Yearly donation of the French International School of Hong Kong and selection of new students
The French International School of Hong Kong has been a faithful partner for many years. Supervised by the educational team, the students there organize many events throughout the year in order to raise money for new school materials and the financing of several scholarships.
Each year, students in their 5th year of secondary school go to Ningxia in order to allocate school materials to the schools that need it. This very special trip is an important moment in the association’s life. It is the occasion to reaffirm our partnership with the French International School, but also the perfect time to follow up on our students as many of them have taken the Gaokao exam at the beginning of June.
The students of the French International School will arrive on June 18 and will allocate school materials to Tuochang primary school, Wangwan primary school and Liumiao primary school. They will also have the opportunity to meet the families, share lunch with them or participate in the morning exercise with the students of Tuochang school. Furthermore, they will have the chance to learn more about Chinese history and culture by visiting Mao’s fort, ruins of the Haiyun’s earthquake or Liumiao’s Taoist temple. They will of course also go to the village of Ma Yan.
After the students’ departure, the team of ‘Enfants du Ningxia’ will visit the families supported by the association for a routine check-up and the families who applied for a scholarship to select a few more students. Indeed, we are very proud to announce that thanks to your support, we will be able to help more children!
We are very much looking forward to this field mission which surely will be full of interesting moments. You will hear from us again as soon as we get back to Beijing.
See you soon!
Our association is organising a fundraising event at the French Cultural Centre in Beijing that is to be held at the beginning of June. We will display pictures of our students, as well as some of their stories. Here, we give you in advance the testimony of Ma Jing, a 24 years old student currently in her fourth-year of Medical school.
‘Even if it costs a lot, my family really hopes that I’ll be able to continue until master’s degree’
Ma Jing is currently studying medicine. However, her family’s situation is very insecure: her mother is too weak to work and her father, whose left arm is disabled, is supporting the family by selling sheep wool at the local fair.
Ma Jing is the eldest child in the family. She considers it her duty to help her family out of poverty.
‘Higher education offers me the possibility to succeed and change my life’.
Ma Jing is certain that studying will change her life. Even though she chose a long and difficult curriculum, she is perseverant. Her parents are proud of her and encourage her to continue as long as she can, in spite of the financial burden it imposes on the family.
‘I would like to become a general practitioner and work in an hospital’
Ma Jing dreams seem easy to fulfill now that she is already a fourth-year student, but her present situation is still precarious. Indeed, financial difficulties are a real problem for this family already severely affected by illness and disability. Despite all the challenges, Ma Jing is confident about her prospects.
Anne, one of our sponsors, came with us on a routine field mission to Ningxia in November 2011. Here is her account:
‘We took a night train from Beijing to Yinchuan, the provincial capital… 13 hours to cover 1200km… this ride went smoothly as the hard sleepers are quite comfortable enough to sleep in… we arrived in the morning, then took a taxi to the bus station where we hopped on a bus to Tongxin, a small town two hours and a half away south of Yinchuan, on the road to Xi’an. In Tongxin, Bai Juhua, the association’s local assistant and Ma Yan’s mother, was awaiting for us.
Shortly after, I discovered Ningxia’s traditional houses: long brick buildings surrounding a small courtyard. The freezing temperature was easily forgotten thanks to the vivid blue sky – Beijing’ s pollution seemed far away. I recognised the Hui physiognomy which I had discovered in Xi’an; although married women here wear a small blue hat.
We spent the afternoon visiting the students’ families in Tongxin and its surroundings in order to update their data and to verify if their actual situation matches with their declaration. I discovered the small rituals of each field mission: the family’s welcoming greetings, chatting, the house visit, the generous meal that they offer us and that we cannot refuse, firstly because it would be very rude and secondly because we are stunned by their generosity, knowing how much it represents to them.
I realise that this “verification”, although legitimate vis a vis the association’s functioning, becomes quickly superfluous when entering a recipient’s home: one room for an entire family, a single stove as unique source of heating, sometimes a distinct sink, a big brick bed covered by thin mattresses on which the whole family sleeps and eats, a small table being punctually set on it. Doors stay open (if there is a door!), with thick sheets to protect from the icy wind. In brief, these people possess nothing, they subsist on their meagre crop harvest or micro trade, earning about 10,000 yuans a year for five people (minorities are not subject to the one-child policy).
The two next days were dedicated to paying visits to families in smaller and remote villages, two hours away from Tongxin. We also stop in two schools built or furnished by the association.
I suddenly realised how barren this region is, characterised by high plateaus and canyons, with barely a single tree left since the deforestation caused by the Great Leap Forward. Agriculture is the main source of income for these family, even though not much grows spontaneously here. It rains one week a year, but paradoxically, people grow corn and watermelons by diverting water from the Yellow River, which will probably be dried up within 50 years. There are also some vegetables growing in greenhouses. Mountains of corn are drying (rotting?) next to houses and on the side of the roads.
I also discovered the zones of ‘new’ housing, lined up by the hundreds, ‘colonies’ that are the result of the country’s displacement policy which the province is eagerly implementing. The official reason is to provide appropriate housing to people in order to allow them to escape the poverty of the villages, offering them better living conditions near public facilities, such as schools and hospitals, or work. Paying families a visit in these new compounds does not really give the impression that anything has changed, or that their situation has improved in any ways.. same surface, same rustic character. In addition, the colonies we visited were located in the middle of nowhere… for example, a mother worked at the market situated 25 minutes away by car, but had no vehicle. Families do not move voluntarily, as we can imagine, they have to abandon their old home, often rented, and buy this new one for 17000 yuans.. thus mortgaging their children’s future a little more.
In short, China is developing ever more quicky, the province’s capital Yinchuan is already a forest of buildings under construction, as every Chinese city experiencing a swift urbanisation process. The difference between the East coast and the countryside at the heart of the country is representative of a dramatically widening wealth gap …
If you wish to learn more about this association who is doing a remarkable but unknown work, please visit their website: http://www.enfantsduningxia.org/. As for me, it will remain a link with China, a very attractive country not reducible to its cliché.
If any of you are so inclined, please participate in the matching funds day on GlobalGiving! This Wednesday, October 19th starting at midnight East Coast US time, all on-line donations will receive a 30% bonus as long as the $100,000 of matching funds last!
To inspire you, Blandine recounts below the touching story of the Liumiao Hope School and the plight of rural teachers. Our partners at Earthpulse Foundation have agreed to help us by supplementing the salary of the single remaining teacher, Zhao Xinxia.
In 2006, the French luxury company Hermès launched a limited edition of its famous "carrés" scarves designed with the logo of the association. These scarves were sold in Hong Kong for the benefit of Enfants du Ningxia. Thanks to the benefits of the sale, a program was launched in order to improve the school building and the teachers’ environment in the village of Liumiao.
The Hermès funds first allowed us to entirely rebuild the school in Liumiao (which was on the verge of collapse) and to finance the salaries of 3 untenured teachers in the new school from 2007 to 2010. Thus, in September 2007, the pupils were able to return to a brand new school with sufficient qualified teachers.
Following the administrative fusion of the villages of Hequ, Liumiao and Wantuan, the Educational Bureau of Tongxin decided it would no longer support the school in Liumiao. The teachers all decided to leave, and the government sent a new teacher, Zhao Xinxia, to take over the job by herself. As the Educational Board relocated children to other schools, the number of students in Liumiao fell from 120 to 31. These remaining children are spread out in age from kindergarden through the second year of primary school. Zhao Xinxia is lauded by all as a good teacher, but her salary is far from reflecting this appreciation.
Zhao Xinxia's salary is very low (600rmb or 94 US dollars per month on an 8-month basis), and while she really loves her job, she needs money to survive. So, if her salary does not increase, she will have to find another job to survive, and would probably become a migrant worker or go to work in the fields. If that were to happen, the school would be left without any teachers.
We wanted to find a solution to save the school, so we decided to go see the mayor of the three villages to get his advice. According to him, it would be a good idea to help Zhao Xinxia, but the fact is that it is very difficult for her to teach the entire range of pupils from kindergarden to primary school. For him, it would be better to hire a second teacher, so that the pupils can be divided into two classes, thus improving the teaching environment.
We also went to talk with Zhao Xinxia and this is what we found:
She appears to be a very energetic woman who really loves to teach. During the interview, she was really proud to show us what she had achieved with the pupils this year (drawings, writing samples,…). She seems to really love and take care of "her" children. A poignant example: as there is no heating system in the school, she brings her own stoves in order to heat the classroom in the winter months. As she told us, she does not want to work in the fields, but life is so difficult for her in Liumiao that, if she cannot earn a higher salary, she will be forced to stop teaching in order to survive.
As Zhao Xinxia seems to be a very competent teacher, this is what we are proposing to her :
Current situation : 600 rmb/month on an 8-month basis
Proposal : 700rmb/month on a 12-month basis
Her new contract will be drafted by Enfants du Ningxia, Zhao Xinxia herself, and the mayor of the village.
Thanks once again to Earthpulse for allowing us to offer Zhao Xinxia this increase in salary which is well worth it! We will give you more news about how she is doing after our November field trip. We also hope to find a second teacher to alleviate her task.
With all our thanks for your support,
Blandine Ricouart and Linda Mayer
As we account for the educational achievements of our recently graduated scholars, we feel very grateful for all of your support over the last 15 months (or more!). So once more, we would like to reiterate our thanks to you for your donations.
Since the last report, we have finished our follow-up of this year’s round of students, which is three-fold. The Gaokao, the Chinese high school graduation exam which is obligatory for students wishing to continue their higher education, took place on the 7th and 8th of June. This year, we had a total of 18 scholars taking it. They worked very hard, and we are confident that, as we have noted in past years, they will have a success rate superior to 50 per cent, much higher than the average rate in the region’s public high schools. In order to better orient the students, we have put new, stricter rules into place, which give the students greater incentive to apply to state universities or recognized vocational schools. This measure discourages them from applying to expensive private schools, or schools of a lower quality, due to lack of information on China’s educational opportunities for high school graduates. We are currently awaiting the results of the Gaokao which we will include in the next report.
The second aspect of the follow-up concerns those who graduated from university or vocational school. At the end of the 2009-2010 academic year, 14 scholars terminated their studies. Twelve of them have already found employment despite China's dangerously tightening job market. Their success reinforces our belief in the cause that we have been supporting with you over the past decade (already!), and gives us a very positive vision of the future of all the other scholars. With such good results, we have decided to draw up profiles of the graduates, so as to better grasp their path as a whole. Unfortunately, all these portraits could not fit into this report, so we have included only one, for it epitomizes the association's aims and purpose. It is the portrait of Yang Xia, who was among the first students supported by the association. You can find her profile in the annex at the end of the report.
Finally, the follow-up also included a collection of the new scholarship applications, which we did in the two missions to Ningxia that took place in June and in July. We'd like to take a moment to thank two people for the excellent organization of these two field trips: Marie Dejardin and Florian Jamet. Marie, who was a student in Beijing, helped the association throughout the school year and was responsible for the direct sponsorships, while Florian provided the association with intensive support during the summer. During these two trips, they received more than 30 new applications, mostly from high school and university students. A lot of these applications, unfortunately, fit the association's criteria for giving scholarships, and we don't doubt that there are many more students living in very harsh conditions, which would lead to dropping out of school for lack of means. The association is currently doing everything possible to raise the necessary funds to match all these new potential scholars’ needs, but we simply cannot take on any new scholars if we don't feel we can support them throughout their entire scolarity. Once more, we are hoping to count on your dedication and ability to help us support these children whose only dream is to pull their families out of poverty. Their future is at stake.
During our ten years in Ningxia, we have observed and reported on evolutions Chinese educational policies, which for the most part tend toward more support for poor regions, especially with regards to primary and secondary level education. Such measures show that the authorities have finally decided to tackle the obvious and inequitable lack of opportunities for rural and poor urban youngsters. However, the seemingly slight economic contraction that came as a consequence of the world financial and economic crisis, coupled with the ever-increasing number of university graduates each year, has caused the number and the ratio of unemployed university graduates to soar since 2008. With 6 million higher education graduates every year, the percentage of unemployed graduates is now approximately 30 per cent in some regions! This shockingly high number has caught the attention of economists and historians specializing in China, as it recalls the events of Tian An Men, whose cause was, among others, a lack of job opportunities for the 15-24 year old age group. Furthermore, the social contract between the Chinese Communist Party and the students was based on a promise by the successive governments that if students work hard, the government would provide them with good jobs. Thus, such a dynamic of the labour markets has led the central government to double educational fees on all the public high schools. In Ningxia province, the fees have gone from 1,450 RMB in 2009-2010 to 2,500 RMB in 2010-2011. Together with higher support to primary and secondary schools and students, this measure has caused the number of high school students applying for scholarships offered by Children of Ningxia to soar. During the few days in which the applications could be deposited, students came from all over the region, sometimes travelling hours by foot or motorcycle, and some arrived as late as midnight! Thus, our pool of scholars has significantly moved toward high school and university, for which the cost of supporting a student is much higher, while the total number of supported students has slightly decreased since the 2009-2010 peak.
As for the other changes within the association, in addition to the arrival of a new project coordinator, Blandine Ricouart, who has replaced Laurent Peyrot, as we noted in the last report, we would like to thank Cyrielle Nifle for her indefatigable presence since the beginning of the summer. She has been volunteering since early July and rightly deserves our sincere gratitude.
We have also been working with Doctors Without Borders in order to put into place a partnership program targeting pregnant women, who mostly give birth without medical assistance at home, and their children. Such a partnership would combine Children of Ningxia's knowledge of the population with the technical skills and motivation of Doctors Without Borders. It is now planned that a gynecologist will visit Ningxia in September 2011 to evaluate the needs and constraints that such a program has to take into account.
If you know the association's history, you might be wondering what has happened to the little school of Liumiao Cun. Following the administrative fusion of the villages of Hequ, Liumiao and Wantuan, the Educational Bureau of Tongxin decided to no longer support the school. In three years, the number of students fell from 120 to 20, and there is only one teacher left, Zhao Xin Xia. While the villagers laud her as a teacher, Zhao Xin Xia's salary was apparently not decided based upon her ability to teach, and she earns a mere 600 RMB per month, and is paid 8 months per year. Fortunately, the Earthpulse Foundation, which already supports 19 students from Ningxia with us, has kindly accepted to give her a hand, and her salary should be complemented by the foundation, so as to be paid over 12 months, and hopefully increased to 800 RMB per month.
Finally, we would like, once more, to thank you, who, from wherever you are and whatever you earn, have taken the individual and benevolent decision to support our activities. Philosophers may say that one decision is no better than another, but that is why we do everything within our reach (and beyond) to make sure that your decision is the right one, and will stay so for the sake of the Children of Ningxia.
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Combined with other sources of funding, this project raised enough money to fund the outlined activities and is no longer accepting donations.
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