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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.

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1 janvier 2005 6 01 /01 /janvier /2005 00:00
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THE LETTER FROM NINGXIA/
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Letter 29 - Jan 2005

Dear All,
Let me first repeat my good wishes for the New Year 2005, and wish you well for the Chinese Year of the Rooster, which begins on 9 February !
The end of last year was overshadowed by the catastrophe of the Tsunami which affected various countries in South-East Asia. The solidarity in response to this disaster has been remarkable, even though much of the emotion it brought out was due to the fact that there were Westerners among the victims. We, too, were acutely aware of this drama which affected neighbouring countries of China, and we felt that we could not remain inactive at such a time. We took a decision which is controversial and merits being discussed.
After consulting with our president Michelle Fitoussi and with members of the office, we decided to contribute something to the general effort of solidarity by making a donation in the name of the Children of Ningxia, for a specific cause that is close to our own : namely, to an emergency programme of the french-based association Help and Action (Aide et Action), to benefit the reconstruction of schools for the children of devastated villages in India and Sri Lanka. We know this NGO, whose approach is no different from ours and whom we can trust. It seemed legitimate to us not to remain confined to our own project as though this project were not connected to the time and circumstances in which it is being carried out.
I hasten to clarify that our contribution - 2000 Euros - does not come from the individual contributions made by the public. These, as I pointed out in my last newsletter, are exclusively dedicated to the granting of bursaries to the disadvantaged children of Ningxia. This sum is taken from the royalties accruing from the two books, Ma Yan’s Diary and Ma Yan et ses soeurs which are normally used for special initiatives, as for instance for the computer rooms we set up at Yuwang.
But some may still wish to criticise our decision. Diane Michaud, one of our representatives in Hong Kong, has let me know that she felt this was a debatable decision since the funds of the association are clearly devoted to a very specific purpose. She felt that there was a certain risk of shaking the trust of our supporters in us if we put the money to a different use, albeit for a good cause. This discussion brings another debate to mind, which was set off in France by Médecins sans frontières (MSF) asking the public to stop making donations specifically dedicated to Tsunami victims, since they already had enough to finance their activities in this context, and felt that it would be ethically wrong to use sums collected as a result of strong emotional support for the victims of that catastrophe, for other purposes.
This is an interesting debate and I would like to have your views on it. It is understood, of course, that this gesture of ours is a complete exception and has no prospect of being repeated, that the sum we made available in this way was used for a real humanitarian emergency occurring in our geographical region and, finally, that the money we used did not directly come from donations made by the public. But this is an ongoing debate. I take full responsibility for the decision that was taken but recognise that one could disagree. I do not think that by acting the way we did, in the middle of a humanitarian crisis of considerable magnitude, we can have breached the contract of confidence which unites us.
Ningxia (1). Two pieces of news from Ningxia. Firstly some medical news. The Association has not until now taken any initiatives in the medical field since this appeared to be beyond its objectives as well as its abilities. But in two cases we have now thought it right to provide some logistical help to two initiatives taken individually by members of our group.
Helene, a friend from Paris who went to Ningxia last year has decided on her part to collect money to pay for the operation of a child from Zhang Jia shu, the village where Ma Yan was born. This child was born with a deformation of the feet which prevented him from walking normally. The operation has been carried out successfully in mid-January in Yinchuan, with Ma Yan’s mother undertaking to accompany the child and his mother from the village to the provincial capital. The chief surgeon of the hospital himself conducted the operation, after learning how it had been paid for, and he called the entire staff of the hospital together to tell them about Helene’s action. A verdict on whether this child will fully regain his ability to walk will be made in two months’ time.
A group of students in the UK has collected some funds, as yet not sufficient, to allow the mother of Ma Xiaomei, one of our bursary recipients and one of the protagonists in the book Ma Yan et ses soeurs, to have a tumour operated on. Last autumn, when she went to hospital, she was fist asked to make a deposit payment in the amount of 4000 Yuan RMB (about 300 Euros) before they would proceed to do anything. She didn’t have as much as ten Yuan with her. The operation will cost 19000 Yuan RMB (about 1,500 Euros) and will take place in a few days. The mother was waiting for Xiaomei to come home from school for the New Year Festival so that she would be able to take care of her two younger brothers, and of the small grocery shop they are running to make a living.
The Chinese government thinks that half of China’s 800 million peasants do not get the medical treatment they need because they cannot afford it, and a third of those who begin treatment break off prematurely for the same reason. These gestures made by members of the Association are only two drops in the ocean of a campaign for improving healthcare in China ; but if the child in Zhang Jia Shu can walk again, and if Ma Xiaomei’s mother, who is already widowed by the death of her husband from cancer, survives this tumour and can continue looking after her still young children, then these two drops will entirely make sense.
Ningxia (2). Some disappointing news. The well which was dug in Zhang Jia Shu only yields water of much worse quality than expected, which proves unusable even for irrigation purposes. When I went to the village in December, I could confirm this for myself and I could see how disappointed the villagers were. This matter caused some stir in the village, since one of its public figures had exercised manipulative influence on where the well was going to be dug. This person is now being reproached by everybody. Without going into details, this result, while regrettable, should not discourage us. For one thing, we still have enough money left from the specific donation we received for this purpose, to make a second attempt in the place which had originally been envisaged for the digging, namely the place where the old well, which dried up several years ago, used to be. For another thing, this mini-crisis allows us to clarify the way roles are distributed in the village, which like all villages is divided into rivaling clans. It is difficult to say more about this matter at the present stage. But we will try to ensure that from this relative failure a sounder relationship is born with our local contact persons. I will keep you posted on any further developments in this matter.
Still on the problem of water...subsequently to the discussion which took place during our general assembly in Paris, our friends Jean-François and Pascale met with a French NGO which runs a highly successful project in Burkina-Faso, a region just as arid as Ningxia. Their techniques for conserving the little water available do wonders there. Let us see how this experience might benefit our friends in Ningxia. In this matter, too, we will follow up on new developments.
Regard

Pierre Haski

 

 

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THE LETTER FROM THE NINGXIA/
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Letter 28 - Nov-Dec 2004


Dear All,
On 29 November 2004 the Association held its general assembly in Paris. This gave us an opportunity to take stock at the end of a year rich in successfully completed projects (the computers of Yuwang, the well of Zhang Jia Shu...) as well as in emotional moments, especially when Ma Yan visited Paris last March.
It also gave us an opportunity to present the annual financial statement of the Association, which shows that there has been a very great increase in the funds we have been able to raise (in the form of donations from the public, book royalties for Le Journal de Ma Yan (Ma Yan’s Diary) and Ma Yan et ses soeurs (Ma Yan and her Sisters, as yet untranslated) and finally, partnership arrangements with companies). A very great increase, too, of expenditures, due to the growing number of bursary recipients (400), and the realisation of long-standing projects (computers, wells). But the balance is a positive one overall, notably because of the slow pace with which these projects have been realised...
The Association has continued to gain greater notoriety and sympathy from a growing public, due to the continued impact of Ma Yan’s Diary, which saves us the effort of having to launch new fund-raising efforts or having to turn to financial support that comes with strings attached. It should be noted that we are still scrupulously adhering to our initial guiding principle : donations by the public serve exclusively to finance school bursaries, while the income generated by the book or by initiatives sponsored by companies is used to pay for special projects, and for the few administrative costs of the Association.
In the course of discussions with those attending the General Assembly - not numerous enough, alas, due to a date and time of day not so convenient for everybody - everyone agreed that we wanted to preserve the informal character of the Association : administrative costs limited by the absence of offices or permanent staff positions, limited objectives, and a high degree of transparency for all our members, allowing all of us to stay in touch with what is happening on the ground. Informality, however, does not necessarily imply amateurism, and we are working hard to overcome our weaknesses, which are of course due to the volunteer nature of all work done by those who are sacrificing time and energy to the children of Ningxia.
In this context, on the very day of our general assembly, the internet site of the Association (www.enfantsduningxia.org) was given a new look. The initial work on this had been done by a group of Chinese students at the Ecole nationale supérieure des Telecoms de Paris. Their effort made this website see the light of day at a time when not being online was already a painful drawback for our initiative. But now Basile, a friend who specialises in this kind of work, has made an effort to render the website more welcoming and functional. Some adjustments are still necessary, and access to the English language side will have to wat a few more days, but the fruits of his labour are already largely visible.
And let us also give due thanks for the titanic achievement of our friend Jeanne and her son Pierre, in Normandy, who have set up an electronic database by means of which we can print out address labels for the monthly newsletter, for those of us who receive the newsletter by mail. So we now no longer have to write out all the addresses by hand...
Volunteer initiatives like this one have multiplied in the year 2004, from the sports team ‘Enfants de Ningxia’ which participated in the humanitarian fund-raising ‘trailwalker’ event in Hong Kong [last month], to the London students translating this newsletter into English every month, a Spanish friend of the Association who spontaneously took up translating the monthly newsletter into Spanish, and finally the students of the French department at the People’s University of Beijing, who also have done a huge amount of translation work which will soon allow us to introduce our Chinese version of the Association’s website. Not to mention all those who have conducted fund-raising activities, or putting on plays of Ma Yan’s Diary in schools. We would like to thank all these friends here.
As one of our projects in 2005, we will pursue the goal of getting further educational institutions equipped with computers. We have also been asked by the primary school of Zhang Jia Shu to help them improve their infrastructure.
But certainly the most ambitious of the projects currently under discussion is the creation of a ‘House of the Children of Ningxia’ in Yuwang, which would be our first permanent establishment. It would serve the dual function of allowing young girls who have had to leave school, and who in many cases have been married by force at just 15 or 16 years of age, to maintain a social link with education and have continued access to it, as well as of allowing such access to the wider population of this disadvantaged region, whose agriculture has been hit hard by droughts. They would gain access to vocational training which might allow them to diversify and generate income from outside agriculture. This project is still being studied and further elaborated on, but we are already in discussions with two foundations, which could ensure the necessary funding. Some contacts have also been established with certain NGOs specialising in the improvement of agricultural techniques in regions like Ningxia, which suffer from water shortage.
If anyone has any doubts about whether this last mentioned project makes sense, it may be enough to read the letter which we have just received from Ma Shiping, a cousin of Ma Yan’s who was married at age 16 and is already a mother. This letter follows a visit we paid to her in October, originally coming to tell her that some friends had committed to ensuring the education of her child, but discovering her in a state of despair, without milk for her daughter who was then less than a year old. Ma Shiping now writes :
“You have given me back the confidence which had left my heart for a long time and made me regain some hopes for my child, for today and for tomorrow. (...) I have always tried to remain true to my dreams, but various external factors always bring me back to reality. I am carrying a heavy burden of life on my shoulders and I will never be able to return to the beautiful moments of youth. I know that I will always be a mother from now, and that I can no longer have the same dreams as other young girls of my age, hoping for an attractive future. But I do not want to give up ; I want to liberate myself from the fatality of my circumstances and go back to the world of my dreams ; I want to be a modern young person with an ideal and a goal in life. Can you tell me if this is possible ?”
In 2005 we will try to answer her question with “yes”.
With best wishes.


Pierre Haski

 

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Letter 27 - October 04

Dear All
Our Association has had some historical moments...
Computers. On Monday, 25 October, we inaugurated the multimedia room for which we had provided funding to Yuwang High School, Ma Yan’s old school. Fifty brand-new computers have been installed and connected as a network. On them we could see the students, children of those who are among the poorest in all of China, make their first typing attempts on the keyboards, with the help of software specially designed for beginners.
This inauguration also gave occasion to an official open air ceremony in the in the courtyard of the school, in front of the new school building, and before hundreds of students who had assembled there despite an icy wind. A number of political authorities and authorities representing the edcuational sector had made the journey, thus giving us the greatest offical recognition since the beginning of our initiative in Ningxia, three years ago. The speeches were of an exceptional emotional warmth : the actual realisation of this project which has been our most large-scale project so far, was greatly appreciated and has increased our standing in the eyes of our partners in the region. These computers were paid for thanks to a special sales action by the french company Hermès.
We were also able to distribute their first school uniforms to the students - blue and white overalls bearing the name of the college - paid for by the Association for around 1000 students, at the suggestion of the school director. For him it was a question of dignity, allowing his high school to resemble the schools in China’s greater cities.
The well. The following day we went to Zhang Jia Shu, Ma Yan’s native village from which our initiative took off, and there we could see that work on the well was progressing well. This work, too, is one of the Association’s larger projects, and it has been paid for by Procter & Gamble France. The well was nearly done when we got there, and we could see the water glitter at the bottom of the shaft, about 100 metres deep. The workers were just preparing to put drains in place, and a few days after our visit the villagers should be able to draw water from this well - water very precious in this semi-arid region.
This well does not sort out all the problems the village has with satisfying its basic needs : for water from this well is briny and unpleasant and not suitable for human consumption. It will be used for agricultural needs and for livestock, which is already a considerable improvement to the situation before, as it savs the people a walk of more than an hour to what used to be the nearest well. The company in charge of digging the well thought that there was enough water to meet the needs of the population ten kilometres round in this basin
The villagers, who were taking turns to check up on the progress of the construction work, all expressed their lively satisfaction with the realisation of this dream : this had been the first matter people talked to me about when I first came to the village in May 2001...The old well had dried up several years previously, and there was absolutely no money for reconstructing it.
During this trip we also visited two establishments whom we are helping. Firstly the primary school of Ma Gao Zhuang, situated at 10 kilomteres from Yuwang, where we now have a total of 21 bursary recipients, and where thanks to a donation made by a French company in Shanghai, the purchase of teaching material. At this school too we were asked to donate computers : with the successful example of Yuwang, the idea has caught on like fire...The school’s director, with whom we have a very cordial relationship, made a fervent plea for such a measure, which would allow the poor children at his school a chance to escape from the margins of China’s ongoing process of modernisation.
We also paid a visit to the primary school of Zhang Jia Shu, where we are ensuring free education to all school-age children. There, too, we were given a splendid reception and were honoured by rows of students lined up to greet us, and with official speeches. In this school, we have some difficulties with assuring complete financial transparency, which may partly be due to a rapid change in directors : three in one year...We insisted on the necessity of guaranteeing transparency of all accounts, which is not a small matter in a context of such great misery as this. We met with further requests to give funding for improving the school’s equipment and for construction work that would improve study conditions. We made a commitment to help on the condition, again, that the accounts be entirely transparent.
This trip has given us an opportunity to survey the route so far taken by the Association, in the service of improving the conditions of education and life in this region which has become important to us. The near completion of these two big projects, the computers and the well , have been great new achievements, and this gives us great encouragement to continue on the same route. We have begun a dialogue with various partners in the region, offical as well as unofficial ones, to look for ways of bringing about a more sustainable development, less dependent on a disaster-stricken agriculture. This is not an easy task inasmuch as it cannot build upon any tradition or pre-existing activity, but it seems indispensable to us of this region is overcome its misery and marginalisation.
Ma Yan. On our trip we also paid a visit to Ma Yan and her family. Ma Yan has left the High School at Yuwang for a modern senior high school in the town of Wuzhong, near the provincial capital. She is a boarding student there, and is now benefiting from study conditions clearly superior to those she had at her old school. She is happy to be able to pursue her school education in such conditions. The director of this enormous school (3.600 students !) insisted on our visiting his establishment ; he was delighted with the prestige conferred upon it by the presence of the author of a diary that has gone round the world...Ma Yan’s family has followed her into this town, abandoning their village in order to rent a modest apartment in Wuzhong. Her two brothers also go to school there, while the father is working in the high school....Ma Yan’s mother now owns a mobile phone : she has come a spectactularly long way indeed.
Hong Kong. On this trip I was accompanied by Diane Michaud and Evonne Tsui the two representatives of the hildren of Ningxia in Hong Kong. They came along to see for themselves what the reality was like in Ningxia, and to bear witness to others on their return to Hong Kong. Their company was all the more important because our presence in Hong Kong, this small but particularly prosperous corner of China, is now gradually taking shape. Firstly, through our connection with the Lycée français international (LFI) a group of whose students and teachers travelled to Ningxia last May, and which will embark upon a new adventure on 5 November : two teachers and two parents of students at LFI will, with support from the school direction of the lycée and a solid logistic group, will carry the colours of the Children of Ningxia on the occasion of a famous humanitarian march which takes place each year in the New Territories, the zone [around Hong Kong] directly bordering on mainland China. They will have to walk 100 kilometres in very difficult territory, which will bring in funding for the causes they fight for. Deep thanks and bravo to the volunteers thus combining a sportive challenge with one of active solidarity.
The ‘MacLehose race’ was the occasion for us to publicise the presence of the Association in Hong Hong, around our two ‘pillars’, Diane Michaud et Evonne Tsui. I joined the team doing the walk in mid-October for a photo sesssion and for an encounter with the Chinese language Hong Kong press, which devoted a number of pages to this initiative as well as to Ma Yan’s story and to the work of our Association. Further activities are being envisaged to make our initiative better known on the occasion of the race.
Nîmes. Another active outpost/pole of our initiative is the region of Nîmes, where there is an active group around Pascale Godebska-Minet. On 15 October, the Carré d’Art of Nîmes held a reception for about 150 people in the context of the national French ‘Reading Fesitval [Lire en Fête]’, at the initiative of Diane Donnet who is responsible for the ‘Young People’ sector [of this arts centre]. This reception revolved around Ma Yan’s story. The letter written by Ma Yan to her mother was read out by a Chinese child, and several participants, among them Emmanuelle Polack who is the general secretary of the Association and who had come to Paris fo this purpose, provided background information on Ma Yan and on the plight of the children of Ningxia. Another public gathering earlier on, in a multimedia library, had brought around 45 people together, most of them children. It had been organised together with the Association ‘One thousand Colours [les mille couleurs]’.
So our movement of solidarity born almost three years ago with the publication of Ma Yan’s Diary lives on and is thriving. In October it connnected chidren in the south of France listening to the reading of extracts from the diary, to children in Yuwang making their first contact with computers, an experience of which their status as poor peasants had until then deprived them. The magic continues...Again, many thanks for your support. Can you pass this letter on to friends around you ?
Best regards

Pierre Haski


 

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Support the team of Enfants du Ningxia at Hongkong’s Trailwalker !

On November 5 and 6, a team bearing the colors of Enfants du Ningxia successfully took part in the famous Mac Lehose Trailwalker race in Hongkong. This grueling 100-km race, organised yearly by the british development NGO Oxfam, is aimed at raisong funds for humanitarian causes.
Our team was made up of two teachers and two parents of pupils at the French International Lycee of Hongkong, who had volunteered to follow the tough trail in the New Territories, the zone in northern Hong Kong, directly bordering on mainland China. A support team largely made up of other teachers and parents from the french lycéee had been set up to provide logistical and sanitary support for the team. Deep thanks and congratulations to the volunteers thus combining a sportive challenge with one of active solidarity.
The ‘MacLehose race’ was the occasion for us to publicise the presence of the Association in Hong Hong, around our two ‘pillars’, Diane Michaud et Evonne Tsui. I joined the team doing the walk in mid-October for a photo sesssion and for an encounter with the Chinese language Hong Kong press, which devoted a number of pages to this initiative as well as to Ma Yan’s story and to the work of our Association.
This race can only be successful with active sponsorship. If you wish to support our team before or even after the race, you can contact our Hongkong representatives at the following e-mails :
Diane Michaud : bigzora@netvigator.com
Evonne Tsui : evonnetsui@yahoo.com


 

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7 septembre 2004 2 07 /09 /septembre /2004 00:00
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THE LETTER FROM THE NINGXIA/
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Letter 26 - September 04

Hello,
The return of September marks the beginning of a new era for the Association of the children of Ningxia, in various senses, for not only has the number of bursaries we have granted risen to around 400 - the precise number has not yet been settled - but also two ’big’ projects of ours have finally begun to be realised, and Ma Yan has moved to a high school in the provincial capital of Ningxia, Yinchuan.
THE NEW SCHOOL YEAR. Those of you who have been with us in this movement of solidarity from the beginning will recall that at the beginning of 2002, we started by helping 20 girls, including Ma Yan, to continue their school education. Two and a half years later, the number has risen to about 400 children of this disadvantaged Chinese region who now receive our support for their education. Our action is primarily affecting three educational establishments in the region : the primary school in the village of Zhang Jia Shu, for which we have been guaranteeing, since December 2003, free access to education for all children of school age, i.e. around 250 children ; the middle school of Yuwang which is attended by a number of children from Zhang Jia Shu receiving our support, and the combined primary and middle school of Ma Gao Zhuang, not very far from Yuwang, to which we have now for the first time allocated 21 bursaries to be granted at the school director’s recommendation. He is an old acquaintance as he used to be the director of Yuwang middle School. We also support some youths who after finishing their three years at Yuwang are now attending senior high school, in most cases in the district capital Tongxin.
These considerable achievements have been made possible by the growing support for the Association for the Children of Ningxia, in France as well as in other countries where The Diary of Ma Yan has been published. All the people who have made donations are cordially thanked here : your generosity translates in to concrete improvements which we are now able to put in in place. A part of the royalties from The Diary of Ma Yan also goes into the coffers of the Association which, let me remind you, undertakes to accompany those whom it ’adopts’ as bursary recipients through to the end of their school education.
MA YAN. A new beginning, too, in the life of Ma Yan, who in September started her life as a Senior High School student on a new footing : she has become a boarding student in an educational establishment in Yinchuan, Ningxia’s provincial capital. So her dream is being further realised.
COMPUTERS. The actual installation of the computers for Yuwang middle School depended on the completion of the new building, which had been considerably delayed. Now, the brand new school building has finally been completed and we have been able to have two new IT rooms equipped with 50 computers, which are connected to a network. The funding for this project had been obtained through a generous donation by the French company Hermès. ’Mission accomplished’ eighteen months after we made our promise to the director of the school, who had pleaded in favour of such an action with the following words. ’If our students leave the High School without ever having used a computer, we will effectively have produced illiterates in this new technological age.’ We will inaugurate the computer cluster rooms, so uncommon in a school in a disadvantaged Chinese region like Ningxia, on the occasion of our next trip out there, which is scheduled for October.
We received an unexpected request from the high school director, after the computers had arrived : he was delighted about the new building and about the two cluster rooms, but regretted the unaltered appearance of the students, dressed so poorly. And he asked us to provide support by donating school uniforms for 1.200 students ! After some deliberation, we agreed to this step, which reminded our friend Emmanuelle Polack of the school of Jules Ferry and its aprons, which concealed social inequalities among its students. Here, the uniforms (in China, it is usually sportswear worn on top of other clothes) will be concealing social misery ! They will be produced locally, which will provide work to the women of Yuwang.
WELLS. Another great piece of news, after a long waiting period, is that work on the well of Zhang Jia Shu is about to commence. We had been prevented from making any progress on this head by the continued absence of a clear local authority in the village over a period of several months, after the village head and party secretary had been dismissed. Finally, as she saw that nothing was happening, Hélène, a member of the association who traveled to Ningxia this summer, extracted a paper authorising us to begin work on the well, duly stamped, from a local functionary at Yuwang ! We then found a local company to carry out the work. Let me remind you that the only well of Zhang Jia Shu had dried up eight years ago, and was never rebuilt. The funding for this project is covered by a ’sustainable development grant’ which we received from the American company Procter and Gamble, after having entered a competition for this grant, together with the publishing house Nathan. Another promise made to the inhabitants of Ma Yan’s native village, which is shortly to be realised.
THANKS. We have received a very warm letter of thanks from Mr Yang Zhenglin, the director of the school at Ma Gao Zhuang, to which we have been providing help in several forms since spring 2004 (i.e., the donation of teaching materials, a donation of about 500 kg of clothes collected by students of the lycée français of Beijing, and an additional 21 bursaries starting September 2004). ’This is my first year at this school,’ he writes, ’and I feel that the children of this school are truly in need of help. And today, the children of this district have received signs of love from far away, from another country ! I thank you and express, in the name of the school, of the teachers as well as the students and their parents, my deepest appreciation of the spirit of internationalism which you have so generously demonstrated. And his letter concludes ’may our friendship last forever’ !
ANNOUNCEMENT. An event focusing on Ningxia and its problems of education will take place 15 October in the Carré d’art of Nîmes, in Southern France, with high school students of this region. This event is being organised by Pascale Gobedska, who represents the Association in the South of France, and who had already organised a panel discussion last February in Nîmes- and by Diane Donnet, who is responsible for the youth department of the Carré d’Art. Several participants have been pencilled in, among them Emmanuelle Polack who is the secretary general of the Association.
Another initiative, this time in Hong Kong, should see a group of demonstrators representing the Children of Ningxia, consisting of professors from the Lyçée Français International of Hong Kong, participating in a 100 km long march with the general purpose of collecting funds for humanitarian causes, at the beginning of November. We will come back to you about this planned event next month.
In China, the Beijing International Society (BIS) asked me to give a presentation on the Diary of Ma Yan and on the work of the Association. This event took place in September, and allowed us to make a number of contacts. The Association has also been invited to join a network which is being established between Chinese and foreign NGOs working in China, and certain companies desirous of becoming involved in social causes. An original and potentially important new initiative, just as the country is assuming an important role in the process of globalisation. I will keep you informed of all further developments regarding this promising initiative.
Yet again, many thanks for your support. Please pass this letter on to others !
Best wishes


Pierre Haski

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Letter 25 - Summer 2004


Dear All
The schools in Ningxia have closed now for the summer vacation, not without one last stressful event in the form of the exams for the finalists. Since they decide what institution the students can move on to, these exams are of enormous importance in China. Ma Yan has taken hers, as she has arrived at the end of her Middle School years : she passed and will therefore be admitted to High School, a level she would never had dreamed of reaching when we first met three years ago.
This school year has been rich in events for our Association, and so this is perhaps a good moment for a brief account-taking. Two years ago come this summer the Association of the Children of Ningxia was born out of the publication of Ma Yan’s Diary, first in France and then in other countries. Run exclusively by volunteers, the Association has, I believe, successfully met its two objectives : to help as many children as possible to go to school in this disadvantaged region, and to promote solidarity abroad around the notion of the right to education.
Our current and future intervention centre around three educational institutions in the area :
(1) The Primary School of Zhang Jia Shu, at which we have provided free tuition for its around 200 students of school age from this village, which is Ma Yan’s native village. At the beginning of the new school year, we will extend this free tuition to about forty students who will be moving on from their primary school to nearby Yuwang High School, for their fifth year in school.
(2) Yuwang Middle School (1.200 students), where Ma Yan has just spent three years. Apart from the individual bursaries we provide here, we will be able to set the school up with computers if, as envisaged, the new school building is completed this coming September. We are also planning to further equip a library to the school, and we are in discussion with the school management about helping with the reconstruction of the dormitories for boarding students, which are currently in a piteous state. One of the most emotional moments at Yuwang this year was a visit from fifteen students and their teachers from the Lycée Français in Hong Kong. This encounter could form a lasting link between the Hong Kong Lycée, and Yuwang High School.
(3) The combined Primary and Middle School of Ma Gao Zhuang, which is at ten kilometres’ distance from Yuwang. The director is an ‘old’ acquaintance who used to be a vice director at Ma Yan’s High School in Yuwang. In June, nearly 500 kg of second hand clothes were sent there from Beijing, thanks to a collection sponsored by the Lycée Français at Beijing, and to donations received at an auction at a Beijing art gallery, earlier this year.
We are still planning to construct a well in the village of Zhang Jia Shu, using a ‘sustainable development grant’ which has recently materialised. This project has been somewhat delayed due to the absence of local partners with the authority to take decisions. This was because the village leaders were dismissed for having diverted certain funds (not ours).
The Association’s activities have been made possible by many volunteer actions throughout the year, both in China and in Europe. Our internet site is being gradually improved thanks to Chinese students at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Télécoms in Paris and to translations into English being done in Beijing and in Britain. The translation into Chinese will be done by students at a French Department in a Beijing university...A gallery for contemporary art China Arts Seasons, organised an auction of art work donated by around 50 Chinese artists last September, and gave the profits to our Association. There is also a pedagogical project based on Ma Yan’s Diary, which has by been circulated in dozens of French schools. Also, the Association now has a regional ‘branch’ in southern France, which organized a successful public debate last winter in Nimes.
Our funding has three main sources (1) donations from the public, which continue coming in due to the publicity generated by Ma Yan’s Diary (2) profits from a percentage of the copyright in our two books, Ma Yan’s Diary and Ma Yan And Her Sisters, (3) proceeds from special projects initiated by sponsors such as the french brand Hermès for the computer room in Yuwang, Procter & Gamble for the well project, and a French company located in China for the teaching material donated to Ma Gao Zhuang, as well as other initiatives like the auction of art works at the gallery in Beijing. This newsletter will be sent out, by email or mail, to more than 500 people, many of whom will be widening its impact by passing it on to other supporters. The letters (all the french ones and some of them translated into English) are available online at our website, and constitute the written memory of the Association.
Ma Yan’s Diary, in the meantime, continues its journey... after its recent publication as a paperback in France it will be coming out in Great Britain on 1 July (ed. Virago). This will be the first English language edition, followed by an edition in the United States next year. The publication in English has gained us some further articles in the London press (The Sunday Telegraph Magazine, The Times Higher Education Supplement), and a broadcast programme on BBC World Service ‘Outlook’. In the United States, we had a radio programme dedicated to us on July 3, with an already recorded interview with Ma Yan and a live interview with me, and questions from listeners. You can "listen" to this programme on the internet (http://www.hereonearth.org).
On the occasion of this account-taking, the most important achievement is that we have kept up our commitment to the people in Ningxia. The consequences of the publicity around Ma Yan’s Diary have obviously not all been positive, but as we thought, there have been hugely beneficial effects for the inhabitants of Zhang Jia Shu as well as the wider region in which it is situated. The solidarity from the readers of the Diary has not just shown itself in empty words, and the next year should see the continuance as well as further improvement of our initiative. It has also drawn attention to the fate of these children deprived of a school education, also within China. This has been an important side-effect of our work. As an internet user commented when the book came out in China : ‘We will not be able to say that we didn’t know what was happening’...Finally, there is the promise given to Ma Yan herself, and kept, as those of you who met her when she visited the Paris Book Fair could see for yourselves. She had found back her smile and her hope.
I wish a good summer to all of you. I will be back in touch at the beginning of the school year, to continue our journey together with the Children of Ningxia.
Best wishes

Pierre Haski

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A hunger to learn.

The Times Education Supplement, July 2, 2004

With little food, no money and a six-hour hike to a dilapidated school, life for a 13-year-old girl in rural China could hardly be more different from that of British teenagers. In an edited extract from her diary, Ma Yan details the pride and the privations

Ma Yan is the 16-year-old daughter of poor subsistence farmers in Zhangjiashu, a village in southern Ningxia, a remote province of central China. When her diary was passed on to Pierre Haski, China correspondent for the Paris newspaper Liberation, she had just been taken out of school at 13 because her parents could not afford the fees. To make ends meet, they both had to work as itinerant labourers in inner Mongolia, harvesting fa cai, a wild grass sought after in Hong Kong and Beijing.
Ma Yan’s diary, published in the UK this week, records her distress at having to work so her younger brothers could stay in school. When Haski visited her village again a month later, her parents had borrowed 70 yuan (about £4.60) so she could return to the middle school in Yuwang, a market town four hours’ walk away, as a weekly boarder. The diary tells how she made the trek on dangerous mountain roads every Sunday with her brother, carrying the sack of rice they lived on all week (they could only occasionally afford bread or vegetables and she went hungry for weeks to buy a pen). The family is much better off since Ma Yan’s diary was published in France in 2002, and she is now about to start high school.
Here are scenes from a month in her life in late 2001. To keep her at school, her parents have left the children alone while they go off to harvest fa cai, although her mother has a stomach ulcer.
Thursday, 11 October, 2001. A fine day.
This morning, after our last class, I stay behind to do an essay. Suddenly the head of games comes in and tells me to go outside and join the ranks.
"All the others are already lined up. There’s only you left."
I go out to the sports ground and concentrate on standing very straight.
The other comrades have just started their games. Some are skipping with a rope, others are playing football, and still others are engaged in a game of tag. I’d like to play too, but my heart isn’t in it.
When I hear these children who aren’t boarders talking about their families, I automatically think of my own.
Suddenly Ma Yichao (her brother) runs past me, as fast as the wind. As soon as I see him, I stop having these dark thoughts and go off to play with the others.
I don’t know what’s wrong with me these days. I’m all upset about things. I don’t know quite what I’m doing or thinking. My moods go up and down.
Wednesday, 17 October. A fine day.
We have a free period this afternoon. Our English teacher dictates a text to us. Two of the comrades can’t manage it. The teacher hits them very hard with the leg of a chair. Bruises immediately appear on the arms and legs of the pupils.
This teacher wants us to do well, but he hits too hard. I think he enjoys it. I weep without showing the tears. I think their parents would be weeping, too, if they saw how badly their children were treated.
The teacher is in a rage and shouts, "If you still haven’t learned your lessons by the next period, I won’t give you another chance. I’ll only choose the brightest students to answer questions." During the class, the teacher chooses me several times. My comrades look at me with envious eyes.
They would do anything to get the better of me.
I mustn’t worry. I mustn’t let anything prevent me from attaining my goals.
I’ll try and do something to change their jealous glances into admiring ones. I’ll be as strong as my mother. When she encounters difficulties, she confronts them alone and no one dares laugh at her.
Failure is the mother of success. But it worries me to see the teacher striking the pupils. What will happen if they get hurt ?
During the evening study period, these comrades managed to learn the words they hadn’t known before. Why do they work better after they’ve been beaten ? Their parents hope they’ll become accomplished people, but after so many difficult years of study, how will they fulfil these expectations ?
A skinny dog no longer manages to jump over a wall, even with help.
That’s one of my mother’s proverbs. It’s only now that I grasp its full meaning.
Friday, 19 October. Fine, but then grey.
Today my father has come to town for the market. He waits for me by the door while I’m still busy in class. I’m so happy because that means he probably has some money for me. Otherwise he wouldn’t wait.
As soon as classes are over, I rush out to meet him. He gives me five yuan, which I’ll have to give to the teacher for books. He asks me if I’ve run out of bread.
I explain that the steamed bread is long finished. He buys two rolls, one for my brother and one for me. I hold on to mine. It’s precious. I’ll eat it tomorrow on the long road home.
When I get to the vegetable part of the market, I meet comrade Ma Yongmei.
I borrowed a roll from her not long ago. She asks me to return what I owe her. I give her the bread rolls. But she doesn’t want that. She wants money. Where am I going to find money ?
Friday, 26 October. A fine day.
My father gave us four yuan and told us to get a ride home on a tractor today. My parents are meant to have gone off to work again, and they were worrying about our safety.
But how in all conscience can I squander money on a tractor ride ? My parents are working so hard, breaking their backs, their faces fixed on the yellow earth. How can we possibly allow ourselves the extravagance of a tractor ride that is paid for with our parents’ sweat ? My brother and I prefer to walk home.
We set out at 11 in the morning and it is almost five when we finally reach home. We push open the door. Everything is quiet. The yard is empty.
There’s no one here.
When it was dark, my brother went off to ask our paternal grandmother if she would keep us company. She didn’t come and there’s only us, my two brothers and me. We go to sleep silently on the kang. Outside, everything is quiet and we’re very frightened. If Mother were here, I don’t know what she would be talking about. It would probably be one of her funny stories.
But she isn’t here.
Even cuddled up in bed, we feel the cold. I don’t know how Mother manages to sleep on the damp earth - especially since she’s ill. What a terrible life she has. I so very much hope she’ll soon be happy.
Monday, 29 October. A fine day.
Good news today. On Wednesday we’re going to have our mid-term exam. I’m very happy about it. I fully intend to demonstrate my abilities. I’m no worse than anyone else, apart from the fact that I eat and dress less well than they do. Some girls change their school clothes often. But I’ve only got one outfit, a pair of trousers and a white shirt, which I wash on Saturdays so that it’s clean by Monday.
But what matter ! I only want to study and pay tribute to my parents’ hands.
Despite the cold, they’re working far away from home for us. And I mustn’t disappoint them.
Tuesday, 30 October. A sombre day.
It’s freezing. My brother and I have no more bread. At lunchtime, the comrades are all eating and we have to stand by and grit our teeth.
Seeing my tears, my brother says, as if his heart were light,"Wait, sister, I’m going to borrow some lunch tickets." But I know he feels no better than I do. I go back to my dorm and sit on my bed and wait for him to return.
I’m dreaming of this bowl of yellow rice.
He takes a very long time to come back. Then he says, "Sister, there’s no more rice."
He turns to leave. I watch his receding back and I can’t help letting the tears flow.
Do you know what hunger is ? It’s an unbearable pain. I wonder when I’ll stop experiencing hunger at schoolI Friday, 2 November. Wind.
All these last days we’ve been doing our mid-term exams. I think of nothing else, not even my sick mother who’s working far away. Whatever she does, it’s for our future. There’s no question of disappointing the hope our parents have placed in us.
For the exams, some of the comrades have torn out pages of their books and hidden them in their pockets. They’ll be punished. Others write answers to difficult questions down the length of their arms. Do you think that’s fair ?
I haven’t even opened my book. In primary school a teacher explained to us that before an exam, there’s no point re-reading all your notes. It’s better to relax, have fun. "That’s the best way to get good results," he said.
I haven’t altogether followed his advice. Instead, I sat on the edge of my bed and thought of my parents’ suffering.
I can’t disappoint them. I will do well.
Saturday, 3 November. A grey day.
The weekend starts today and I’m full of joy. I hope that my parents have come home. I’ll tell them all about the mid-term exams.
I’m busy planning all kinds of projects when a comrade whispers : "The politics teacher knows our exam results."
But another comrade is furious. "He doesn’t. He only knows how the best students did, not the results of the dunces like us who aren’t ranked among the top students."
I hurry over to the teacher’s house. It’s already full of students. I’ve only just come in when I hear the teacher’s voice. "Ma Yan got 114 points in maths. She’s come top of all six classes. She got 90 points in ChineseI The English results haven’t come in yet."
I’m so overjoyed, I burst into tears. I don’t know where so many tears can come from.
I’m so moved, I still can’t even find words to describe how I feel. Never have I had a moment like this one. Never will I forget it.
Monday, 5 November. A fine day.
I have a total of 299 points. I come second. Someone who is repeating the year comes first. Tears of joy pour from my eyes. The teacher congratulates me and says everyone should take me as a model.
But the more he talks, the sadder I become, because Mother has had to go far off to work. Everything the teacher said today will stay etched on my mind. If I follow his advice, I think I’ll be able to overcome my difficulties.
Next time, I shall try to come first.
Tuesday, 6 November. A dull day.
During class today, the politics teacher compliments me once more. He admits that up until now he had paid no attention to me, noticing neither my qualities nor my faults.
"In her mid-term exams, comrade Ma Yan has shown lots of potential - potential I hadn’t suspected she had. I judged her wrongly. You should know that a comrade of ours wrote in a composition : ’When we hadn’t done well in an exam the teacher insulted us, complaining that he had taught a class of idiots and all in vain.’ This same girl went on to say, ’Teacher, you shouldn’t underestimate us : failure is the mother of success.’ This is both a piece of advice she offers to your teacher and the expression of her own feelings. This girl is in our class."
Everyone is staring at me. It’s true, I wrote those words. If I did well in these exams, it’s largely because of what this teacher said. If he hadn’t called us idiots, I would certainly not have gone on to get the results I did.
Wednesday, 7 November. A fine day.
I’m so hungry, I could eat anything. Anything at all. When I talk about hunger, I instantly think of my mother. I don’t know if she’s got home safely. Me, I’m happy enough coming to school every day and being hungry.
But Mother has to run up mountain slopes every day. On top of it all, she’s ill.
It’s three weeks since I’ve seen her. I think of her all the time.
I’m terribly hungry. There’s been no bread or vegetables since Tuesday.
When I eat my rice now, there’s nothing to go with it.
I even took some food from a comrade’s bowl without asking her. When she came back to the dormitory, she called me all manner of names.
What can I say to her ? When I hear her sounding off, I think of my father who left my brother and me four yuan. We’ve been living on that for three weeks, and I still have one left over in my pocket. My stomach is all twisted up with hunger, but I don’t want to spend that yuan on anything so frivolous as food.
I have to study well so that I won’t ever again be tortured by hunger and lack of money. When I have a job, I’ll certainly be able to guarantee some happy times for my parents. I’ll never let them go far away to work for us again.
Thursday, 8 November. A fine day.
It’s market day. In the English class, I’m sitting next to the window.
Suddenly, I see a shadow from the corner of my eyes. I lift my head. Behind the window, I see Mother. I’m staggered. It’s so long since I’ve seen her.
Even through the window I can see that her face is all black and swollen.
The class comes to an end. I’ve taken nothing in. It’s not important. I’ll ask the teacher what I’ve missed at the next lesson. First, I have to find Mother.
Father and Mother are waiting for me in the street. I’m so happy ! We walk down the street, all together. We talk about all kinds of things and forget about our stomachs. Suddenly Mother taps her forehead : "But you two, you haven’t eaten yet ?"
We shake our heads.
She takes us to the market. She buys us vegetable soup for fifty fen and we also get bread to dunk in the bowl.
After we’ve eaten, we go off to buy winter clothes. With good padded clothes, we won’t be cold. We each get a jacket and shoes and socks. In no time at all we’ve spent over 100 yuan. What a pity ! I feel both happy and sad. Money is so hard to earn and so easy to spend.
I don’t know how Mother and Father have earned these hundred yuan, how many days it took, how many tens of hours, hundreds of minutes, thousands and thousands of seconds. And I spent all this hard-earned wealth as if it were nothing at all.
When I grow up, what won’t I do for my parents !
Copyright (c) Editions Ramsay/Susanna Lea Associates, Paris 2002. This translation copyright (c) Lisa Appignanesi, extracted from The Diary of Ma Yan, published by Virago, £9.99. Order from Grenville Books at the discount price of £8.49 plus 99p p&p on 0870 160 8080. Enfants du Ningxia, a French-registered non-governmental organisation, was set up in 2002 to support schools in Ma Yan’s region after Liberation covered her story. It pays for primary education for the 200 children in Ma Yan’s village and in the past year has given secondary school scholarships for 65 students, mostly girls.One term at a primary school costs 100 yuan (£6.60), one term at the lower middle school - including boarding - is 500 yuan (£33), and at high school 700 yuan (£46).

Enfants du Ningxia, 45 rue Notre-Dame de Nazareth, 75003 Paris, France.
www.enfantsduningxia.org ; email : enfantsduningxia@yahoo.fr


 

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"Here on Earth, US public radio, july 3, 2004

On july 3, 2004, Here on Earth, a Wisconsin Public Radio programme, interviewed Ma Yan and Pierre Haski, with questions from listeners. You can listen to this 52’ show on the radio’s web site :

http://clipcast.wpr.org:8080/ramgen/wpr/hoe/hoe040703j.rm

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Neither One Child’s Fight Nor a Fight for One Child

(Beijing review, 03/06/2004)

Ma Yan is not a heroine, nor a prodigy, but an ordinary schoolgirl whose dream used to be, and still is, going to school. She had dropped out from her primary school twice because of poverty. As a persevering and assiduous girl, she won sympathy and support from foreigners to continue her studies. Now, the 16-year-old is a little famous figure not only at home, but also in France and other countries, after her first book-Ma Yan’s Diary : The Daily Life of a Chinese Schoolgirl-was published in nine languages.
Her sad story with a happy ending began three years ago at her home village in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, one of the remote, poor areas of China. At the time, Ma was distraught because her parents couldn’t afford to keep her in school. She wrote down her thoughts in a series of journals, which she didn’t realize would change her life. One day in summer of 2001 Ma’s account of the struggle against hunger and poverty was given to a group of visitors from Beijing, along with a letter that Ma’s mother had received from her daughter.
One of the visitors, Pierre Haski, correspondent of the Paris newspaper Libération, was touched by the letter, in which Ma lamented that there was no money to keep her in school. “I want to go to school, mom. I don’t want to work at home. How wonderful it would be if I could stay in school forever !” the poor girl wrote. One month after reading this journal, Haski and his interpreter returned to the small village and met Ma and her parents. Ma was back at school, only because her parents borrowed money and her mother had taken a laborer’s job to pay off her loan. The visitors gave them some money to allow the 13-year-old to stay in school and pay off the loan.
After Libération published Haski’s report about the schoolgirl and her plight in January 2002, the reporter began receiving checks from readers. As a result, Haski set up the Association for the Children of Ningxia to use the donations to keep other farm girls in school. In addition, a French publishing house proposed to publish Ma’s diary, so he returned to Ningxia with a contract.
Ma and Haski, whom she calls Uncle Han, decided to give 25 percent of their royalties to the association. After her book came out in October 2002, the association’s membership grew to 300, and more donations poured in. Thanks to its publication, Ma’s family is no longer poor, and 250 other Ningxia youngsters, mostly girls, now have scholarships to continue their study.
Ma is now a junior high school student in Tongxin County, her hometown, where a so-called “Ma Yan effect” is functioning. More farmers, for example, began changing their traditional idea of treating men as superior to women, sending their daughters to schools. At the school Ma attends, the number of female students have increased from 170 to 370 in the past two years. Interestingly, a wave of journal writing is spreading among local children and teenagers. In Ma’s school, almost every student writes a diary. Some, it is reported, want to experience the same good luck as Ma.
Yes, Ma is lucky to have found foreign support. She understands that it is reporting that has changed her life. Ma said her ambition is to “study journalism at university.” Her reasons are based on her own changing circumstances and those around her. “Uncle Han and others traveled across the country and found poor children like us. I’d like to be a journalist so I, too, can help poor children,” she said.
Substantially, what is discussed here is neither one girl’s fight for her educational right, nor an international campaign for only one child. Ma knows there are still many poor children in Ningxia and other underdeveloped regions, mostly in west China, whose right to go to school is being threatened. But she may not know that now more than 100 million primary school-age children worldwide may not be sitting in class as she is-and about 60 million of those missing out are girls. And the crisis extends to another 150 million children who will never complete their primary education.
What makes these statistics alarming is the colossal numbers for a world that is entering a hi-tech era. No country can reach real sustained economic growth without achieving near universal primary education. Particularly for girls, education is related to lower infant mortality rates and higher life expectancies. What makes the statistics terrifying is that the world community is too tardy to curb the problem efficiently.
This is a vicious cycle-poverty is often the cause of dropping out of school, and the latter leads to poverty. Children of poor families are particularly apt to be dropouts. Poverty, with its attendant evils-ignorance, unemployment, drug abuse, school dropouts, violence-is the tumor of our globe. Education, in a fundamental sense, is the key to break this cycle.
It is increasingly recognized around the world that the most readily identifiable tragedy in modern life is the illiterate child. On International Children’s Day, June 1, all adults should ask themselves : What the best gift can we give to our children ? Perhaps the most meaningful thing we can do is to help the poor children in any way we can.
Ma’s case indicates that journalism can play a positive and concrete role in this endeavor. This is not only the responsibility of government and its educational departments. There should be no professional boundary in promoting education. All professions and trades are the products of education and should contribute to schooling. But the role of journalism is special. Mass media can help us know where these poor kids are and how serious their situation is. Moreover, the fourth estate and public opinion serve as a supervisory force for government’s educational policies and funding.
Her story also illustrates that there is no national boundary in supporting the young in difficult circumstances. When Ma grows up and realizes her ambition of being a journalist, we do hope she and her colleagues may broaden their horizons-do something beneficial not only for Chinese youth, but also for those poor children in countries and regions around the world.

 

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Letter 24 - may 2004

Dear all,
HONG KONG in NINGXIA. It was a truly astonishing sight : on 22 May 2004 fifteen students of the Hong Kong Lycée Français and four of their teachers could be seen retracing Ma Yan’s old way to elementary school as she had described it in her diary. They got off their bus at a few kilometres’ distance from the village Zhang Jia Shu and decided to walk the rest of the way, despite the heat and the dust.

This was one of many moments during this unusual trip, an encounter between students of Hong Kong’s Lycée Français and Ningxia, Zhang Jia Shu village, the villagers, and Ma Yan’s school, that will stay with us. The students from Hong Kong were welcomed by the families of Zhang Jia Shu, villagers who shared a simple meal with them, allowing them a glimpse of the simple lives they lead and of the daily difficulties they are having to struggle with : most notably, the lack of water. This year has been particularly bad. No snow in winter means that the cisterns are empty and that water now has to be bought at the exorbitant rate of 60 Yuan (6 Euro or about £ 4 ) per cubic metre, an extortionate price for these poor peasants who are among the poorest in China.
Later at Yuwang, the students met up with Ma Yan who is a student there now. A big ceremony was held, with officials making emotional speeches and the French students distributing the presents they had brought with them : books, sports equipment, an electric organ, and a notebook and pen for each of the 1150 students Then the French students split up into small groups to meet and chat with Chinese students in their individual classrooms. Then everybody came back again for big meal together. After that, they made use of the universal language of sport, improvising a Sino-French basketball competition. Despite their height the French boys lost against the Chinese, but then the French girls won : it would have been difficult to arrange for a more ‘diplomatic’ result !
As the French students’ bus was leaving the school director had tears in his eyes : never before had his small, rural school received this kind of oxygen boost. It had been an extraordinary experience for him, just as for his students. But on the part of the French, too, according to Anne-Marie Bordas, the teacher who had taken on the laborious task of carefully organising this visit, it had been ‘a great and enriching experience.’ It has been an opportunity for the French students who for the most part study Chinese and had been working with Ma Yan’s diary in class, to come in close contact with the real difficulties faced by students going to school in the deprived Ningxia countryside : difficulties like the water problem, for instance, which means that boarding students, hundreds of them together, cannot wash at school ; the poverty of the dormitories - Ma Yan and the majority of other students have to share their beds with another because there is simply not enough space - ; and the sparse, deficient equipment. - But at the same time the visitors from Hong Kong had met students determined to learn and lift themselves out of their difficult condition. Among them Ma Xiaomei, one of the young recipients of a bursary from the Association and also one of the heroines of ‘Ma Yan and her sisters :’ that day in class and in conversation with the French students she was smiling, gentle, spontaneous, and impressed her visitors very much.
For us this visit was a moment of human solidarity shown in a different form from the material support we can provide. The children of Ningxia certainly need bursaries ; but beyond this they also need to be taken out of their mental seclusion. This encounter with some young French students has managed to capture, better than anything else, the spirit in which we have entered this region - have, indeed, intervened there to help. We are greatly encouraged by the reception they got, and it shows how far we have come already since our project was first accepted there [by the authorities]. This shows that it has now really become entrenched in Ningxia. So we hope we may repeat this experience and - why not - perhaps also repeat it in reverse direction. Incidentally, this was the first time we saw Ma Yan back from her trip to France. She was radiant, though very busy preparing her entry examinations for Senior High School, in June...
PROJECTS. This trip accompanying the French students has allowed us not only to re-establish contact with our local partners but also to check on the progress of our projects :
At Zhang Jia Shu, the primary school at which we provide free tuition to 200 village children at school age, a small palace revolution had occurred, which led to the appointment of a new director as a result of some internal conflicts. Despite these shake-ups, which now appear to have calmed down, the contract which we concluded last December to ensure free tuition for all children of the village appears to have been honoured throughout : we ascertained this much from various families in the village who assured us that they had not been required to pay any money for the second term, to the villagers’ great satisfaction. We decided to extend this free tuition arrangement to 35 students who will move on to High School at Yuwang (a boarding school) for their fifth year at school. The one remaining problem now is that some families do not want to send their daughters to school even when it is free. We will have to of incentives that can make them change their minds.
We have also been able to bring up, in discussion with a district official, the well construction project for Zhang Jia Shu village, for which we have obtained a ‘sustainable development grant.’ This is a laborious and lengthy process, though, since the village leaders have been dismissed on account of having diverted public funds (the surge of corruption does not stop short even before the poorest of the poor, though, truly, the sums diverted in this way are meagre.). A new school management team will be appointed, which for us means a new set of local partners with whom to negotiate.
Some good news from Yuwang : work on the new school building has recommenced after an interruption of several months. Completion of the building work is expected this September. This will enable us to equip two of the new classrooms as computer rooms, a project for which we have already received special funding thanks to a special campaign last year. We are now discussing with the director of Yuwang High School how to help with building new dormitories. This is a project for which we might yet again try to enlist the help of some large companies, such as French companies with Chinese subsidiaries or branches.
Ma Gao Zhuang village : the old deputy director of Yuwang High School, after being appointed director of a school in the community of Ma Gao Zhuang which is situated at a few dozen kilometres’ distance from there, wrote to us last April informing us of his transfer but also about the desolate conditions at his new school in Ma Gao Zhuang. We had had an excellent working relationship with him and so we took the opportunity of visiting him during our last trip out. The school there, which is a combined Primary and High School, has 350 students altogether and they are visibly poorer even than those of Yuwang. We decided to provide some on the spot financial support in the form of twenty bursaries for children from the most destitute families, to be distributed when the students return to school for the new term. We also made a donation ‘in kind’ of some urgently needed material : the school is in need of practically everything. And beyond this, a significant quantity of clothes collected by the Lycée Français at Beijing will be sent to the school at Ma Gao Zhuang, to be distributed at the end of their school year. We will also fund a big end-of-year banquet, as we have done already at Yuwang, to everyone’s great pleasure and approval.
The widening of our commitment which all these new activities represent has been made possible by strengthened support for our Association. Our commitments remain economically sound, and the new ones will not threaten previously made commitments in any way. By September, a total of about 350 students will be receiving support from the Association. In addition, three educational institutions, all belonging to the region which Ma Yan has brought close to us, will be receiving our support in the form of teaching and other materials. So your support is needed more than ever...
All the best

 

Pierre Haski

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