Hear the stories of the people who are the essence of Hearts and Hands China.
Lei Hong Mei
From the countryside, Lei Hong Mei was born Deaf. Due to lack of resources, she received only two years of education but was able to learn basic Sign Language through her Deaf friends.
When she heard about the Deaf Training Program at Project Grace (now Bless China International), she decided to learn more Sign Language. While in the program she realised a love for sewing and stayed in Kunming to become one of Hearts and Hands’ very first workers.
Working at Hearts and Hands has brought Lei Hong Mei friendship and confidence. She is now happily married and communicates easily through Sign. She continues to be an important part of our sewing team.
From Shandong province, Susan had always pondered about working for the elderly or disabled. When she stumbled upon Hearts & Hands in 2005, she knew we were the right fit for her, so shortly after a visit, she made Kunming her new home.
As you can imagine, communicating with the staff was difficult at the beginning, but she eventually picked-up sign language and can now easily understand and communicate with the Deaf workers. She said what she likes best is the family atmosphere at Hearts & Hands and considers the workers her family.
Over the past 10 years, Susan has been involved in all aspects of the work at Hearts & Hands. Today, she plays a vital role in our sewing workshop, managing the staff and ensuring our products are of the best quality.
Wei Kunlin lost 60% of his listening when he was 8 years old because of taking the wrong medicine. Since he still had the ability to speak and hear, he was able to go to school. After graduating from middle school, he learned how to sew and later on found a job in a state-owned factory making construction material.
However, Kunlin always loved sewing and making things so when the factory relocated to another city, he came to work for Hearts and Hands. Today he's been with us for 7 years and is our fabric cutter. He is hardworking and developed excellent problem solving skills.
Born with normal hearing, Jian Mei became Deaf as an infant through a strong dose of antibiotics prescribed for a high fever.
She was able to study Art at Hua Xia Technical School and on graduation joined the teaching staff on the Deaf Training Program at Project Grace.
Passionate about making a difference in the Deaf community, Jian Mei taught Sign Language to uneducated Deaf people from rural areas. She is also involved alongside her husband with the Kunming Deaf Fellowship.
Today she is one of our most skilled seamstresses and helps create many of our beautiful products.
Kathy Li grew up in a town in Shanxi Province and from there went to Xian to study English at university. From teaching university students English in Xian (home to the Terra-cotta Warriors) in 2010 Kathy's life took a change in direction.
She moved to Yunnan and following a desire to work in a job helping to improve the lives of others, joined us at Hearts and Hands. If you call our office with an enquiry or email us to order products, Kathy is the friendly voice at the end of the line or the correspondent for your mail.
Her excellent English and good people skills are a huge benefit as office manager at Hearts and Hands. Her job also involves some teaching, problem solving, learning Chinese Sign Language as well as marketing and sales.
As a result of a childhood illness, Xiao Feng became hearing impaired. At that time, many girls from the countryside did not receive an education and so with the added complication of a hearing diability, Xiao Feng was not educated at all.
Five years ago she attended Project Grace’s Deaf Training Program where she gained new sewing skills, which complimented her embroidery skills she had learned back home.
Today, Xiao Feng has become one of Hearts & Hands’ most gifted workers.
As a single-mother, she is now also able to support her children to go to school and has found community by becoming part of the Deaf Fellowship.
Coming from Belfast, Northern Ireland to Kunming, China was quite a transition for a young Ingrid. Ingrid first came to China in 1993 to study Chinese and do minority language work.
Her training in the UK was Education of the Deaf. During her time studying Chinese, she also decided to familiarise herself with the Chinese sign language for fun. What began as a fun thing to do, has now shaped her life here in China.
In 1997, Ingrid was on an initial team made up of seven foreigners that founded Project Grace, an NGO set up to reach out to the poor and disadvantaged in Yunnan Province. The first project was a training class in Sign Language for uneducated Deaf people in rural areas.
However, she soon found that the ability to sign wasn’t enough for her students as many of them lacked employment opportunities, thus paved the way to the conception of Hearts & Hands in 2000.
It began as a humble sewing class with a store opening 2 years later to sell the handmade products made by the students.
Today our store displays hundreds of products made by our workers which are sold locally and abroad.
Ingrid is married and has two children, Toby and Sophie. Her husband Chen Gang heads Hearts & Hands' furniture workshop and employs Deaf carpenters. They focus on creating custom furniture and wood crafts.
As the director of Hearts & Hands, Ingrid says that 'despite the challenges of working in a different culture, including the Deaf culture, I couldn't imagine doing anything else.”