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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.


7 décembre 2004 2 07 /12 /décembre /2004 00:00
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Letter 28 - Nov-Dec 2004

Dear All,
On 29 November 2004 the Association held its general assembly in Paris. This gave us an opportunity to take stock at the end of a year rich in successfully completed projects (the computers of Yuwang, the well of Zhang Jia Shu...) as well as in emotional moments, especially when Ma Yan visited Paris last March.
It also gave us an opportunity to present the annual financial statement of the Association, which shows that there has been a very great increase in the funds we have been able to raise (in the form of donations from the public, book royalties for Le Journal de Ma Yan (Ma Yan’s Diary) and Ma Yan et ses soeurs (Ma Yan and her Sisters, as yet untranslated) and finally, partnership arrangements with companies). A very great increase, too, of expenditures, due to the growing number of bursary recipients (400), and the realisation of long-standing projects (computers, wells). But the balance is a positive one overall, notably because of the slow pace with which these projects have been realised...
The Association has continued to gain greater notoriety and sympathy from a growing public, due to the continued impact of Ma Yan’s Diary, which saves us the effort of having to launch new fund-raising efforts or having to turn to financial support that comes with strings attached. It should be noted that we are still scrupulously adhering to our initial guiding principle : donations by the public serve exclusively to finance school bursaries, while the income generated by the book or by initiatives sponsored by companies is used to pay for special projects, and for the few administrative costs of the Association.
In the course of discussions with those attending the General Assembly - not numerous enough, alas, due to a date and time of day not so convenient for everybody - everyone agreed that we wanted to preserve the informal character of the Association : administrative costs limited by the absence of offices or permanent staff positions, limited objectives, and a high degree of transparency for all our members, allowing all of us to stay in touch with what is happening on the ground. Informality, however, does not necessarily imply amateurism, and we are working hard to overcome our weaknesses, which are of course due to the volunteer nature of all work done by those who are sacrificing time and energy to the children of Ningxia.
In this context, on the very day of our general assembly, the internet site of the Association (www.enfantsduningxia.org) was given a new look. The initial work on this had been done by a group of Chinese students at the Ecole nationale supérieure des Telecoms de Paris. Their effort made this website see the light of day at a time when not being online was already a painful drawback for our initiative. But now Basile, a friend who specialises in this kind of work, has made an effort to render the website more welcoming and functional. Some adjustments are still necessary, and access to the English language side will have to wat a few more days, but the fruits of his labour are already largely visible.
And let us also give due thanks for the titanic achievement of our friend Jeanne and her son Pierre, in Normandy, who have set up an electronic database by means of which we can print out address labels for the monthly newsletter, for those of us who receive the newsletter by mail. So we now no longer have to write out all the addresses by hand...
Volunteer initiatives like this one have multiplied in the year 2004, from the sports team ‘Enfants de Ningxia’ which participated in the humanitarian fund-raising ‘trailwalker’ event in Hong Kong [last month], to the London students translating this newsletter into English every month, a Spanish friend of the Association who spontaneously took up translating the monthly newsletter into Spanish, and finally the students of the French department at the People’s University of Beijing, who also have done a huge amount of translation work which will soon allow us to introduce our Chinese version of the Association’s website. Not to mention all those who have conducted fund-raising activities, or putting on plays of Ma Yan’s Diary in schools. We would like to thank all these friends here.
As one of our projects in 2005, we will pursue the goal of getting further educational institutions equipped with computers. We have also been asked by the primary school of Zhang Jia Shu to help them improve their infrastructure.
But certainly the most ambitious of the projects currently under discussion is the creation of a ‘House of the Children of Ningxia’ in Yuwang, which would be our first permanent establishment. It would serve the dual function of allowing young girls who have had to leave school, and who in many cases have been married by force at just 15 or 16 years of age, to maintain a social link with education and have continued access to it, as well as of allowing such access to the wider population of this disadvantaged region, whose agriculture has been hit hard by droughts. They would gain access to vocational training which might allow them to diversify and generate income from outside agriculture. This project is still being studied and further elaborated on, but we are already in discussions with two foundations, which could ensure the necessary funding. Some contacts have also been established with certain NGOs specialising in the improvement of agricultural techniques in regions like Ningxia, which suffer from water shortage.
If anyone has any doubts about whether this last mentioned project makes sense, it may be enough to read the letter which we have just received from Ma Shiping, a cousin of Ma Yan’s who was married at age 16 and is already a mother. This letter follows a visit we paid to her in October, originally coming to tell her that some friends had committed to ensuring the education of her child, but discovering her in a state of despair, without milk for her daughter who was then less than a year old. Ma Shiping now writes :
“You have given me back the confidence which had left my heart for a long time and made me regain some hopes for my child, for today and for tomorrow. (...) I have always tried to remain true to my dreams, but various external factors always bring me back to reality. I am carrying a heavy burden of life on my shoulders and I will never be able to return to the beautiful moments of youth. I know that I will always be a mother from now, and that I can no longer have the same dreams as other young girls of my age, hoping for an attractive future. But I do not want to give up ; I want to liberate myself from the fatality of my circumstances and go back to the world of my dreams ; I want to be a modern young person with an ideal and a goal in life. Can you tell me if this is possible ?”
In 2005 we will try to answer her question with “yes”.
With best wishes.

Pierre Haski



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