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Physically Disabled Chinese Woman Shatters Stereotypes, Brings Message of Hope to St. Cloud [VIDEO]

Abby Faulkner

AVON – A physically disabled young woman who spent years of her life isolated and unable to attend school in a rural Chinese fishing village is making her way around the United States telling a story of hope and progress.

And thanks to the work of one St. Cloud State University Professor, St. Cloud is one of these stops.

29 year-old Zhao Chun Li, or Angel, may be the size of a young child, but she possesses an independence and wisdom larger than life.

Angel was born with brittle bone disease and dwarfism. In her rural Chinese fishing village, this meant she would never be allowed to receive the same education as her peers.

Years later, through an amazing set of circumstances, Angel is trekking around the United States, telling her story and seeking to raise awareness and support for the construction of a special-needs school in her home village.

This part of the story begins with a Chinese-American diplomatic relations visit by Bill Clinton in 1998. Angel’s village, and even her own home, were stops included in this visit.

But when Chinese officials learned of the then-president’s arrival, they insisted the  family hide Angel from view, out of embarrassment over her disability.

A year later, one of Clinton’s interpreters, Chris Barclay, would return to Angel’s village, only to learn of the young woman hidden during the previous year’s presidential visit.

I didn’t have a chance to see Bill Clinton, and he said ‘that’s so bad.’ He asked my mom questions about me, and then asked me if I’d ever been to school. I said no.

Angel occupies a rare niche in Chinese society. Despite her struggles,  Angel has a job as a receptionist, a husband and a three year old adopted child.

To add to the story, Barclay and Angel have since partnered to share the plight of Chinese special education to schools all over the United States.

Now (in China) you don’t know how many people are disabled. You never know. We don’t have this kind of school.

With the help of SCSU professor Dr. Kathy Johnson, Angel is in Minnesota for the first time, touring schools, learning about programs and speaking with officials like Governor Mark Dayton.

She’s only in St. Cloud for a few more days before continuing on to places like California and Washington D.C. -  she’s even planning a tentative meeting with President Barack Obama.

The ultimate goal is to take the knowledge gained back to China to do something truly groundbreaking – create a school and give disabled kids a chance at a real education.

Interview with Zhao Chun Li, 2-2-12, Avon, MN – YouTube.

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