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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 février 2002 5 01 /02 /février /2002 00:00
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THE LETTER FROM THE NINGXIA/
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Letter 3 - 29 January 2002

Hello,

Thanks for all your messages and for the concrete commitments you have made in them. The sums you have promised will allow us to do, without further hesitation, what we have been talking about for two weeks now : to help Ma Yan to realise her dream of education by concrete measures, and to help a few more children to find their way back to school education - for their own sakes, but perhaps also to avoid jealousies and rancours arising around Ma Yan about this money so suddenly come from outside.
The opening of a bank account for collecting your donations has not been so easy, given that we are not a [charitable] association in the legal sense (the future will show if it becomes necessary to create one), but I have been able to open a bank account under a special name with my BNP bank branch.
My idea is that we should try and send her a first sum by postal order before the Chinese New Year on 12 February - the principal holiday in China, like our New Year and Christmas together. I will then travel there in person, together with my assistant, toward the end of February (it is impossible to go any earlier, partly because of the holidays, and even more compellingly for work reasons - Bush will be in Beijing on 21 and 22 February...). Once there, we will be able to determine how much money Ma Yan really needs, and ascertain if it is possible to set up some modest scheme for bursaries to be granted to some children in her district, with the help of contact persons there.
I will report to you about each step I take in this process, and I will also keep regular account of the sums collected and the use to which they have been put. I will also pass on to you letters from Ma Yan - which we will be asking for, to keep track of her progress in school and her life in general. And I’ll give you an ‘exclusive’ report about my trip to the village, pictures included by email attachment...
I hope that this action plan will be approved by you, and that you find it true to the spirit of our common effort. Please do not hesitate to make comments or suggestions. I have already received some in your previous letters, especially some information on organisations sponsoring children - though alas, none of these has a presence in this entirely forgotten region.
With best wishes
Pierre Haski


P.S. Some more people have joined us since this correspondence began.

 

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7 janvier 2002 1 07 /01 /janvier /2002 00:00
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THE LETTER FROM THE NINGXIA/
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Letter 2 - 21 January 2002


Dear All
I have received largely favourable responses to my proposal about helping Ma Yan ; only one response expressed some reservations. My assistant has already written to Ma Yan this week, to tell her that the article about her came out, that it drew a very nice reaction from the readership, and that it is important that she keep on doing well at school, now that one is prepared to help her. So perhaps we should get going now without waiting any further, and start by helping Ma Yan first, as planned. This part of the project is not too difficult to realise.
I am trying to open a bank account in Paris, the details of which I shall pass on to you as soon as I have them. Can you please let me know what sum of money you would like to put your names down for, and whether you intend to make a regular or a one-off contribution, and in the former case, for how long you think you can commit yourselves. This is not about creating any legal obligation but simply so that we have a rough idea of the size of the contributions and the scale on which we can plan.
Before the end of January we should be able to send Ma Yan a first payment through Wang Zheng, the photographer living in Ningxia, as our middleman. We should also be able to continue sending her money - a sum yet to be determined - at regular intervals, so that she can not only pay her school fees but also have enough for food and clothes ; in short, enough to ensure conditions in which she can study better, and which will one day allow her to escape her present condition. We will ask Ma Yan to let us know by return of post that she has received the money, and to tell us a little about her life as it is now.
This letter as well as any that follow will be passed on to you in translation, with each transfer. This will be a first way of ascertaining that the money has arrived safely and is in her hands. I expect to be able to go to Ma Yan’s village as soon as possible, accompanied by my assistant (and at my own expense : the money donated will exclusively serve to help the children) in order to see if it is possible to put some kind of mechanism in place whereby bursaries, corresponding to the sums we have collected, can be granted to other children, a plan you appear to have accepted, with only a few reservations. I will keep you informed about each further step taken, hoping that the entire project will remain simple and direct, and that it will have a positive impact on the life of Ma Yan and her village in Ningxia.
As the person who started all that is happening now, by publishing my report in Libération, and as I am also based in China at the moment, I find myself organising a charity action, doing something that is neither my proper job, nor even something I’d ever thought of doing until as shortly as a week ago ! It goes without saying that if any other format can be found for this project, especially if it is possible to entrust a creditable existing organisation with the running of this initiative, I’ll gladly hand over.
But while we try to find such an organisation - and this may take some time - it seems preferable to me that we get something started on the basis of what has united us for these past days. All this rests on the trust you can put in me without knowing me, and I hope to show myself worthy of this trust, while of course also giving you as much security and transparency as possible. This includes my assistant He Yanping who is as much involved in this matter as I am. I sincerely hope that we can make part of this journey together, in the interest of Ma Yan.
Cordially
Pierre Haski


 

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1 janvier 2002 2 01 /01 /janvier /2002 00:00
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THE LETTER FROM THE NINGXIA/
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Letter 1 - 17 January 2002


Dear All
As a consequence of the report published in Libération, there are now about twenty of you, based in France, Belgium and Britain, who have shown your willingness to help Ma Yan to continue her school education. Although the individual contributions made are modest, you can imagine that the sum total still represents a lot of money in a province as poor as Ningxia.
But as I told you in my previous message - and there is a paradox in this - sudden influx of money may actually destabilise a community like this, and end up doing more harm than good. This would especially be the case if just one child were to benefit from an extraordinary bounty, while all the others remained plunged in obscurity and misery. Therefore, let me put the following suggestions to you. They are obviously subject to changes and to your feedback, to which I am looking forward.
OUR AIM : Our idea is that we will create a fund, for the main purpose - of course - of helping Ma Yan, whose personal initiative started our movement of solidarity. We want to help her to take her education as far as possible. But it seems quite clear to us (‘us’ meaning my assistant He Yanping, who was also moved by this young girl’s story and by her personality, and who is determined to help her so she can continue her studies) that if we helped only Ma Yan, we would risk generating envy in her environment, which could turn against her.
Moreover, the donations that have been offered mean that even when she is assured of regular and long-term help, there will still be enough left to let some other young girls also go back to school, and break out of the vicious circle in which they are now entrapped in. The alternative to creating a fund of the kind I propose would be that every one of you sent Ma Yan a donation. This would have the advantage of simplicity, but carry the risk of throwing this village, already in crisis, completely out of balance.
OUR METHOD : There is no thought here of creating yet another NGO. But there is also no reliable organisation already in existence and operating in Ningxia, which could be entrusted with this project. Therefore, we have to work out a mechanism that runs as smoothly as possible and at the same time allows us to be transparent and efficient. Efficient, because we want every penny to reach its intended destination ; and transparent, because everyone amongst us has a right to ascertain that their donation is used in a proper way.
As for helping Ma Yan herself, this is not too complicated. We have already sent a first sum of money to her by postal order, to cover the current school term, and we know that she has received the money. We have asked her to write to us regularly, so we keep informed about the progress of her studies, and she is doing this. Her letters will be translated, and they shall be passed on to you in due course. We are perfectly able to continue with this commitment and to fix a certain monthly sum to be paid out to her as a bursary, which will allow her to pay her school fees as well as to improve her living conditions and thus allow her to study better.
The easiest way would doubtless be to open a bank account for Ma Yan in France, which would allow us to pool the donations, and then make transfers of larger sums of money from this account : this will minimise bank charges and help to avoid errors or mistakes upon arrival of the money.
It is more complicated to work out how to help other girls deprived of school education with further bursaries, if our funds permit it. How to select them ? How to get the bursaries paid out to them ? And how to follow up on further developments ? The easiest would be, it seems, to go through the Education Bureau which the article mentioned. This Bureau has all the files on local families who are in difficulties and unable to pay their children’s school fees. Then the required fees could be paid directly to the respective school, in such and such a child’s name, so as to avoid the payment of intermediaries. In this case, just as in Ma Yan’s, the children would be required to write regularly to let us know how they were doing. And it would also be necessary actually to go there at regular intervals, once a term perhaps, to make sure that all was well...
The photographer Wang Zheng, who was our guide when we first came to Ningxia last spring, and who is himself from the ‘triangle of thirst’ in the south of the province, though he now lives in the provincial capital Yinchuan, has agreed to help us with this project. He would be an indispensable contact in the province.
Together with him, my assistant and I myself would be at the heart of the project, establishing and maintaining contact between you and Ma Yan as well as other future beneficiaries of the project, and following up on the developments in the village to ensure that the entire mechanism was working properly.
It might be a good idea to enlist the help of a representative from a humanitarian organisation such as MSF (Médecins Sans Frontières) or the Save the Children Fund, or, as one of you suggested, the Alliance Française, which also has an educational mission, on this project. Such a person could help us to avoid mistakes and ensure the transparency of our project which, modest as it is, does involve some financial transactions.
Sorry to have written such a long letter, but I think it is better to tackle all the questions that will inevitably arise, before we actually start. I am looking forward to having your views : Do you agree to set up a fund as suggested, or would you prefer to address yourselves directly to Ma Yan ? Do you agree on the proposal to help other young girls, once Ma Yan’s own needs are taken care of ? Do you agree on the mechanism I have suggested ?
Cordially
Pierre Haski


Beijing, 17 January 2002

 

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