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A little known fact of life in China came to light when the diary of a 14-year-old peasant girl made it from a remote town in rural China made it to the bestseller lists in France. The book, which has now been published in 16 countries around the world, tells the story of a young girl who is desperate to stay in school, despite the problem of sky-high school fees, which her parents can not afford.


1 janvier 2005 6 01 /01 /janvier /2005 00:00
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Letter 29 - Jan 2005

Dear All,
Let me first repeat my good wishes for the New Year 2005, and wish you well for the Chinese Year of the Rooster, which begins on 9 February !
The end of last year was overshadowed by the catastrophe of the Tsunami which affected various countries in South-East Asia. The solidarity in response to this disaster has been remarkable, even though much of the emotion it brought out was due to the fact that there were Westerners among the victims. We, too, were acutely aware of this drama which affected neighbouring countries of China, and we felt that we could not remain inactive at such a time. We took a decision which is controversial and merits being discussed.
After consulting with our president Michelle Fitoussi and with members of the office, we decided to contribute something to the general effort of solidarity by making a donation in the name of the Children of Ningxia, for a specific cause that is close to our own : namely, to an emergency programme of the french-based association Help and Action (Aide et Action), to benefit the reconstruction of schools for the children of devastated villages in India and Sri Lanka. We know this NGO, whose approach is no different from ours and whom we can trust. It seemed legitimate to us not to remain confined to our own project as though this project were not connected to the time and circumstances in which it is being carried out.
I hasten to clarify that our contribution - 2000 Euros - does not come from the individual contributions made by the public. These, as I pointed out in my last newsletter, are exclusively dedicated to the granting of bursaries to the disadvantaged children of Ningxia. This sum is taken from the royalties accruing from the two books, Ma Yan’s Diary and Ma Yan et ses soeurs which are normally used for special initiatives, as for instance for the computer rooms we set up at Yuwang.
But some may still wish to criticise our decision. Diane Michaud, one of our representatives in Hong Kong, has let me know that she felt this was a debatable decision since the funds of the association are clearly devoted to a very specific purpose. She felt that there was a certain risk of shaking the trust of our supporters in us if we put the money to a different use, albeit for a good cause. This discussion brings another debate to mind, which was set off in France by Médecins sans frontières (MSF) asking the public to stop making donations specifically dedicated to Tsunami victims, since they already had enough to finance their activities in this context, and felt that it would be ethically wrong to use sums collected as a result of strong emotional support for the victims of that catastrophe, for other purposes.
This is an interesting debate and I would like to have your views on it. It is understood, of course, that this gesture of ours is a complete exception and has no prospect of being repeated, that the sum we made available in this way was used for a real humanitarian emergency occurring in our geographical region and, finally, that the money we used did not directly come from donations made by the public. But this is an ongoing debate. I take full responsibility for the decision that was taken but recognise that one could disagree. I do not think that by acting the way we did, in the middle of a humanitarian crisis of considerable magnitude, we can have breached the contract of confidence which unites us.
Ningxia (1). Two pieces of news from Ningxia. Firstly some medical news. The Association has not until now taken any initiatives in the medical field since this appeared to be beyond its objectives as well as its abilities. But in two cases we have now thought it right to provide some logistical help to two initiatives taken individually by members of our group.
Helene, a friend from Paris who went to Ningxia last year has decided on her part to collect money to pay for the operation of a child from Zhang Jia shu, the village where Ma Yan was born. This child was born with a deformation of the feet which prevented him from walking normally. The operation has been carried out successfully in mid-January in Yinchuan, with Ma Yan’s mother undertaking to accompany the child and his mother from the village to the provincial capital. The chief surgeon of the hospital himself conducted the operation, after learning how it had been paid for, and he called the entire staff of the hospital together to tell them about Helene’s action. A verdict on whether this child will fully regain his ability to walk will be made in two months’ time.
A group of students in the UK has collected some funds, as yet not sufficient, to allow the mother of Ma Xiaomei, one of our bursary recipients and one of the protagonists in the book Ma Yan et ses soeurs, to have a tumour operated on. Last autumn, when she went to hospital, she was fist asked to make a deposit payment in the amount of 4000 Yuan RMB (about 300 Euros) before they would proceed to do anything. She didn’t have as much as ten Yuan with her. The operation will cost 19000 Yuan RMB (about 1,500 Euros) and will take place in a few days. The mother was waiting for Xiaomei to come home from school for the New Year Festival so that she would be able to take care of her two younger brothers, and of the small grocery shop they are running to make a living.
The Chinese government thinks that half of China’s 800 million peasants do not get the medical treatment they need because they cannot afford it, and a third of those who begin treatment break off prematurely for the same reason. These gestures made by members of the Association are only two drops in the ocean of a campaign for improving healthcare in China ; but if the child in Zhang Jia Shu can walk again, and if Ma Xiaomei’s mother, who is already widowed by the death of her husband from cancer, survives this tumour and can continue looking after her still young children, then these two drops will entirely make sense.
Ningxia (2). Some disappointing news. The well which was dug in Zhang Jia Shu only yields water of much worse quality than expected, which proves unusable even for irrigation purposes. When I went to the village in December, I could confirm this for myself and I could see how disappointed the villagers were. This matter caused some stir in the village, since one of its public figures had exercised manipulative influence on where the well was going to be dug. This person is now being reproached by everybody. Without going into details, this result, while regrettable, should not discourage us. For one thing, we still have enough money left from the specific donation we received for this purpose, to make a second attempt in the place which had originally been envisaged for the digging, namely the place where the old well, which dried up several years ago, used to be. For another thing, this mini-crisis allows us to clarify the way roles are distributed in the village, which like all villages is divided into rivaling clans. It is difficult to say more about this matter at the present stage. But we will try to ensure that from this relative failure a sounder relationship is born with our local contact persons. I will keep you posted on any further developments in this matter.
Still on the problem of water...subsequently to the discussion which took place during our general assembly in Paris, our friends Jean-François and Pascale met with a French NGO which runs a highly successful project in Burkina-Faso, a region just as arid as Ningxia. Their techniques for conserving the little water available do wonders there. Let us see how this experience might benefit our friends in Ningxia. In this matter, too, we will follow up on new developments.

Pierre Haski




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