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For years after graduating from a school for the disabled, Zhang Jianxin struggled to find a purpose in life, let alone a job, and his parents had begun to fear for his future.
The 21-year-old is intellectually disabled, putting him in the group that faces the most difficulty in landing work in China. Their employment rate is less than 10 percent, compared with 43 percent for the disabled population as a whole.
Yet things changed last year when Zhang"s father took him to a job fair targeted at the disabled in their native Lingwu, Ningxia Hui autonomous region. It was there he met Ma Changxing.
Ma, 64, has an intellectually challenged child - a daughter - and is deputy head of a regional association for the mentally disabled and their families. He was at the fair to find disabled individuals to work on his farm.
"As a father, I know the difficulties faced by young disabled people and their families," he said. "I want to help them discover their true abilities, be self-reliant and feel part of society.
"Some intellectually challenged people can handle simple farm work, and scientific studies show getting close to nature can boost their quality of life and improve their functional independence."
With the support of a local fund, Ma rented 13 hectares of farmland in the foothills of the Helan Mountains in May last year. Zhang was among his first employees.
"The intellectually disabled face difficulties learning, so you have to take your time to teach them. But when they master certain skills, they"re very hardworking," Ma said.
"As their conditions differ, they are best suited to different kinds of work. For example, Zhang is good at looking after animals while others enjoy doing field work."
Zhang is passionate about the farm he now lives and works on. He rises each morning at 6:30 to first make his bed and wash up before heading outside to feed the geese.
Farm work helps intellectually disabled people improve their social skills, according to Ma, who said: "Zhang was once stubborn and introverted, reluctant to communicate with people. But now he"s more easygoing and always ready to greet others."
The farm is not Ma"s first business that employs disabled peoples. In 2012, he opened a car wash and hired intellectually challenged workers. Other car wash businesses followed suit, leading to dozens more people finding jobs.
China, which has designated May 21 as National Day for Helping the Disabled, has been intensifying efforts to improve the lives of the disabled.
A national campaign to alleviate poverty has vowed to leave no disabled person behind, according to the China Disabled Persons" Federation, while about 5 million disabled people have been lifted out of poverty in the past five years.
Ma works in the fields with his employees everyday. Due to money shortages, he has not been able to hire enough workers, but he has volunteers who help with the farm work.
He aims to expand the farm and eventually employ 30 to 50 disabled workers.
"Hopefully, the farm will become a joint-stock company, and every worker can hold some stock, so that they will have more stable incomes," Ma said.
Zhang, who surfing the internet and talks with friends on WeChat in his in spare time, said, "I feel happy here, and I want to work here forever."