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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 février 2002 4 07 /02 /février /2002 00:00
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Letter 4 - 7 February 2002

Dear All
An update on our project, before the [Chinese] New Year, which this time falls onto 12 February.
Our bank account was opened only ten days ago, but it has already received nearly 1.000 Euro in donations, from ten out of the twenty-five people who came forth after the publication of the report on Ma Yan and said they wanted to help her. Some people have made a one-off donation, some have made a donation for this year, and some have put their names down for monthly donations. Among the latest arrivals in our ‘club’ are two High School classes, whose students decided to express solidarity with Ma Yan.
We have made a first transfer of 500 Yuan to Ma Yan, to let her know that we mean to help her, and do so before the Chinese New Year which is China’s biggest holiday. We have written to her to tell her that the article has already been published and that several people wanted to help her to continue her studies, and that it was therefore important that she study really hard... A letter from her crossed with ours. In her letter, she gives us some news about school (as I had told you, my assistant and I had already paid her school fees for the term that has just ended). She is also sending us a picture of herself wearing the shirt which she has been able to buy for herself with some of the money she got [from us].
There is also a very moving letter from her mother, thanking us, and speaking of the ‘personal sacrifice’ we must have made to send her the money. This gives us a measure of how poor they are. The mother’s letter was written by Ma Yan, because her mother cannot write. We have also had the village head on the phone - quite an adventure ! We are informing him of our initiative, for reasons to do with local diplomacy, and will also let him know when we go to the village again. He was very positive about it, and was looking forward to welcoming us on our next visit.
We are still expecting to return to the village at the end of the month, to see what Ma Yan’s needs are for continuing her education in decent living conditions, and whether perhaps she could transfer to another, better school in a neighbouring village ; for education in rural China is very poor. We also want to see how to go about helping some more children to return to school. The second term will be starting just then and so it will be a good time to enroll a couple more children, as the money we have received or have been promised will allow us to do.
Incidentally, I have had a telephone conversation with a French woman based in Guangxi Province in the South of China, who has created an organisation called Colours of China [Couleurs de Chine]. Just like us, they are trying to support school education for children from ethnic minorities, of which this province has many. She is helping 1300 children through a system of individual sponsorships arranged with people in France ! Unfortunately, she has no plans of widening the scope of her work to other provinces, but she has explained to me how she is operating : she pays money directly to the school in question, which she supplies with a list of the children being sponsored. She says that this is the only way of ensuring that it is really the children who benefit from the donations. I am planning to adopt the same system for helping other children from Ma Yan’s village.
So this is my update. I think we have now taken a number of decisive steps, and within a short time, a symbolic sum should have been received by Ma Yan, in just a few days (it takes eight days for money to be transferred from Beijing to Ningxia, whereas it was so simple to open an account in Paris via the internet, from here). We have also translated and sent off [your] letters addressed to Ma Yan ; but again, the lengthy process of postal delivery and the impending New Year holiday means there won’t be a quick answer. The second step, to be taken after the holiday, will be to go to the village. From now on I will not be in Beijing, where everything will come to a halt for eight days, but I will still be on email.
Best wishes
Pierre Haski.



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