Letter 8 - June 2002
The school year is coming to an end in China, too, and this is a good moment for a brief stock-taking on our Ningxia project which, it will be remembered, has only been in existence for a couple of months.
During the second semester of this school year, we helped 20 children from the South of Ningxia to return to school, either primary or middle school. All twenty (nineteen girls and one boy) have written to us, some of them several times, since the beginning of this action : this was the precondition we had imposed for continuing with the bursaries, so that we would be sure that the money was put to its intended use of paying for the school fees. Touching letters, containing details about their results at school, and all of them showing that the children are well back on track at school. Among them, of course, Ma Yan, who was at the outset of this initiative of solidarity, and who is writing and calling us regularly, giving us encouraging news on all counts. These are the first, positive results we have had.
We also received letters from 19 children who, having heard of what we were doing, asked us to help them. My assistant He Yanping answered each of them individually and promised to meet with them next time we were visiting in the region. All these letters draw accounts of dramatic situations in their families, for whom it is impossible to pay the school fees which in some cases surpass the household’s total annual income. A widely common situation in China for the poorest of the peasants, as I have only just seen confirmed in another province, Sichuan.
We now have more than 2.500 Euros in the bank, with our account being fed into by your regular donations, coming for the major part from France, to about a third from Italy and in two cases from Belgium and the UK. This may appear a small sum, but given the total absence of administrative costs, it will allow us to plan for a certain extension of our initiative in the coming school year. I think that without taking any risks, we can both continue to help the twenty current bursary recipients, increase the number of bursaries, and also give some teaching materials to Ma Yan’s high school and to the primary school of her village, neither of which have no such things at all. This would allow our initiative to reach all the children and avoid criticism which one can already sense coming, from those currently excluded, directed at those ‘privileged’ to receive help from us. The general deprivation is such that this is a very real problem.
I expect to go into Ningxia province at the beginning of July, which will allow us to decide about new bursaries and continue the old ones from September, and thus to to show that our engagement is not just of a transitory nature. As I did for my previous trip, I will send you an account of this coming one.
Some further news : the book should come out in September, published by the publishing house Ramsay. It will contain the entirety of Ma Yan’s diary as well as an accompanying text by myself, which tells the story of the diary, as well as all that followed once it was discovered, and moreover gives some socio-economic background about this part of China. It will also contain photos by Wang Zheng, the photographer who accompanied us from the start.
An article on Ma Yan’s entire history was also published in the Wenhui Bao, the big Shanghai daily newspaper, written by this paper’s correspondent in France who had heard people there talk about the project. It is a very positive article on our initiative, which ensures a certain degree of official protection for us - potentially useful in case of difficulties with the local authorities, something never to be excluded in China...
Finally, I will be in Paris between 22 June and the end of the month, and I will be delighted to meet all those who can and/or wish so. I have contacted a lawyer friend who works between France and China about the legal forms necessary for our organisation, to avoid continuing the current situation, in which we have to transfer money through my personal bank account. I will know more about this next week, and we will be able to talk about it in person I hope.
PS : I am attaching a very kitschy photo which Ma Yan sent us. I hope you can open the attachment.