|March 23,2017--More than two decades ago, eight-year-old Pude followed his father to a meadow in Nagqu Prefecture in northern Tibet and began a hungry, cold childhood herding for ranchers.
At the time, his nomadic life seemed predestined: the life of his father and grandfather. He assumed his children and grandchildren would follow a similar path.
On Thursday, Pude, now 32 years old, got up early, jumped into his new pickup truck and took his daughter and son to school. Tashi Gonpo, his younger brother and a member of the village herding group, was up even earlier. By the time he returned, his wife Tsering Drup was making yogurt in the village workshop.
Pude is a vice president of the local cooperative and deputy head of Payu Village, which, at 4,700 meters above sea level on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, is home to 24 families.
Pude's home covers an area of 115 square meters and can resist earthquakes of up to eight in magnitude. The village has all basic facilities, road, running water, electricity, radio, TV and telephone.Internet is coming soon.
The cost of the house was 339,000 yuan (about 50,000 U.S. dollars), with Pude paying only 40,000 yuan and the rest coming from the public purse.
"In the past, herdsmen endured a ridiculously long, cold winter here, from October to the end of June, before moving to the summer meadow. After three months in the sun, they would bring their animals and belongings back to Payu and start over again," Pude said.
Migration is essential for the animals and sustainable meadows, but an ordeal for children, the old, sick and weak, he said. "Settling down is a luxury for us."
In 1994, the local government began helping herdsman settle in Payu, tempting them with government funded animals. Then, in 1997, severe snow killed nearly 100 yak, almost half of the animals in the village. Reconstruction was slow. Payu became known as "the village of beggars."
"We did everything, except steal to feed ourselves," said Pude.
Then in 2009, a cooperative was established. Villagers invested their labor, meadows and stock and became shareholders. Different working groups were assigned to herding, milking, dairy processing, marketing and other functions. A points-based system was adopted -- herding seven yaks for a day gained one point, milking three yak brought two points, etc.
"The whole village owns about 380 yak. Five people are enough to take care of them. Other villagers can choose their jobs or become migrant workers," said Wetho, president of the cooperative.
Among the 97 villagers, 50 are "laborers," who need to earn about 1,200 work points a year to gain a bonus. There are slightly different rules for men and women.
Last year some chose to "buy" points from the cooperative and go to work in cities. A young man pays about 4,000 yuan to be exempted from work and make money elsewhere. At the end of the year, he could receive a cash bonus of up to 12,000 yuan from the cooperative.
The average yearly income here in 2008, before the cooperative, was no more than 800 yuan, but had risen to 15,000 yuan in 2016, according to Wetho.
The prefecture and regional governments extended helps to the village to boost productivity and improve dairy processing.
Wetho gave an example. A yak used to produce barely 100 kilograms of milk a year, with almost no output in winter. Now, a yak can produce milk all year round and output has climbed to nearly 200 kilograms.
The cooperative puts 10 percent of its income into a village fund. Each high school student receives a scholarship of 500 yuan a year, and a college student 1,000 yuan. When a villager passes away, his or her shares in the cooperative pass to the family, who also receive 4,000 yuan for funeral expenses.
In 2012, Payu was designated the prefecture's first role model "moderately prosperous" village. Herdsmen said goodbye to their winter hovels and moved into brick-and-mortar Tibetan-style homes.
Without interfering too much into the nomadic lifestyle, but answering demands for a better life, a clinic, a kindergarten, a mini-market, a public square and a veterinary hospital were built in the settlement.
Recalling the disaster of 1997, Pude is still excited.
"We kept trekking in the snow for five good days to move the animals. Yak died from hunger and cold every day," he said. "Now with warm cowsheds and enough fodder, we are not afraid of the snow, no matter how bad it gets."