Letter 31 May-June 2005
For the second year running, students at the Lyçée français international (LFI) of Hong Kong went to Ningxia at the end of May to visit the educational institutions and the communities whom we are helping. Nineteen students and three teachers, among them Anne-Marie Bordas, the organiser of these exchanges that are becoming regular events, were thus able to get a real sense of the problems with education and the difficult living conditions in this region struck by chronic drought.
At Wuzhong, the high school where Ma Yan is now studying, they were able to speak to students their own age in a modern school building situated in a big city. Then they went on to visit Yuwang and Ma Gao Zhuang, two rural high schools receiving support from the Association. They concluded their visit in Zhang Jia Shu, Ma Yan’s native village and the poorest of the places visited. At Zhang Jia Shu the young French students divided into small groups and had meals with individual peasant families, talking with them and discovering the simple life of these disadvantaged regions. Their visit was accompanied by important gestures of solidarity toward the schools and the families visited. These exchanges correspond perfectly to one of the goals we have set for ourselves: the goal of building bridges between worlds which would normally have no connection; and both parties come out enriched by the experience.
This trip also allowed us to check up on the progress of our ongoing projects. At Yuwang, we had the pleasure of seeing a teacher download a maths programme from one of Tsinghua University Beijing’s websites, in the computer room for the teachers, which was paid for by the Association. Yuwang College now has two computer rooms for the students, who have thus had their time of access to computers doubled, and one computer room for the teachers. And the computers work!
We were also able to inspect the computer room of the high school at Ma Gao Zhuang, the other school supported by us, which is situated at about fifteen kilometres from Yuwang. There, too, there was a kind of magic in seeing the children of peasants, who in their rural school would not normally have had any access to modern technology, handle an electronic piano, thus gaining a few more chances in the difficult lives awaiting them in a rapidly changing China. For our reception, the students had pasted English slogans onto the walls of the school buildings, reading, for instance, ‘never forget’…
The only problem with these computers is that there is as yet no internet connection. Such a connection would open up a new world to the students. The teachers at Yuwang use the only available internet connection exclusively for themselves. At Ma Gao Zhuang, there is still no landline telephone connection, although one has been promised for this year. A friend from Shanghai who accompanied us on our trip is now looking into the possibility of helping these institutions to get a satellite connection. If the costs are not prohibitive, we might be able to find sponsors – for the landline connection and for electricity required to use it, since the budget of the Ma Gao Zhuang school is so constrained that the schoold director already has to limit the time for computer use in order to save on electricity. In this matter, too, the Association could help this school which so much deserves help and encouragement.
At Zhang Jia Shu, we were able to meet the members of a Council of Elders which had been set up to tackle the problem of the well. These venerable old men with their grey beards have undertaken to identify the place where a second attempt to dig a well should be made, together with the company that is going to carry out the work. They have also agreed to look after the well once it has been dug, in contrast to the first attempt which ended in failure. Our talk with them was very encouraging.
Zhang Jia Shu’s blackest spot is its healthcare problem. Since the ‘miracle’ surgery performed on a young child with deformed feet, paid for by the Association, we have been solicited by a number of villagers who do not have the means of accessing a system of healthcare which, let me remind you, is privately paid for in China. Since that operation, each time we come through the village we are accosted by people who tell us about their untreated health problems. We are now obviously in a process of re-orientation after the Association’s first self-appointed task of helping with education has become less demanding [due to the recent annulment of tuition fees]; yet we do not have the means of resolving all the healthcare problems in the village. We will soon have to decide on a new policy in this matter: We have already mentioned the possibility of creating a ‘healthcare fund’ that could be used to provide funding in emergencies, as well as the possibility of sending a healthcare mission in co-operation with another NGO.
Finally, a big ‘bravo’ and a big thank you to those who have engaged in various initiatives to support the Children of Ningxia in recent months. In particular, let me thank the students of a cooking class of the Vocational School of Dives sur mer, western France. They have worked on The Diary of Ma Yan and on Chinese issues since the beginning of the academic year in 2004. In April, they arranged a Chinese meal and they made and sold cakes, donating the profit to the Association. And thanks also to the choir of the Conservatory of Vendée who organised a concert in an abbey in May for the benefit of the Association. These initiatives are so precious because they allow the solidarity we are showing to Ningxia actually to come to life outside China.
The Diary of Ma Yan continues on its fabulous course. On June 1st, the book came out in the United States (with the publisher Harper Collins) and it has been selected by 3000 American libraries for young people.
I wish all of you a very good summer.