Shirali Mamtmin used to make ends meet by farming and rearing sheep. With his new job, he can dream of becoming his own boss.
Shirali Mamtmin's hometown is in Hotan city of Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region. After hearing from friends that work away from home can bring more money, he decided to leave his hometown in 2017. He travelled over 1,000 kilometers with his wife to Ili Kazakh autonomous prefecture to work in a garment company.
After signing the job contract with the company, Shirali Mamtmin received a monthly income of 4,000 yuan, working 8 hours a day and 5 days a week. The company provided him and his wife with a two-room house, as well as delicious food in a halal canteen.
Getting promoted to a supervisor, Shirali Mamtmin said his next goal is to become his own boss.
"I have heard that the government encourages entrepreneurship and can help us with start-up loans. Once I have saved enough money, I will start a garment factory in my hometown," he said.
Shirali Mamtmin is one of thousands of Uygurs in Xinjiang who choose to work away from home in order to make more money, but they are absurdly labeled by some Western media outlets as "forced labor."
"We use our own hands to change our lives, earning more money and learning more skills. Does that need to be forced? If we don't go out to work, can you expect those making unfounded allegations to give us money? " Shirali Mamtmin said.
"Nobody can deprive us of the right to pursue a better life," he said.
Shaking off poverty
Life was a burden for Paraliya Tursun, 23. Her father passed away, her mother suffered from a chronic disease, and her younger brother and sister had not yet graduated from school.
After coming to know of a job opportunity in a company in Aksu city, Paraliya Tursun decided to leave her hometown. Despite being worried as she was a newcomer, she improved her job skills very soon and became a team leader in less than a year.
"I'm very satisfied with my job, which provides me with stable income as well as good living conditions like employee dormitory and halal canteen," she said.
She sent the salary home to help her family, which gave her a sense of achievement. Paraliya Tursun also urged her younger sister, who graduated last June, to join her company.
The two sisters can now earn 8,000 yuan a month. "My mom is very happy and always praises us in front of friends and relatives," she said.
Life's turning point
Ablajan Ablat from Aksu in Xinjiang has a monthly income of around 10,000 yuan as the owner of an auto repair shop thanks to his time in the vocational education and training center.
"I was once influenced by religious extremism and didn't want to work at all," he said.
Through vocational training, Ablajan Ablat not only got rid of the extremist tendency, but also learnt automobile repair skills and improved his mandarin, which allowed him to earn extra as a translator for businessmen buying agricultural products from Xinjiang during the harvest season.
"The vocational education and training center was a major turning point in my life. It provided a new beginning," he said.
Ablajan Ablat plans to expand his business and open two more auto-repair shops, recruiting more young people and teaching them to repair automobiles.
"I will work harder and make more money so that my family can live a good and happy life," he said.
Statistics show that the total number of people employed in Xinjiang rose from 11.35 million in 2014 to 13.3 million in 2019, an increase of 17.2 percent, according to an "Employment and Labor Rights in Xinjiang" White Paper released in September.
"Xinjiang's ethnic minority groups are part of the large labor force in China and their rights and interests are protected by law. The choice of jobs and workplaces is based on their own will," said Xu Guixiang, deputy head of Publicity Department of Xinjiang regional committee of Communist Party of China.