The story of our patron, Madam Yi Jiefang (Summary)

Madam Yi Jiefang left Shanghai to build a stable and happy home in Japan with her husband (Dr. Yang Antai) and son only to find her happiness and hopes for her son totally shattered. Her son, a commerce and accounting undergraduate at Chuo University, died in a road accident on 22 May 2000 at the age of 22. Life became instantly meaningless to Madam Yi and her husband.

She recovered and regained a meaning in life after she visited Europe with her son’s cinerary casket. Madam Yi learned from the trip that a mother’s love has no language or nationality barriers after she was forbidden to take a photograph of a painting in the Louvre with her son’s casket and a group of European women helped to convince the personnel to allow her to take the photograph. She also learned that there were other children worthy of her love after a mother who sympathized with her on the loss of her son invited Madam Yi to hug the child of the mother. The trip to Europe enabled her to think more positively and most of all to recall her son saying he had wished to one day combat sandstorms by planting trees in deserts.

Convinced that her son was no longer alive for her to give and express her love, she decided to uproot her home in Japan, return to Shanghai to bury her son’s ashes and give her love to other children by planting trees in deserts in the hope of providing the inhabitants with a better living environment and livelihood.  

She founded a non-profit making organization called “NPO-Greenlife” in 2002 and devoted her savings, her son’s life insurance and accident compensation and sale proceeds of her properties in Japan to learn about tree planting and to fund the cost of the planting of trees in the Taminchagan Desert in Kulunqi of Inner Mongolia (also known for its 400 kilometers of dry sea).

She set a target to plant 1.1 million trees over 10,000 mu (6.67 million square metres) within 10 years from 2004 in the Taminchagan Desert as Phase 1 of the afforestation project.

The first tree was planted by Madam Yi on 22 April 2004 (“22” being the day her son died in the road accident). It was followed by miraculous abundance of rainfall after the first saplings were planted). After overcoming much hardship and the foremost problem of water evaporation, 10,000 trees were planted in 2004 by her with the help only of local peasants. After overcoming a further problem of worm and pest infestations, 20,000 and 30,000 more trees in 2005 and 2006 were planted.

Madam Yi’s mission became known after she built a primary school in Hunan in 2007 in the name of her son Yang Ruishe and the school became associated with the Yato Primary School in the Nakano District of Tokyo which her son attended and a monument was set up in Kulunqi to commemorate her son.   

Madam Yi’s mission became even better known after her story was televised and published in the newspapers and magazines in Shanghai. Donations began to come in and volunteers joined in the tree planting after Madam Yi made personal visits of organizations, universities, primary and secondary schools and enterprises in China.

With volunteers appreciating how tree planting in deserts can improve the livelihood of the inhabitants and more donations received, 30,000 more trees were planted in 2007.

Madam Yi’s life took a further turn in 2008. She was awarded the “100 Best Mothers in China”, she established with the support of All-China Women’s Federation the “Mothers Green Project Fund” and she launched the “Million Mothers, Million Trees” campaign to urge mothers to donate RMB5 for the planting of one tree in the desert and to show their love for their children by providing them with a better living environment of natural greenery, blue skies and clean water rather than by indulging them with money or other forms of material items of life.

Madam Yi planted 112,000 and 300,000 trees in 2008 and 2009 (with trees surviving at the average rate of 85%) and a further 500,000 trees totalling one million trees by April 2010 which was 4 years ahead of the original target year of 2014.

The saplings planted in 2004 grew to a height of 10 metres and those planted in 2005 to 7 to 8 metres tall. They have grown to become forests and could resist sand storms and retain ground water to enable crops such as soybean to be grown between the trees. They also induced more rainfall and the return of wild chicken to inhabit the deserts.

The China State Forestry Administration, the National Afforestation Committee and the All-China Women’s Federation held an International Symposium at the afforestation base of Greenlife and set up a monument “A Mother’s Model to Afforestation” in appreciation of the Madam Yi’s contribution towards afforestation.

She was further awarded the “10 Extraordinary Dreamers” Award by The Minsheng Bank, the “Ford Environmental” Award” and “the China Baosteel Environment” Award in the form of cash totalling RMB700,000 which she used entirely for funding the tree planting to enable the project to complete 4 years ahead of the original target date.

Madam Yi would visit her son’s tomb and report to him of the problems she encounters and the milestones of success she achieves.

Through NPO-Greenlife and the media, Madam Yi has touched the hearts of supporters, donors and tree-planting volunteers from China, Canada, Europe, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore and USA, and from different walks of life of students, teachers, office and factory workers, artists, scientists, civil servants, entrepreneurs, housewives and retirees.

Although the original goal of planting trees in deserts was to fulfill her son’s wish to combat sandstorms and she had to endure immense hardship when she started the tree planting, Madam Yi feels that the green in the deserts signifies the hearts and sacrifices of the many volunteers who have come from afar to help build a better living environment and livelihood for the inhabitants and a new meaning of life and understanding of a mother’s love to her.

She is gratified by the joy and sense of achievement from learning and becoming a tree planter and knowing the different types of saplings for different desert conditions and feels it to be her responsibility and duty to promote greenery and life to the deserts of her homeland.

Madam Yi hopes that her motherly love and mission will continue to touch the hearts and raise awareness to more people in the world of the need to improve the living environment and livelihood of inhabitants of deserts and peasants in general.  

She has since completed Phase 1 of the Taminchagan Desert afforestation, embarked on Phase 2 and Phase 3 of the afforestation in Dengkou and in Duolum in Inner Mongolia.

HomelandGreen, a group of volunteers from Hong Kong and supporters of works against land degradation, visited the Taminchagan Desert and Dengkou afforestation sites in July 2012, and joined in the tree planting projects in Dengkou in October 2012 and Duolun in April and July in both 2013 and 2014.     

Read more for details and photographs of Madam Yi’s afforestation projects referred to above.