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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 juillet 2004 3 07 /07 /juillet /2004 00:00
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Letter 25 - Summer 2004

Dear All
The schools in Ningxia have closed now for the summer vacation, not without one last stressful event in the form of the exams for the finalists. Since they decide what institution the students can move on to, these exams are of enormous importance in China. Ma Yan has taken hers, as she has arrived at the end of her Middle School years : she passed and will therefore be admitted to High School, a level she would never had dreamed of reaching when we first met three years ago.
This school year has been rich in events for our Association, and so this is perhaps a good moment for a brief account-taking. Two years ago come this summer the Association of the Children of Ningxia was born out of the publication of Ma Yan’s Diary, first in France and then in other countries. Run exclusively by volunteers, the Association has, I believe, successfully met its two objectives : to help as many children as possible to go to school in this disadvantaged region, and to promote solidarity abroad around the notion of the right to education.
Our current and future intervention centre around three educational institutions in the area :
(1) The Primary School of Zhang Jia Shu, at which we have provided free tuition for its around 200 students of school age from this village, which is Ma Yan’s native village. At the beginning of the new school year, we will extend this free tuition to about forty students who will be moving on from their primary school to nearby Yuwang High School, for their fifth year in school.
(2) Yuwang Middle School (1.200 students), where Ma Yan has just spent three years. Apart from the individual bursaries we provide here, we will be able to set the school up with computers if, as envisaged, the new school building is completed this coming September. We are also planning to further equip a library to the school, and we are in discussion with the school management about helping with the reconstruction of the dormitories for boarding students, which are currently in a piteous state. One of the most emotional moments at Yuwang this year was a visit from fifteen students and their teachers from the Lycée Français in Hong Kong. This encounter could form a lasting link between the Hong Kong Lycée, and Yuwang High School.
(3) The combined Primary and Middle School of Ma Gao Zhuang, which is at ten kilometres’ distance from Yuwang. The director is an ‘old’ acquaintance who used to be a vice director at Ma Yan’s High School in Yuwang. In June, nearly 500 kg of second hand clothes were sent there from Beijing, thanks to a collection sponsored by the Lycée Français at Beijing, and to donations received at an auction at a Beijing art gallery, earlier this year.
We are still planning to construct a well in the village of Zhang Jia Shu, using a ‘sustainable development grant’ which has recently materialised. This project has been somewhat delayed due to the absence of local partners with the authority to take decisions. This was because the village leaders were dismissed for having diverted certain funds (not ours).
The Association’s activities have been made possible by many volunteer actions throughout the year, both in China and in Europe. Our internet site is being gradually improved thanks to Chinese students at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Télécoms in Paris and to translations into English being done in Beijing and in Britain. The translation into Chinese will be done by students at a French Department in a Beijing university...A gallery for contemporary art China Arts Seasons, organised an auction of art work donated by around 50 Chinese artists last September, and gave the profits to our Association. There is also a pedagogical project based on Ma Yan’s Diary, which has by been circulated in dozens of French schools. Also, the Association now has a regional ‘branch’ in southern France, which organized a successful public debate last winter in Nimes.
Our funding has three main sources (1) donations from the public, which continue coming in due to the publicity generated by Ma Yan’s Diary (2) profits from a percentage of the copyright in our two books, Ma Yan’s Diary and Ma Yan And Her Sisters, (3) proceeds from special projects initiated by sponsors such as the french brand Hermès for the computer room in Yuwang, Procter & Gamble for the well project, and a French company located in China for the teaching material donated to Ma Gao Zhuang, as well as other initiatives like the auction of art works at the gallery in Beijing. This newsletter will be sent out, by email or mail, to more than 500 people, many of whom will be widening its impact by passing it on to other supporters. The letters (all the french ones and some of them translated into English) are available online at our website, and constitute the written memory of the Association.
Ma Yan’s Diary, in the meantime, continues its journey... after its recent publication as a paperback in France it will be coming out in Great Britain on 1 July (ed. Virago). This will be the first English language edition, followed by an edition in the United States next year. The publication in English has gained us some further articles in the London press (The Sunday Telegraph Magazine, The Times Higher Education Supplement), and a broadcast programme on BBC World Service ‘Outlook’. In the United States, we had a radio programme dedicated to us on July 3, with an already recorded interview with Ma Yan and a live interview with me, and questions from listeners. You can "listen" to this programme on the internet (http://www.hereonearth.org).
On the occasion of this account-taking, the most important achievement is that we have kept up our commitment to the people in Ningxia. The consequences of the publicity around Ma Yan’s Diary have obviously not all been positive, but as we thought, there have been hugely beneficial effects for the inhabitants of Zhang Jia Shu as well as the wider region in which it is situated. The solidarity from the readers of the Diary has not just shown itself in empty words, and the next year should see the continuance as well as further improvement of our initiative. It has also drawn attention to the fate of these children deprived of a school education, also within China. This has been an important side-effect of our work. As an internet user commented when the book came out in China : ‘We will not be able to say that we didn’t know what was happening’...Finally, there is the promise given to Ma Yan herself, and kept, as those of you who met her when she visited the Paris Book Fair could see for yourselves. She had found back her smile and her hope.
I wish a good summer to all of you. I will be back in touch at the beginning of the school year, to continue our journey together with the Children of Ningxia.
Best wishes

Pierre Haski


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