’s situation like the palm of his hand,” Mupona told ChinAfrica. In terms of grassroots governance, the local government always puts people’s interests first, which is a people-centred approach. Under this concept, as long as an action can help local people to improve their livelihood, they will not hesitate to do it, Mupona said. “I think it is worth learning, and it is not easy.”
After visiting dozens of counties and villages, which have gone through the transition from poverty to revitalisation, Mupona learned that speedy, sustained and inclusive development is critical to reducing poverty. He believes that poverty reduction in Africa also requires the same kind of strong political commitment and will as China has demonstrated.
“When Zimbabwe’s economy is unstable, people in rural areas are particularly affected. Therefore, we should put the issue of agriculture, rural areas and farmers at the top of the national development strategy, because that is the key,” he said.
During his five-year stay in China so far, Mupona has also been passionate about volunteer activities.
For people in Hangzhou, the young African is not a stranger. Wearing a reflective safety vest and speaking fluent Chinese, he is often seen helping to maintain traffic flow, or guiding tourists. For that, he has earned the nickname of Foreign Lei Feng, a reference to a People’s Liberation Army soldier who is widely regarded as a role model for altruism in China.
In fact, when Mupona first arrived in Hangzhou in 2017, he found it difficult to fit into the new environment. As such, he decided to participate in volunteer activities to meet new people. He has since been involved in activities such as maintaining traffic flow at the West Lake scenic area, assisting passengers at the railway stations, and teaching senior Hangzhou residents English.
“When I do social welfare work, I feel so satisfied and happy. To me, volunteering is multidimensional: Besides serving others, I also get a sense of belonging, and feel at home,” Mupona said. Also, through voluntary work, he has learned a lot about the local society and culture, and has had a platform to communicate and make friends with local people.
Mupona has also established an international volunteer service group Abroad Path Leaders to help more international students to adapt to life in China. The online platform currently has volunteers from nearly 100 countries.
“Many foreigners come to China and want to learn the local culture and language, but they are afraid to speak. Participating in volunteer activities can not only contribute to the city, but also give a chance to practice Chinese and show the culture of your country,” he said.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Mupona stayed in China and actively participated in the management, service and coordination of the university’s international students during the epidemic. At the same time, he also published articles to refute some false claims on the Internet that slandered China’s fight against the epidemic, and shared China’s epidemic prevention stories on social media platforms.
In May 2020, the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (CPAFFC) officially recognised and thanked a group of African volunteers who helped to fight the coronavirus in China. Mupona was one of the guests at the ceremony.
Lin Songtian, president of the CPAFFC, described Mupona and other African volunteers as contributors and disseminators of China-Africa friendship and outstanding friendship messengers. He said he sees the future and hope of the China-Africa relationship from the goodwill actions of these young African people.