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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 septembre 2004 2 07 /09 /septembre /2004 00:00
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THE LETTER FROM THE NINGXIA/
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Letter 26 - September 04

Hello,
The return of September marks the beginning of a new era for the Association of the children of Ningxia, in various senses, for not only has the number of bursaries we have granted risen to around 400 - the precise number has not yet been settled - but also two ’big’ projects of ours have finally begun to be realised, and Ma Yan has moved to a high school in the provincial capital of Ningxia, Yinchuan.
THE NEW SCHOOL YEAR. Those of you who have been with us in this movement of solidarity from the beginning will recall that at the beginning of 2002, we started by helping 20 girls, including Ma Yan, to continue their school education. Two and a half years later, the number has risen to about 400 children of this disadvantaged Chinese region who now receive our support for their education. Our action is primarily affecting three educational establishments in the region : the primary school in the village of Zhang Jia Shu, for which we have been guaranteeing, since December 2003, free access to education for all children of school age, i.e. around 250 children ; the middle school of Yuwang which is attended by a number of children from Zhang Jia Shu receiving our support, and the combined primary and middle school of Ma Gao Zhuang, not very far from Yuwang, to which we have now for the first time allocated 21 bursaries to be granted at the school director’s recommendation. He is an old acquaintance as he used to be the director of Yuwang middle School. We also support some youths who after finishing their three years at Yuwang are now attending senior high school, in most cases in the district capital Tongxin.
These considerable achievements have been made possible by the growing support for the Association for the Children of Ningxia, in France as well as in other countries where The Diary of Ma Yan has been published. All the people who have made donations are cordially thanked here : your generosity translates in to concrete improvements which we are now able to put in in place. A part of the royalties from The Diary of Ma Yan also goes into the coffers of the Association which, let me remind you, undertakes to accompany those whom it ’adopts’ as bursary recipients through to the end of their school education.
MA YAN. A new beginning, too, in the life of Ma Yan, who in September started her life as a Senior High School student on a new footing : she has become a boarding student in an educational establishment in Yinchuan, Ningxia’s provincial capital. So her dream is being further realised.
COMPUTERS. The actual installation of the computers for Yuwang middle School depended on the completion of the new building, which had been considerably delayed. Now, the brand new school building has finally been completed and we have been able to have two new IT rooms equipped with 50 computers, which are connected to a network. The funding for this project had been obtained through a generous donation by the French company Hermès. ’Mission accomplished’ eighteen months after we made our promise to the director of the school, who had pleaded in favour of such an action with the following words. ’If our students leave the High School without ever having used a computer, we will effectively have produced illiterates in this new technological age.’ We will inaugurate the computer cluster rooms, so uncommon in a school in a disadvantaged Chinese region like Ningxia, on the occasion of our next trip out there, which is scheduled for October.
We received an unexpected request from the high school director, after the computers had arrived : he was delighted about the new building and about the two cluster rooms, but regretted the unaltered appearance of the students, dressed so poorly. And he asked us to provide support by donating school uniforms for 1.200 students ! After some deliberation, we agreed to this step, which reminded our friend Emmanuelle Polack of the school of Jules Ferry and its aprons, which concealed social inequalities among its students. Here, the uniforms (in China, it is usually sportswear worn on top of other clothes) will be concealing social misery ! They will be produced locally, which will provide work to the women of Yuwang.
WELLS. Another great piece of news, after a long waiting period, is that work on the well of Zhang Jia Shu is about to commence. We had been prevented from making any progress on this head by the continued absence of a clear local authority in the village over a period of several months, after the village head and party secretary had been dismissed. Finally, as she saw that nothing was happening, Hélène, a member of the association who traveled to Ningxia this summer, extracted a paper authorising us to begin work on the well, duly stamped, from a local functionary at Yuwang ! We then found a local company to carry out the work. Let me remind you that the only well of Zhang Jia Shu had dried up eight years ago, and was never rebuilt. The funding for this project is covered by a ’sustainable development grant’ which we received from the American company Procter and Gamble, after having entered a competition for this grant, together with the publishing house Nathan. Another promise made to the inhabitants of Ma Yan’s native village, which is shortly to be realised.
THANKS. We have received a very warm letter of thanks from Mr Yang Zhenglin, the director of the school at Ma Gao Zhuang, to which we have been providing help in several forms since spring 2004 (i.e., the donation of teaching materials, a donation of about 500 kg of clothes collected by students of the lycée français of Beijing, and an additional 21 bursaries starting September 2004). ’This is my first year at this school,’ he writes, ’and I feel that the children of this school are truly in need of help. And today, the children of this district have received signs of love from far away, from another country ! I thank you and express, in the name of the school, of the teachers as well as the students and their parents, my deepest appreciation of the spirit of internationalism which you have so generously demonstrated. And his letter concludes ’may our friendship last forever’ !
ANNOUNCEMENT. An event focusing on Ningxia and its problems of education will take place 15 October in the Carré d’art of Nîmes, in Southern France, with high school students of this region. This event is being organised by Pascale Gobedska, who represents the Association in the South of France, and who had already organised a panel discussion last February in Nîmes- and by Diane Donnet, who is responsible for the youth department of the Carré d’Art. Several participants have been pencilled in, among them Emmanuelle Polack who is the secretary general of the Association.
Another initiative, this time in Hong Kong, should see a group of demonstrators representing the Children of Ningxia, consisting of professors from the Lyçée Français International of Hong Kong, participating in a 100 km long march with the general purpose of collecting funds for humanitarian causes, at the beginning of November. We will come back to you about this planned event next month.
In China, the Beijing International Society (BIS) asked me to give a presentation on the Diary of Ma Yan and on the work of the Association. This event took place in September, and allowed us to make a number of contacts. The Association has also been invited to join a network which is being established between Chinese and foreign NGOs working in China, and certain companies desirous of becoming involved in social causes. An original and potentially important new initiative, just as the country is assuming an important role in the process of globalisation. I will keep you informed of all further developments regarding this promising initiative.
Yet again, many thanks for your support. Please pass this letter on to others !
Best wishes


Pierre Haski

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