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I was 9 years old when my mother left our family in Yumuzhai, a village in Hubei province, which is surrounded by mountains. We were very poor because there was very little suitable farmland on the mountain slopes. We regarded rice as luxury food because it was only available for a few months after the harvest. We ate corn most of the time.
During my schooldays, I never ate lunch, because we had no food. Sometimes, I couldn"t bear the hunger so I stole radishes and sweet potatoes from the fields to eat.
My father had obtained a loan of 200 yuan ($31) from the bank to raise goats and he was always in debt. I didn"t even finish grade 2 of primary school because I had to drop out and help him.
Often during Spring Festival holidays, I buried myself under a blanket and cried. I asked myself why I should pay all the money I made to the bank instead of spending it on a good dinner.
When I was 12, I decided to leave home, and traveled to Guangdong province. My first job was raising ducks on a farm, making 300 yuan a month. I was short and thin, so the boss accepted me on condition that I was only paid half the amount the adults received.
I often thought about my poor family. I felt hopeless and quickly gave up hope.
At age 16, I moved to Jiangsu province, where I joined a gang of thieves. When the 10-strong gang was stealing, I was the lookout. We didn"t work, so when we ran out of money we began stealing again.
Fighting was another big part of my life at that time. We often fought with people if they bullied our friends. Sometimes, we started a fight simply because we didn"t like someone. I was once detained for two weeks after taking part in a gang fight.
I stayed with the gang for more than 18 months. I finally left thanks to the efforts of two kind-hearted men who often urged me to quit. One of them told me I should try to be a good man to give my father peace of mind for the rest of his days.
I can"t imagine what my life would be like if I hadn"t met them; I would probably be in jail. I still keep in touch with one of them.
In 2008, I returned to Yumuzhai to help my father. He died in 2013. Lacking any skills, I followed in his footsteps and raised goats for a living, but it wasn"t profitable so I sold all 120 goats in September.
Now, I take temporary jobs as a construction worker. After Lunar New Year, I plan to leave Yumuzhai again to look for work. Lacking education, I often feel helpless about changing my life, but I want to make an effort to guarantee my two children a good education.
Today is one of the happiest days of my life because I have finally had the opportunity to say the words that have been hidden in my heart for 30 years. I am extremely relieved.
Tan Denghong spoke with Hou Liqiang.
Tan Denghong, 39, a farmer in Yumuzhai village, Hubei provincesilicon or silicone black wristbands charity silicone wristbands design your own wristband personalised rubber bracelets uk