The days when herdsman Elinur Tilewalede couldn't afford 200 yuan (about 29 U.S. dollars) a month to rent a room ten years ago were far but is still vivid to the millionaire, who can tell his tale of rags to riches today, sitting on his warm stove bed in his own house over a cup of milk tea.
The 34-year-old man has helped 59 families get rid of poverty in a remote village in Ili Kazak Autonomous Prefecture, northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. The village is being gradually abandoned by young Kazak herdsmen, who are tired of migration life and decide to work in the city.
But Tilewalede has chosen to stay. "My secret to success is to work hard all year round," he said.
Tilewalede and his wife in their home.
Tilewalede was born in a poor herdsman family. To make a living, he waited on tables, traded cotton, sold vegetables, but was still impecunious.
His chance came in 2010, when Xinjiang rolled out affordable housing schemes to provide homes to people unable to buy them at market prices. The former construction worker saw the booming demand of construction and decided to organize a construction team with poor youngsters in the village.
Thanks to his adept skills and hard work, Tilewalede's team gained a reputation in the town. The five-man team attracted 35 more workers from other areas. Each worker earns 20,000 to 50,000 yuan in a construction season.
Many houses in the village are built by Tilewalede's team.
But Tilewalede wanted more, as the lasting winter from October to next April in Xinjiang is the slack season of construction work. He figured out a way to make money in the idle time.
The herdsman's son invested 700,000 yuan and established a cooperative to breed horses in 2016, as Ili boasts fine horses and is known for its horse-breeding industry.
Tilewalede plans to expand the cooperative when the ice and snow thaw.
In the cooperative, every member can get 700 yuan as the year-end bonus for investing a horse. Villagers can also work in either the cooperative or the construction team. The cooperative has also developed other products using horses' milk, meat and waste.
"In this way, the members can work in the construction team in summer and turn to the cooperative in winter. They also get bonus at the end of the year. We are busy and making money all the year round," Tilewalede said.
The cooperative has 64 members today. They sold 21 horses in the just ended winter, and were thrilled to embrace their first colt born about one month ago.
Tilewalede shows the dried horse meat produced by the cooperative.
Saberjan has been in Tilewalede's construction team since three years ago, earning at least 20,000 yuan every construction season. After joining the cooperative, he works as a horse breeder in winter and is paid 2,000 yuan every month.
Saberjan cleans the stable.
"I make a lot of money in all seasons," he said, planning to build a new home in two years. (All photos by Hu Huhu)