Life Lessons about Love and Sacrifice from Manufacturing in Asia

Collecting Garbage

I spend a lot of time in factories around Asia to get products ready for export, usually shipped to the United States. While we manufacture the products, sometimes I can get to know some factory laborers who do menial work, but they always smile on their faces. They are happy to have a chance to work – do any work.


As I watched these men and women factory workers manufacturing products for export, I reflected on how their sacrifice of work was an act of love. They were willing to sacrifice whatever they had to help provide for their families. These factory laborers understood that sacrifice is love, and true love must include some form of sacrifice. They taught me more of what it means to give love in that true love freely knows no bounds.

As I have gotten to know these men and women working on the factory floors in Asia, I have learned about their lives, which has taught me some essential life lessons.

Podcast – Half A Bowl Of Rice – Lessons Learned From Asia

Love, Sacrifice and Half a Bowl of Rice.

While doing product development work in a factory in China,  the Factory Manager pointed out to me that the migrant workers in his factory paid for their own food, so each day, they would take their daily bowl of rice and cut the bowl of rice in half, eating half the bowl of rice for lunch and saving the other half a bowl of rice for their dinner.  Though rice is relatively cheap, these migrant workers wanted to save every single cent they could, even if just a few pennies, by cutting their bowl of rice in half.

Most of these same Chinese migrant workers come from the poorest parts of China to seek employment in the larger cities where they do the most menial work that others will not do. They clean out the toilets, sort or collect the garbage, wash floors and windows or spend all night outside in the cold and dark, guarding a building or factory. They have little hope of ever-rising above their station in life, and most spend their entire life doing menial labor. They do not have the required education for even the most basic manufacturing skills or manufacturing labor.

These same migrant workers are usually considered to be at the very bottom of the Chinese labor force, but yet they are willing to sacrifice all they have, even their daily bowl of rice, so the 2nd, 3rd, and even 4th generations of their posterity will have more opportunities than they ever would.   They understand that when you are born into poverty in a third world country, it is challenging to get out of that poverty cycle, and so a great sacrifice of love is required – even to forego eating their daily bowl of rice.  They will not waste anything, so they can save every single penny they can earn.

Lessons we can all learn about love and sacrifice from the migrant workers foregoing their daily bowl of rice

We in the West can learn many lessons from these migrant workers who are so willing to give up all they have. These include lessons on sacrifice, giving, and caring about your posterity; you may never meet in this life.

Sacrifice is Love. Love is Sacrifice

These migrant factory workers understand that sacrifice is important and for them, so they are willing to sacrifice all they have. It is estimated there are over 277 million migrant workers in China. Though they are all Chinese and not migrating to another country, they are still called migrant workers as they migrate from their hometowns to another location within China. This migration principle is also a common practice in many other Asian countries. Not all these migrants are low paid factory workers, but many of them are.

These workers usually leave their hometowns and their families to go to work in another city or province. Here are some sacrifices I have seen them make time and time again:

  • They give up their hometowns – As migrant workers, they live away from their hometowns and their families. For many of them, they are like a foreigner living in a foreign land. They may not fully understand the language of where they live as many may only really speak the local dialects of their hometown areas. The food may be different, and even though they are still in China, the culture and the people of the place they are working may be different.
  • They see their families usually once a year – Many of these migrant workers will see their families only once a year. It could take them a week to travel home to see them, and then they will only spend a few weeks at home before heading out again. They miss seeing their children grow up, and many of their children hardly know them. Most of them prefer to stay home in their hometowns if they could find work there that would help them support their families. Their children are not allowed to come with them to their new location as they do not have the papers required to attend school in the area they are working in. So they have no choice but to work in another province, see their families a few weeks a year.
  • They give up their way of life – Many of these migrant workers were farmers. They know how to live off the land – how to tend to their livestock and garden plot. This is what they have done most of their lives. So for them to move to the cities to work in a factory, they are, in a sense giving up their way of life as they have always known it. They have traded in their garden hoe for a broom handle or toilet bowl brush.

Despite their sacrifices and hardships, many of these same migrant workers also realize that the one way they can show their families that they love them is by making this great sacrifice for them.

Mitch Albom the author of The Five People You Meet In Heaven eloquently put it:

“Sometimes when you sacrifice something precious, you’re not really losing it. You’re just passing it on to someone else.”

Mitch Albom,, The Five People YOu Meet in Heaven

These migrant workers understand that they are not losing something with their sacrifice of love; instead, they are just passing their life on to someone else. Their life is about how do I serve my children? How do I provide for my family? And because of this, they are willing to sacrifice even their daily half a bowl of rice for the extra pennies they get each day.

One of the biggest lessons we can learn is that love is about being willing to sacrifice, even the tiny things in life, for someone else.   Love and sacrifice go hand in hand. 

Give freely of your love

My grandfather would insist on eating the burnt toast, not because he could not afford to toss the burnt toast away, but because he refused to waste anything, even the burnt toast.  He also felt by insisting on eating the burnt toast that others would not have to. 

When we love another human being, we should freely give to them without expecting anything in return, and many of these migrant workers I have met really have no expectations about their lives. They realize that they may spend their lives sweeping the floors or cleaning the toilets, and that is OK as they have a higher purpose in all this – that is their families.

Israelmore Ayivor, an inspirational speaker, author, and blogger has said:

“Giving does not only preceed receiving; it is the reason for it. It is in giving that we receive”

Israelmore Ayivor

I have often wondered what these migrant workers are really getting in all the sacrifices they are making. They hardly knew their children and were not able to watch them grow up. Many of them also only see their wives a few weeks a year or their parents, uncles, aunts, or others. So many times, I have felt that they are missing out on what is important in life.

But at the same time, I have been around Asia and poverty enough to know that there may be few choices for them. When you are faced with the choice that your family may starve to death or your children will not get an education, you make the best choice you feel is right for you. And that is what they are doing. They are making the best choice for themselves and their families and their individual circumstances.

Sacrifice for the next generation

One of the things these migrant workers are doing is they are sacrificing now for the future generation. They understand that getting out of the poverty cycle, most of them were born, takes a lot of hard work and sacrifice.

These Chinese migrant workers sacrificed their daily bowl of rice for the future generation they may never know.  Like we may also never see the fruits of our sacrifice and love – but that is Ok.  That should never stop us from loving and sacrificing for another human being. 

I love this quote by Gaylord Nelson, an American Politician and Environmentalist from Wisconsin when he said:

The ultimate test of man’s conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard. 

Gaylord Nelson

This kind of sacrifice these migrant workers are making is a sacrifice they may never get thanks for. It may be an unspoken kind of sacrifice that will never be acknowledged. People may never really know or understand their sacrifice.

This is one of the things that makes it such a beautiful sacrifice. They are making this sacrifice, not because they will be famous or one day they will be acknowledged for it – the chances are that will never happen. They will go down into history as a group of uneducated, unknown men and women of little significance. It is that knowledge that makes this sacrifice so much more powerful. They are making this great sacrifice for one reason – love.

Many times, we may feel our love for another person is not appreciated or reciprocated.   We may love a child or spouse, and they decide to go in a direction in life that we may disagree with.  We may feel discouraged or upset and feel our love and sacrifice is a waste of our time and efforts.  But love and a silent sacrifice for another person is never a waste.  

When we love someone, we should be willing to sacrifice for them. This should be part of loving. Love without sacrifice is not to really love at all.

I love this quote by the author Nassim Nicholas Taleb:

““Love without sacrifice is like theft”

Nassim Nicholas Taleb

I feel like his quote really sums it up, that these migrant workers understand that to really love sacrifice, and so they are willing to do it. They know not to do it would be cheating themselves and their families.

Why do people migrant to work somewhere else?

There are many reasons why someone may migrant to work in another location or another country. For some, it may just be economics in that they hope to have a better life. But for others, it may be much more complicated than that. Below are some of the reasons. This list is not meant to be exclusive as there be many reasons why people look to migrant to find work, but here are some of the more common ones:

  • Economics – They may not be able to survive in their present situation, so they need to leave to eat and survive.
  • Land issues – Could be their land that they farmed on was taken away from them, or they have no land to farm on, or the land has dried up and can no longer farm on it.
  • Unemployment – There may be no jobs or work in their home areas.
  • A large family that needs support – They may have a large family and not enough income to support them.
  • Natural Calamities – There could be natural calamities that come and destroys their homes, so they have no choice but to leave.
  • Dangerous environment – They may be living in the constant fear of being killed either through war, gang violence, or other things, so they leave to try to find a better and safer life.

What is the definition of a migrant worker?

A migrant worker is defined by the oxford dictionary as:

“a person who moves to another country or area in order to find employment, in particular seasonal or temporary work.”

Oxford Dictionary

So really, anyone that moves from their home area to work in a new location is a migrant.

As most people are so mobile in America, if someone will move from one state to another to find work, we do not call them migrant workers. For Americans, the term migrant workers are usually people who move to another country, such as those that move from South or Central American, to find work in the United States.

Anita L Hummel

Hi, I live in Hanoi, Vietnam but spend time traveling the region. I love to share with you things I see and learn through my travels.

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