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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.

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7 octobre 2004 4 07 /10 /octobre /2004 00:00
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THE LETTER FROM THE NINGXIA/
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Letter 27 - October 04

Dear All
Our Association has had some historical moments...
Computers. On Monday, 25 October, we inaugurated the multimedia room for which we had provided funding to Yuwang High School, Ma Yan’s old school. Fifty brand-new computers have been installed and connected as a network. On them we could see the students, children of those who are among the poorest in all of China, make their first typing attempts on the keyboards, with the help of software specially designed for beginners.
This inauguration also gave occasion to an official open air ceremony in the in the courtyard of the school, in front of the new school building, and before hundreds of students who had assembled there despite an icy wind. A number of political authorities and authorities representing the edcuational sector had made the journey, thus giving us the greatest offical recognition since the beginning of our initiative in Ningxia, three years ago. The speeches were of an exceptional emotional warmth : the actual realisation of this project which has been our most large-scale project so far, was greatly appreciated and has increased our standing in the eyes of our partners in the region. These computers were paid for thanks to a special sales action by the french company Hermès.
We were also able to distribute their first school uniforms to the students - blue and white overalls bearing the name of the college - paid for by the Association for around 1000 students, at the suggestion of the school director. For him it was a question of dignity, allowing his high school to resemble the schools in China’s greater cities.
The well. The following day we went to Zhang Jia Shu, Ma Yan’s native village from which our initiative took off, and there we could see that work on the well was progressing well. This work, too, is one of the Association’s larger projects, and it has been paid for by Procter & Gamble France. The well was nearly done when we got there, and we could see the water glitter at the bottom of the shaft, about 100 metres deep. The workers were just preparing to put drains in place, and a few days after our visit the villagers should be able to draw water from this well - water very precious in this semi-arid region.
This well does not sort out all the problems the village has with satisfying its basic needs : for water from this well is briny and unpleasant and not suitable for human consumption. It will be used for agricultural needs and for livestock, which is already a considerable improvement to the situation before, as it savs the people a walk of more than an hour to what used to be the nearest well. The company in charge of digging the well thought that there was enough water to meet the needs of the population ten kilometres round in this basin
The villagers, who were taking turns to check up on the progress of the construction work, all expressed their lively satisfaction with the realisation of this dream : this had been the first matter people talked to me about when I first came to the village in May 2001...The old well had dried up several years previously, and there was absolutely no money for reconstructing it.
During this trip we also visited two establishments whom we are helping. Firstly the primary school of Ma Gao Zhuang, situated at 10 kilomteres from Yuwang, where we now have a total of 21 bursary recipients, and where thanks to a donation made by a French company in Shanghai, the purchase of teaching material. At this school too we were asked to donate computers : with the successful example of Yuwang, the idea has caught on like fire...The school’s director, with whom we have a very cordial relationship, made a fervent plea for such a measure, which would allow the poor children at his school a chance to escape from the margins of China’s ongoing process of modernisation.
We also paid a visit to the primary school of Zhang Jia Shu, where we are ensuring free education to all school-age children. There, too, we were given a splendid reception and were honoured by rows of students lined up to greet us, and with official speeches. In this school, we have some difficulties with assuring complete financial transparency, which may partly be due to a rapid change in directors : three in one year...We insisted on the necessity of guaranteeing transparency of all accounts, which is not a small matter in a context of such great misery as this. We met with further requests to give funding for improving the school’s equipment and for construction work that would improve study conditions. We made a commitment to help on the condition, again, that the accounts be entirely transparent.
This trip has given us an opportunity to survey the route so far taken by the Association, in the service of improving the conditions of education and life in this region which has become important to us. The near completion of these two big projects, the computers and the well , have been great new achievements, and this gives us great encouragement to continue on the same route. We have begun a dialogue with various partners in the region, offical as well as unofficial ones, to look for ways of bringing about a more sustainable development, less dependent on a disaster-stricken agriculture. This is not an easy task inasmuch as it cannot build upon any tradition or pre-existing activity, but it seems indispensable to us of this region is overcome its misery and marginalisation.
Ma Yan. On our trip we also paid a visit to Ma Yan and her family. Ma Yan has left the High School at Yuwang for a modern senior high school in the town of Wuzhong, near the provincial capital. She is a boarding student there, and is now benefiting from study conditions clearly superior to those she had at her old school. She is happy to be able to pursue her school education in such conditions. The director of this enormous school (3.600 students !) insisted on our visiting his establishment ; he was delighted with the prestige conferred upon it by the presence of the author of a diary that has gone round the world...Ma Yan’s family has followed her into this town, abandoning their village in order to rent a modest apartment in Wuzhong. Her two brothers also go to school there, while the father is working in the high school....Ma Yan’s mother now owns a mobile phone : she has come a spectactularly long way indeed.
Hong Kong. On this trip I was accompanied by Diane Michaud and Evonne Tsui the two representatives of the hildren of Ningxia in Hong Kong. They came along to see for themselves what the reality was like in Ningxia, and to bear witness to others on their return to Hong Kong. Their company was all the more important because our presence in Hong Kong, this small but particularly prosperous corner of China, is now gradually taking shape. Firstly, through our connection with the Lycée français international (LFI) a group of whose students and teachers travelled to Ningxia last May, and which will embark upon a new adventure on 5 November : two teachers and two parents of students at LFI will, with support from the school direction of the lycée and a solid logistic group, will carry the colours of the Children of Ningxia on the occasion of a famous humanitarian march which takes place each year in the New Territories, the zone [around Hong Kong] directly bordering on mainland China. They will have to walk 100 kilometres in very difficult territory, which will bring in funding for the causes they fight for. Deep thanks and bravo to the volunteers thus combining a sportive challenge with one of active solidarity.
The ‘MacLehose race’ was the occasion for us to publicise the presence of the Association in Hong Hong, around our two ‘pillars’, Diane Michaud et Evonne Tsui. I joined the team doing the walk in mid-October for a photo sesssion and for an encounter with the Chinese language Hong Kong press, which devoted a number of pages to this initiative as well as to Ma Yan’s story and to the work of our Association. Further activities are being envisaged to make our initiative better known on the occasion of the race.
Nîmes. Another active outpost/pole of our initiative is the region of Nîmes, where there is an active group around Pascale Godebska-Minet. On 15 October, the Carré d’Art of Nîmes held a reception for about 150 people in the context of the national French ‘Reading Fesitval [Lire en Fête]’, at the initiative of Diane Donnet who is responsible for the ‘Young People’ sector [of this arts centre]. This reception revolved around Ma Yan’s story. The letter written by Ma Yan to her mother was read out by a Chinese child, and several participants, among them Emmanuelle Polack who is the general secretary of the Association and who had come to Paris fo this purpose, provided background information on Ma Yan and on the plight of the children of Ningxia. Another public gathering earlier on, in a multimedia library, had brought around 45 people together, most of them children. It had been organised together with the Association ‘One thousand Colours [les mille couleurs]’.
So our movement of solidarity born almost three years ago with the publication of Ma Yan’s Diary lives on and is thriving. In October it connnected chidren in the south of France listening to the reading of extracts from the diary, to children in Yuwang making their first contact with computers, an experience of which their status as poor peasants had until then deprived them. The magic continues...Again, many thanks for your support. Can you pass this letter on to friends around you ?
Best regards

Pierre Haski


 

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