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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 janvier 2004 3 07 /01 /janvier /2004 00:00
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Letter 20 - January 2004

Dear all,
Since our last trip to Ningxia, we’ve have had many letters from there, especially letters to wish us a good Year of the Serpent ! The school holidays are almost over and the students are preparing to go back to school. The beginning of the second semester will allow us to see if the agreement we have reached with the primary school of Zhang Jia Shu village, for free tuition to all children of school age, really works. We will easily be able to check if the terms of the agreement have been honoured when we visit there next time : The children’s parents should not have to pay a penny now for their children’s tuition. Our regular correspondence with people in the village means we would surely be alerted to any mistake or breach. Let me just remind you that we will be helping more than 250 students at primary school, lower and Senior High School level in this district in the future.
We will also find out if, as we were told, the construction of the new school building at Yuwang will really be resumed at the end of the coming Chinese New Year holidays. As I already mentioned, completion of the new building is a precondition for setting up the new computer rooms in it, for which we have already received a generous donation from the company Hermès (they have given us the proceeds of their special sales last September in their Beijing shop). We hope to be able to realise this project this year. It will mean that the children at Yuwang will gain some minimal access to modern technology and thus will get a chance of success in a future which, for many of them, will be in the cities not the villages.
The completion of the building should also allow us to work out a clear proposal for the renovation of the dormitories. The majority of students are Boarding at Yuwang because they come from surrounding villages, not Yuwang itself. The local government has promised to renovate the dormitories, which are in a pitiful state, but our Association could make a contribution to speeding up this process, which is really urgent.
CORRESPONDENCE. A year ago in January 2003 we got a desperate letter from Ma Shiping, a cousin of Ma Yan’s, who had been taken out of school and married by force at the age of fifteen. Her letter began like this : ‘When you receive this letter, I will already be in the palace of marriage, which is the grave of life.’ When we went to visit her in December, she had just given birth to a small daughter. At fifteen and a half. It was a very sad meeting, because we could only give her a few presents for herself and her baby, but there was nothing now that we could do to change her fate : there she was, married and a mother at age fifteen, when she had been dreaming of receiving an education and discovering life. At the beginning of January we received another letter from Ma Shiping. It shows both the strength of character this girl has, and how sad her situation is.
"Today, I am ending the first month [the month of confinement to one’s room after giving birth]. Am I the same person I used to be, after giving birth ? Whether it is because of how I feel, or because of my situation - I’m certainly not the same today as before. I think I have really understood that if one wants to have a good life, it is better not to feel anything at all.
At the moment when my life went dark, you sent me a letter that was like a burning candle. When I was worried because I had no milk for my baby, you brought me happiness. Your arrival brought nourishment into my life and it made me have enough milk to give her. You have not only helped me in material terms but also spiritually. The love you have shown me, and Aunt He’s [He Yanping’s, the translator’s] attitude, have softened their [her parent’s in law’s] mentality, which is to privilege the boys and to hold girls cheap. You know, after I had taken leave from the god of death and come back to life, you were the first to visit me. When I heard [the day before] that you were coming to see me, I was so happy. I was so moved that I couldn’t sleep all night. But then the next day I couldn’t speak a single sentence. I only wanted to cry ; but I couldn’t cry either. I’m not a common girl. I can’t share my pain with you. I can only eat the bitter fruit myself.
Man has only one life, plants have only one summer. For my life, having met you is enough. I often hear people say that one is happy when one is content with what one has. Today, I am already seeing another Me coming to life. I don’t want her to follow my old path. She is my hope now. I want her to understand why people live in this world and why she has come into it.
At this season of giving thanks, I want to thank you because you gave a second life to my daughter, and also to myself : now I can live among them. But when the gift is too great, one doesn’t give thanks anymore. I can only wish happiness for your entire family from the sincerity of my heart ; pray for a good life for good people. If you have the time I hope very much that you can often come and visit me. Thank you."
A letter that allows us, perhaps, to see through the splendid Chinese decorations put up at this moment as France is celebrating the new lunar year in a spectacular manner, and welcoming the Chinese President here with a lot of pomp and circumstance ...I would not want to conclude on such a sad note, though. Let me remind you that Ma Shiping’s younger sister is the recipient of a bursary from the Association, and that we will do as much as we can to help her avoid the same fate as her older sister’s. Our small gestures weigh very heavy here.
Best wishes

Pierre Haski



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