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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 2003 2 07 /01 /janvier /2003 00:00
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Letter 12 - January 2003

Dear All
The New Year has been marked by an influx of numerous enquiries, donations and offers to provide help in various forms, to the address of our Association in Paris and to our email address. Welcome to all those of you who receive this newsletter for the first time. This letter is now being sent to nearly 150 people in France and in Europe, but also in China.
This increased support will give us the means of doing more to help the children in this disadvantaged region of China in the future. I will go to Ningxia in mid-February, after the New Year holidays are over, in order to increase the number of bursary recipients significantly, and to see together with the people in charge in the village on what other high priority projects we could co-operate with them, whether it concerns the village of Zhang Jia Shu (the digging of the wells...) or the new High School buildings in Yuwang, where Ma Yan is studying. We will inform you in February of the results of this visit.
QUESTIONNAIRE. In order to understand a little better who we are, to gain a better overview of the funds the Association can command on the medium term, but also to get to know you better, we are asking you to give up a few minutes to fill in a brief questionnaire attached to this letter. It will allow us, above all, to understand the nature of your financial commitments toward our initiative. It is indeed important for us to know, when we increase the number of bursary recipients, that our resources allow us to follow through with these bursaries, so that we do not give rise to false hopes on the part of the children we help. The absolute confidentiality of all such information received is understood.
IMPROVED RELATIONS. As I had indicated in the preceding newsletter, we had a period of some tension with the local authorities. This has been resolved, and we had a visit from officials responsible for foreign relations at Ningxia Province’s Office in Beijing. They came to make us some presents, and to assure us of their continued support for our initiative. This was the first time their support was expressed in such clear and official terms and this is good news.
The story of Ma Yan and of our Association has continued to receive a certain measure of public attention within China. The national television channel CCTV broadcast an interview with Ma Yan and her mother at the beginning of January, the Cantonese weekly Southern Weekend published in the last issue of last year a report entitled ‘Ma Yan, happy but stressed’...in his report, the journalist emphasises that if Ma Yan and her family can lead a better life today thanks to the copyright of the diary, she has also come into the limelight of public attention, and now has no right to make mistakes : for those who envy her would profit if she did, and those who admire her would be disappointed. This is a lot of pressure to be sustained by a fifteen-year-old adolescent.
MAIL. We keep receiving a considerable amount of mail, in France as well as in China. In France, apart from enquiries and offers of help, we have had an enormous number of letters addressed to Ma Yan through the magazine Okapi acting as intermediary. It had invited its young readers to write letters to the Chinese schoolgirl. Frequently moving and emotional letters, to which pens have been attached because all were so struck by the story of Ma Yan’s pen bought after she had deprived herself of bread for two weeks. We will hand over all these letters to her in February.
Letters from within China are of a different nature. Partly, we are receiving warm and enthusiastic letter from the bursary recipients of the Association, from whom we ask as our only demand that they report regularly on their progress at school. For another part, we also receive a considerable number of letters asking for help, from the entire region. These letters will be useful for the selection of future bursary holders - a thankless task, for which there can be no ‘scientific’ approach, but only a flexible and pragmatic mix of criteria.
And in this context - we received a terrible letter from a young girl, Ma Shiping, a relation of Ma Yan’s, and a little older than her, whose younger sister we are helping. We had not taken her on as a bursary recipient because it is difficult for us to by too closely connected with just one particular family ; this could compromise our initiative. The letter we just received goes to illustrate to what point these families are craving for education, and that access to education decides whether these children can live, or whether their lives will close. This is the letter, addressed to my assistant He Yanping :
‘When you receive this letter I will already be in the palace of marriage, which is the grave of life. I am a reticent person ; I don’t normally open up. Usually, I keep all bitterness and pain inside me.
When I saw you the first time, I admired you. I had to break off my school education. I hoped you would listen to me, but then I could not speak to you. At that time I was still in the sanctuary of studies, the paradise of human knowledge. My mother went to see you in my name. I was reassured that you had agreed to help me. I was singing. One semester later when the others received sums covering for their school fees, I couldn’t pay mine. I gave in to the pressures form my family. All my young girl’s self-confidence and pride were set aside. I was ashamed. I hated everybody under the sky. But because I am such a reticent person, I bottled it all up within myself, and I just stopped going to school. My parents thought I was being ill, whereas I was thinking of dying and laying the blame upon my family. But I just couldn’t bring myself to die. So I did what young people my age do not want to do : to get married with a dying heart. I am not blaming anyone, only my destiny. I had believed to much in that phrase which says that man can vanquish the sky. Now, I am only awaiting the choices my destiny will make for me.
I thank you for the help you have given to my younger sister so that she does not have to follow me. But she is working without light and is ruining her eyes like this ; I am worried about her health. I hope that with your help she may become the first or second student in her class.
There are many more things I have to tell you. But I will keep them to myself to my death.
Written with the tears of a fifteen-year-old.’
We are trying to see how this tragic situation could be handled. It arose from a misunderstanding, since we had never agreed to help her, for the reasons stated further above. My assistant has written a long letter to her, to see what the real situation is now and if there is any way of getting round it. Those of you who have read Ma Yan’s Diary will remember that when we began our action, some people on the spot told us that it was futile, because one could not fight against fate in these villages, where the girls are married at age 16 (illegally, by the way) after having been withdrawn from school. We succeeded in avoiding this seemingly inevitable fate in the case of Ma Yan whose future is now open, and all the bursary recipients of the Association. But it is obvious that those cases are still exceptions to a normality exemplified by this case just described.
Make our initiative known among people around you, and thanks for your confidence and your support.
Best wishes
Pierre Haski


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