A 12-YEAR-OLD girl has kept her family going by taking a garbage collection job to support her parents, both of them cancer patients, and her baby brother.
Every afternoon the girl, surnamed Sheng, rolls 23 heavy containers of waste from every corner of a community in downtown Hefei, capital of east China's Anhui Province, to a roadside loading site, where a waiting truck takes the garbage away for treatment.
The containers weigh at least 50 kilograms each and the job is tiring, even for adults. But the girl, who is barely taller than the containers, has been doing the job for over a year.
She is paid 800 yuan (US$128) a month. The family of four stretches the wages to cover their basic needs. Her family includes her father, stepmother and a half-brother born a year ago.
The girl's 56-year-old father was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2011, when she was in the fifth grade.
She readily took over her father's job, spending two hours carrying garbage after school before rushing home to help her stepmother with household chores.
Toward the end of last year, her stepmother came down with rectal cancer.
The girl took up all the housework from that point on. When she was first learning to cook, she said she burned her hands with hot oil.
"Dad was so sad that he managed to get out of bed and did the cooking with my help," she said.
Knowing they cannot afford high medical costs, her parents have rarely been able to seek medical attention.
When her stepmother was in critical condition last month, residents donated 10,000 yuan to cover her emergency treatment.
The family comes from a rural area of Hefei and is therefore not covered by urban social welfare programs.
Her meager wage is the family's only income. "I don't mind having to work hard," she said. "I'm ready to do anything to save my parents' lives."
To her father's relief, the girl's spirit has not been dampened by the hardship. The sixth-grader is a straight-A student at school and never complains about her family's plight.
Behind her back, however, the girl's father said he is secretly planning to find foster families for the two kids.
The family's plight and the girl's struggle have aroused widespread sympathy on the web. Xue Manzi, an investor and prolific microblogger with 10 million followers, donated 15,000 yuan to the family on Wednesday.
As of Thursday, sympathetic web users had donated more than 100,000 yuan.
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