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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 mai 2006 7 07 /05 /mai /2006 15:46

First a word to explain my long silence since the last letter in January. It is due to the fact we had to restructure ourselves after my return to Paris, and that responsibility was passed over to Perrine in Beijing. But be assured that silence does not mean inaction: the stipends for the second semester have been secured as usual, the French students of the Lycée Français International in Hong Kong have made their usual and very successful visit to Ningxia, and Perrine has made several trips there to organize our action and to envisage new possible routes of operation.

HONG KONG. In April, Anne-Marie Bordas, a teacher of Chinese at the Lycée Français International of Hong Kong, led a group of students on a visit, the third of its kind, to meet with students from the Yuwang and Ma Gao Zhuang schools. In the account Anne-Marie gives of the village, she evokes “scenes of pure joy and of happiness shared by our students from the Lycée, and the Chinese college students, especially those at Yuwang. Our boys from the second form taught the Chinese students, with their rudimentary Mandarin, to play tag,  and we saw the large courtyard behind the college filled with hordes of students, crying and laughing… The same adolescents, a bit earlier in the day, had been covered in dust from gusts of wind whirling up the sand, and armed with spades and hoes, planting trees and creating a new layout for the space around the buildings of the college”. Fundraising activities carried out over several months in Hong Kong allowed the students not to arrive empty-handed. In particular, they realised an old dream: the dream of filling the library of the college at Yuwang, whose shelves had been desperately empty except for some old Maoist brochures from bygone times, which were gathering dust…The French students also brought teaching materials to Zhang Jia Shu, Ma Yan’s native village, for the elementary school children there, and based on a list provided by a doctor responsible for this area, they had bought some medical supplies which they left with the doctor in charge, in Li Jiawa, near Zhangjiashu. This doctor was absolutely delighted at this gesture and he even killed a sheep and offered it to the small group of visitors. The students asked the doctor lots of questions in order to gain an understanding of the healthcare situation. “This initiative was apparently very well received both by the doctor and the local population,” Anne-Maire tells us. These exchanges should continue next year, despite the departure of Anne-Marie who has been in charge of this project from its inception; at least, everyone wishes for it to continue...

NINGXIA. Apart from the stipends and the financial aid given to boarding students, this spring we were able to furnish the new canteen built for the college at Yuwang, upgrading its equipment so that it no longer has much to envy an urban college about, were it not for the poor sanitation which is due to the absence of running water. Perrine, our co-ordinator in Beijing, has made several trips there during the last few months and she has led consultations and deliberations about two ongoing ‘construction projects’ regarding which were are moving ahead with caution: healthcare, and a micro-credit programme.

Regarding healthcare, we have already paid for urgently needed surgery for children or for parents of our stipend recipients, on a case-by-case basis. As Perrine emphasizes, ‘entire families can fall into absolute poverty because of illness’ – hence the idea of a fund for medical surgery in order to deal with the most important cases (how to define these, though?) has been launched now…Could one perhaps adopt the same approach as toward education - help the entire community, but also reserve some funds for those most destitute/impoverished, and to try to establish selection criteria, and stick to them? An ambitious project for this year.

Regarding microfinance, we are in discussion with a Chinese NGO. Perrine and I met the director of this NGO last December. He runs a spectacular micro-credit project for a community of stock-breeders in another part of Ningxia. Perrine has since met with him again and he could extend his activity to the district of Yuwang, where we are operating, and allow our friends to benefit from his experience. The question of how to fund this remains open but discussions are underway, notably with PlanetFinance, an  NGO which specializes in microfinance and is already providing this Chinese organization with technical support. Another big project for this year, one which could have considerable impact but requires a big effort, and above all a lot of energy. Fortunately Perrine lacks neither.
FRANCE. The work of the association is going on at a calmer pace in France. After the success of the concert and photo exhibition in December at Sèvres in the Paris area, the operation ‘cookbook’ is in full progress! Our friend Pascale from the Southern branch of the association has had the book with recipes made last year for the benefit of the association reprinted; it has been selling like hotcakes. This book –in french-, entitled Little recipes for a great cause is therefore again available, at a price of €15 (plus transportation costs), the full amount of which will be used for our action on the ground in Ningxia. Do not hesitate to order it and perhaps sell it amongst your acquaintance, a gesture both nice and useful for the support of our friends in Ningxia.

Best wishes

Pierre Haski
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7 mai 2006 7 07 /05 /mai /2006 15:43
Hello to all,

And first, a happy Chinese new year of the dog. This turn of the year will also mark a change in our association. After more than five years spent in China, I have returned to France in January. That means also that I will have to cease coordinating the activities of the Children of Ningxia, a task I took on when the association was founded in 2002. I will of course continue to be actively engaged from France, together with our team of volunteers there.

On the ground in China, we have fortunately already worked out my succession: Perrine Lhuillier, a friend of the association practically since its inception, and based in Beijing, has agreed to take over the coordination of the Children of Ningxia in China. Perrine has been working in China as a consultant since 2004. She has already been to Ningxia three times, and has met our friends, contact persons and some of the children there receiving assistance from us. Before agreeing to join us in her new function, Perrine conducted an audit of the association in 2005, pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of our organization, what we have achieved by, it has to be confessed, rather unusual methods. She also opened up some new avenues for the future. She holds a degree from the Institute of Political Studies in Lyon, France, and a master’s degree in Theory and Practice of Human Rights from Essex University in the UK, has studied Chinese at Fudan University, Shanghai, and is thus extremely well prepared for the task of opening up a new page in the history of the association. Welcome, and good luck!

In the course of the month of December, Perrine accompanied me to Ningxia for a visit, during which I took leave from all my friends there, and officially introduced my successor to them. It was a very emotional trip: many tears were shed especially with Ma Yan and her mother, Bai Juhua. These two had been the closest companions during our unusual adventure. And there was some real emotion, too, when we met the directors of the two schools at Yuwang and Ma Gao Zhuang. We have formed ties of trust and friendship with them, even though this was not a foregone conclusion. And emotion even among the authorities of Yinchuan, the provincial capital of Ningxia, with whom our relationship was at times even more complex…

But the most important aspect of this trip was a new initiative bringing some new hope. The association decided for the first time to grant a micro-credit, in order to allow a young woman who had been forced, by her family, to leave school at 16 years of age and get married.We helped her to open a shop, thus escaping from the vicious circle of misery she had been caught up in. The young woman in question is not unknown to the association: Ma Shiping is Ma Yan’s cousin, friend and onetime rival as described in The DIaryof Ma Yan. Her premature marriage came as a shock to us. At the time I wrote Ma Yan and her sisters when I realized how widely different their fates would be: one of them happily pursuing her studies, the future wide open before her, and the other having crashed into a wall at only 16 years of age, finding herself condemned to a life of misery and confinement/constraints.

When Ma Shiping told us about her plan to open up a shop in Yuwang, the community in the south of Ningxia on which her village depends, we did not hesitate long. This certainly is a way for her and her husband to leave/abandon agriculture, in this region made difficult by chronic drought, and an alternative to migrant work on the building sites [chantiers] of the big cities, which in this kind of situation often is the only remaining option for survival. So we gave this modest credit to Ma Shiping – 2000 Euros, interest-free, allowing her unexpectedly to open a shop. The form of a micro-credit is ideal in her case, since it is obvious that she would not have access to an ordinary bank loan. She can thus avoid a form of charity assistance which is never healthy in the long run, even though it may help one to get through particularly difficult times. 
We will provide the same kind of support to another young girl whose story is similar to Ma Shiping’s: Ma Xiaoqian was also married at the age of 16 in the village of Zhang Jia Shu, Ma Yan’s native village. She, too, figures in Ma Yan and her sisters...
We will keep you posted about how these projects, whose success is obviously not guaranteed, will develop. Success is not guaranteed, partly because our friends have no previous experience, but partly also because of the very difficult economic situation in this region, and just as much because of our own lack of experience with micro-credits… Incidentally, during our stay in Ningxia we came across a remarkable Chinese NGO, which has been working with micro-credits in rural areas in another part of the province; an enriching experience. It is at least a route that deserves to be tried out, and we are planning to extend this option to other families, too, and to look for the funding required to do so.
This trip to Ningxia certainly allowed me to look back at the path/way/route we have covered over the past three years, since the publication of Ma Yan’s Diary (2002) and the foundation of Children of Ningxia  The schools of Yuwang and of Ma Gao Zhuang, and to a lesser degree that of Zhang Jia Shu, have changed beyond recognition: computer rooms in the two first-mentioned institutions and 1200 students in uniforms in all three of them; free tuition, including boarding fees, for all; and most recently new dorms at Yuwang, with new metal beds all bearing an inscription “donated by the Children of Ningxia.”
Solidarity of this kind will one day, thanks to your support, have made it possible for hundreds of young people in this small corner of ‘the other China’ to improve their chances in life -- people whose lives are not touched by the triumphant figures about economic growth being trumpeted in Beijing, Shanghai, and other big cities. Figures which, as numerous commentators have observed also inside China, make the enormous disparity between cities and the countryside, the affluent and the excluded, appear all the more cruel.
Of this, we had a new illustration during our last trip. In Ma Yan’s comfortable apartment in Wuzhong, a big Ningxia city where they have been living since Ma Yan has been going to senior high school, we met a woman from Zhang Jia Shu whom we know well. We told you the story of the miraculous surgery that helped a child in the village with a congenital deformity of the foot to walk normally, thanks to the intervention of a friend of ours in Paris, Hélène. Another son of this impoverished family now also had a health problem: decalcification had led to his stumbling and breaking his leg. Ma Yan’s family paid part of the medical costs arising from this, 1200 Euros, a real fortune for these poor peasants. We decided to take care of the second operation necessary to prevent this child from being crippled all his life. Without this help from two different quarters, there would have been no way for him to get appropriate medical treatment, in a country in which access to healthcare has become a luxury for the overwhelming majority of 700 million Chinese peasants.
We will seek in 2006 to improve the ways in which we operate in Ningxia, still giving priority to education, but also paying attention to other areas so far as possible, as indicated in this newsletter. It is in place here to remember that the association only works because there are volunteers supporting it, and that it works mainly on the basis of public donations and of donations from specific projects, such as a charity concert in France in december and a sale of toys in Hong Kong in December: your help can make a difference on the ground.

All the best.

Pierre Haski
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15 octobre 2005 6 15 /10 /octobre /2005 00:00
Dear all,

The new school year of September 2005 in Ningxia is remarkable in a number of ways. Firstly, we have the joy of now counting for the first time a university student amongst our scholarship recipients. Yang Xia, who is from Zhang Jia Shu, Ma Yan’s native village, and who has been supported by the Children of Ningxia for three years already, has been admitted to Yinchuan University in the provincial capital of Ningxia. She will be studying telecommunications there. She is the first girl from Zhang Jia Shu to go this far in her studies, and we are so proud to have accompanied her on this difficult road.

Actually, we have three university students this year, two boys in addition to Yang Xia. Our Parisian friend was in the native village of Bai Juhua, Ma Yan’s mother, on the occasion of a celebration of the departure of one of these boys to university. Everybody gave him a present and wished him luck. It means quite something in these villages to have made it into university. In order to get there, one has to study hard - but also be able to pay for one’s studies. For Yang Xia, we have had to make a bank order for RMB 8100 for one academic year (about 800 Euros), covering the tuition fees as well as modest living expenses for one year in the provincial capital. This corresponds to about 20 years’ income of a peasant in her home village. In other words, without support from the association or from another public or private organization, no child from this district could hope ever to gain access to higher education.

As mentioned in our previous newsletter, the government this year introduced free tuition for the nine years of compulsory schooling in China’s poorest districts, including the one we are active in. We have accordingly made some sensible changes to the way we provide support. From the beginning of the new school year in 2005, we provide support to the three schools with which we co-operate in the following manner:

1) The association takes care of those fees for which the students’ families themselves remain responsible: The fee for room and board for students from faraway villages who only return home on the week-ends. This affects more than one thousand students in Yuwang and Ma Gao Zhuang;

2) For those who already received bursaries from the association, the amount of the payment has been reduced in order to reflect the reduction of costs due to the abolition of tuition fees; but we continue with a smaller payment to allow the children of the poorest families to buy food and clothes;

3) The bursary system remains unchanged for senior high school students; that is, for those who go beyond the nine years of compulsory education;

4) The association accompanies those who succeed in getting into university.

A total of 1200 students will have receive support from the association at the beginning of this new school year, a record number in terms of students and also in terms of expenditure, since we will have spent nearly 14,000 Euros.

For the new school year, the association has also paid for school uniforms (overalls bearing the name of the school) to be made for all the students of Ma Gao Zhuang and Zhang Jia Shu, that is, nearly 600 children. This is what we had already done for the students at the school in Yuwang. We came to realize that these uniforms were an object of considerable pride among the student who never took them off, not even on week-ends back in their villages…

The abovementioned changes in our system thus reflect and complement the step taken by the government toward making education free, which has been promised for the whole of China by 2010 - for the nine years of compulsory education.   It has become possible for us to have a more equal impact on the school age population of the district and thus to have a real impact on its society as a whole. And on top of this, the admission of the first bursary recipients to university has been a boost to everybody’s spirits. People are shown a way to break out of a miserable fate, dictated by chronic droughts.

An entirely different event at the beginning of this summer reminded us of the point to which the situation remains precarious in China, and uniquely so in Ningxia. Xiu Xiu, a thirteen-year-old girl in Ningxia, committed suicide. She left a note for her parents saying that since she could not get good school results, she would rather save them the expense of letting her go on with her studies, which she herself put at 100,000 Yuan RMB, that is, at about 10,000 Euros. A few days later, a text posted on the internet forum of the very official People’s Daily bore the title ‘From The Diary of Ma Yan to Xiu Xiu’s Letter.’ The author who signed himself Yun Zhitao, drew a parallel between Xiu Xiu’s tragedy and the lucky story of Ma Yan, of which he remembered the details. He added: ‘No one would have expected that two girls’ stories acquiring nationwide fame would come out of Ningxia within short time from each other – out of a region where nothing ever happens. This is not a mere coincidence. The line from The Diary of Ma Yan to Xiu Xiu’s letter illustrates two things our education system persistently fails to be: universal, and fair.’ He adds further that the reality falls far short of the optimism spread by the Ministry of Education, and reminds us that at a time when the statistics were [also] very good, Ma Yan was obliged to drop out of school because she had no money, and that it was entirely due to the lucky coincidence of her diary’s publication that she could go back to school. The author emphasizes also that the education system is turning less and less egalitarian and more and more elitist, based on money and power. And he appeals to China to invest more in its educational system in order to make education truly universal and fair. This lucid comment is not exceptional in a China that has liberalized too rapidly in certain sectors, it sometimes seems, and that is now beginning to realize this. This summer, China Youth Daily (of 20 July) commented as follows on the problems with higher education: ‘University student poverty is continuously on the rise. This is primarily a result of the increasing disparities between modes of living, and of economic growth, which directly affects the costs of studying. The poor students, who are generally from the countryside, have no access to goods enjoyed by the more fortunate students, and they will therefore tend to isolate themselves from their fellow students. This results in a certain social disequilibrium right inside our universities. The support provided by government is in reality not more than a small compensation for this.’ The magazine Caijing, in turn, criticised the ‘rise of bureaucracy in universities and the end of the public monopoly on education, [which] have turned Chinese university into one of the most expensive in the world.’

Our action, targeting education in a Ningxia district, is taking precisely the direction which numerous participants in this debate have been hoping for, especially the author of the comparison between Ma Yan and Xiu Xiu. It is encouraging to see to what point this debate has progressed since the beginning of our action, and especially encouraging to see that Ma Yan’s Diary has contributed to this progress, and has indeed become a reference point in this debate. Yet now that we have our first university students, and given the costs of studying, we have also embarked on a road which threatens to become a heavy burden on our accounts, since we have several dozens of bursary recipients who will in the course of the next few years be entering university. It is up to us, then, not to disappoint them, and to find ways and means of increasing the association’s revenue from donations, up until now tailored to the far more modest expenses incurred at school. So the association depends on your support more than ever.

Pierre Haski
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14 juin 2005 2 14 /06 /juin /2005 00:00



Letter 31 May-June 2005

Dear All,
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.


Pierre Haski




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1 mai 2005 7 01 /05 /mai /2005 00:00
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Letter 30, April 2005

First, let me tell you the story of a real “miracle” in Zhang Jia Shu, Ma Yan’s native village. We had already mentioned the operation on a small boy with a congenital deformity of his feet, paid for at one of our members’ initiative, in a previous newsletter. Hélène had taken pictures of the boy’s feet last summer, and shown them to specialists in France; they thought that a successful operation was possible, and she collected the 700 euros required for it amongst her acquaintance. The operation took place in February. There was a perfect chain of solidarity to make it go smoothly; the Association contributed logistical support, and Bai Juhua, Ma Yan’s mother, helped the child and his mother to travel from their home to the hospital in Yinchuan, the capital of Ningxia.

At the beginning of April, I travelled to Zhang Jia Shu and could see how successful the operation was. This child, who had until then been obliged to walk on the outer sides of his feet in a waddling, duck-like manner, is now wearing shoes and walking on the soles of his feet. He still has some minor problems with his right foot, which will be corrected in the hospital; but one only has to see the joy of this little boy who is now ‘like the others,’ and most of all the unlimited joy of his parents, poor Ningxia peasants, to understand the positive effects of this operation. For this moneyless family such an operation seemed impossible; healthcare nowadays has to be paid for in China and is therefore unaffordable for more than half of China’s 800 million peasants. Seven hundred euros to change a life - that is certainly worth it!

It was originally not the mandate of the Association to take care of medical problems, and indeed this would be an immense task far surpassing the means of our small association. But in this case, just as much as in another case also mentioned to you in an earlier letter, where the mother of one of our grant recipients had an operation paid for by a group of UK students, it would have seemed absurd just to let the children go to school but then allow medical problems to plunge their families into misery. So the idea of a ‘healthcare fund’ is taking shape; but we have to proceed with caution, to avoid raising expectations which we cannot meet.
This brief trip to Ningxia at the beginning of April also allowed me to consider the question of school fees. In the previous newsletter I reported on a recent official announcement that the school fees would be abolished for the children of the poorest families during their nine years of compulsory school education. Without being able to speak for the whole of China, I can now confirm that at least in that district of Ningxia in which we operate, this abolition of fees has been implemented in the second semester of 2005. This is excellent news and exactly what we were fervently hoping to happen for the poor families receiving help from us. And we can be proud of having made a modest contribution, by the publication of Ma Yan’s Journal, to the now increasingly vibrant debate about the dangerous gap that has opened up between the richest and the poorest in China, in the course of a decade which saw rapid overall growth. This debate has been the prelude to the recent official decision on school fees that immediately concerns us here.
For grants paid to our students starting in March, the directors of the schools we are supporting have indicated that we can reduce the amount. During the discussions we had in April, we were able to ascertain that the primary and middle schools now only require the costs of food and boarding, which still affect the vast majority of students coming from villages too far away for them to go back and forth every day.
We therefore decided, with the consent of our local partners, to modify the way in which we provide support: the Association will henceforth pay for the boarding for ALL of the boarding students at the middle schools we support, at Yuwang and Ma Gao Zhuang, which means a good one thousand students in total. The sum to be paid is reasonable: 60 Yuan RMB (about 6 Euros) per semester. And we will continue paying out grants, reduced by half, in order to ensure that the living expenses of those students whom we were helping already are covered. What remains unchanged is the grants for the Senior high school students, who continue to have to pay school fees and boarding fees, as well as of course our commitment to pay the fees for university students who will no doubt emerge from amongst the peasant girls whom we are now supporting.
The overall financial commitments of the Association will only be slightly increased compared to what they are now by this change; but the impact of our support will be so much greater, since it will now benefit all the students of the institutions supported by us. We are of course delighted about this development, which is going just in the direction we wanted things to go, and which helps us to make our support less of a privilege available only to a few, and turn it into a more comprehensive effort to give better chances to these children from disadvantaged and excluded families.
We have also just equipped the two middle schools receiving support from us, in Yuwang and Ma Gao Zhuang, with 80 more computers. Yuwang High school had already got 50 computers last autumn, but given the number of students there, this one computer room soon appeared insufficient. Now the college will have a second computer room. Also, at the request of the director of Ma Gao Zhuang High school, we will pay to have school uniforms made for his 450 students. We could see for ourselves how the uniforms and the computers gave the students of Yuwang middle school, who are at the bottom of the social ladder in China, a new kind of pride. It is enough just to go into a village on a Sunday, and see how the students keep wearing their uniform overalls bearing the name of their school.
Donations from the public, which remain important, as well as that portion of the royalties for the two books which has been devoted to the Association, will allow us to continue with this important project of providing the necessary equipment. But we must not limit our fundraising activities to this, and support from any available sources is vital. Several initiatives have been started in France and abroad to collect funds for the Association: we will report on some of these in a future newsletter.
One last point: it has now been a bit more than three years since we started our action of solidarity just after the publication of the first article on Ma Yan’s Diary in Libération, and before the subsequent publication of the book. For the sake of transparency and efficiency, it seemed important to us to have an audit. A young Frenchwoman who works as a consultant in Beijing has agreed to conduct an independent audit for free, and to indicate some avenues for future improvements in our work. She travelled to Ningxia at the beginning of April; and her assessment will be passed on to you for the purpose of information and debate. In the meantime, many thanks for your faithful continued support of the children of Ningxia.
Pierre Haski


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1 janvier 2005 6 01 /01 /janvier /2005 00:00
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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.

Pierre Haski



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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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7 octobre 2004 4 07 /10 /octobre /2004 00:00
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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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7 septembre 2004 2 07 /09 /septembre /2004 00:00
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Letter 26 - September 04

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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