Mahai Azhi’s soft smile belies the tragedies she’s endured in her young life. She was orphaned several years ago when both parents were taken to prison for selling heroin. Her father has since passed away; her mother remains in jail. Mahai and her younger brother went to live with their grandmother, until she too passed away.
Mahai’s third home was with a widowed aunt. She and her brother lived and worked there until, in the autumn of 2006, staff from Mercy Corps’ Project GLOW visited their village and told Mahai about the girls school in Zhuhe Township.
Project GLOW has offered Mahai something she could never quite trust in the places she’s stayed: stability and a place to call home. She attends school for free (her brother attends another local school), taking classes like math and language from teachers who are ethnic Yi, like she is. She lives in a dormitory room with seven other girls.
“The girls have become sisters to me,” Mahai says thoughtfully. “I’ve never felt as welcome as I do here.”
Mahai is doing well in classes. She’s particularly excelling in one of the traditional crafts of the Yi people.
“I like to do embroidery the best,” she says. “It’s the handicraft of my people. I feel good when I weave together threads of black, red and yellow.”
But, despite her new surroundings and the opportunities that school has given her, Mahai still misses her parents — particularly her mother. She took time during a visit to sing a heartfelt song in Yi called “Grief Mother,” which describes the feelings of a young girl missing her mother at night.
Click on the play button below to hear Mahai sing "Grief Mother."