CNN Photos

Child caretaker holds on to hope

In a small hilltop town outside the sprawling Chinese city of Chongqing, 9-year-old Chen Liyan overlooks the foggy landscape with a smile.

“Endless mountains and hills.” The small girl asks, “What’s (the) outside world look like beneath all the clouds?”

It was that hopefulness – and smile – amid unfathomable circumstances that inspired photographer Jia DaiTengFei to capture Liyan’s enduring essence in his project “Smile to Life.”

When Liyan was just 1 year old, her mother abandoned her and her father. DaiTengFei says to this day, the girl will silently lower her head and tear up when her mother is mentioned.

Liyan’s father now suffers from serious pulmonary tuberculosis, a bacterial lung infection. Despite her young age, she has taken the role of caretaker for her ailing father.

Each day, she collects water, cuts firewood and cooks their meals, all while finding time to finish homework for her school that is more than a 20-minute walk away.

In addition to her father's appointments, Liyan also has regular checkups to ensure she doesn’t catch the infection.

Because her father is unable to work, the two rely on a minimum living allowance of about $20 a month.

Yet Liyan remains hopeful – for her father and herself. She aspires to attend college, but first, her wish is for her father to get better.

"As long as my father is alive, I will never leave him alone,” she told DaiTengFei.

- Sarah LeTrent, CNN