China’s Rich & Poor
One of the most astounding things about China is the gap between rich and poor. In the urbanised east coast there are pockets of incredible wealth and success but for every rich businessman in Shanghai with a property empire there are thousands living in poverty in the more rural areas. People living in the Chinese countryside have less access to resources than those in the cities. In Fuzhou we’re used to great public transport, high-speed internet, IMAX cinemas etc but for those just a few hours away it’s a different story.
Our school, York English, recently heard about series of villages just 4 hours away from Fuzhou where there are few such resources to go around. This cluster of buildings, nestled into the mountains, has limited opportunities. As such, many of the families here are divided. Parents are forced to live and work in nearby cities and send money home to grandparents who look after the children. These kids grow up often barely knowing their parents and are reliant on their grandparents for guidance and teaching.
We discovered that the area had actually received some charity donations from an organisation which had helped to build three new schools in the area but these schools were using tired and outdated books to teach the students. Furthermore we discovered that there was only one English teacher working across the schools and that she has been off on maternity leave this semester, leaving the students with no English practice.
York decided that we could definitely help out. A message went out to parents, students and all the staff asking for a small donation to help purchase new books. The response was overwhelming. In just a few weeks the school managed to raise over 47,000 yuan (7,500 USD) with students as young as 7 donating their pocket money. An amazing result!
A short time later the school in Quanzhou county invited us to visit and meet some of their teachers and students. Again York sent out a message to see if anyone would be interested and again we were blown away by the response. Over 200 people (teachers, TAs, students and parents) all wanted to make the journey! This presented us with a problem: the winding mountain roads are not big enough to accommodate large coaches. Unfortunately this meant we had to take only a quarter of those who asked to join. So, in a convoy of small mini buses, 50 of us made the trip.
Meeting the Students
Arriving at the school we were greeted by a group of the local students and teachers who led us immediately to a ceremony area set out in the school playground. A few speeches later and the book-giving commenced. The local children seemed incredibly excited by this and on top of that, York had arranged for our students to bring a gift for the local kids. Names were read out and presents were exchanged. One little boy looked ecstatic when he received a package that was nearly half the size of him.
After the ceremony we had some lunch together. This was local food, grown or reared in the nearby villages and was pretty tasty. I’ve never had potato mixed in with rice and vegetables before but I’d definitely try it again.
Then it was time to give something back to the students. The teachers who joined us rounded up some students (a mix of York kids and the local ones), took some teaching materials and found a classroom. From the reaction of the students this was the highlight of the day. They loved the opportunity to meet a foreign teacher, play some games and practice English also. Not only that but the two different groups of kids made friends almost instantly.
After this, there was more exchanging, this time of cultures. The local teachers and students showed us how they live and the work they do. They took us out into the fields and taught us about the farm work that most of the local economy is built on. The York students had never seen or done anything like it before. They even got a chance to pick some grass to feed to rabbits.
While this was going on, a small group of us also toured the other two schools in the county. One of these was perched at the very top of a nearby mountain with spectacular views of the countryside all around it. Because of how remote it was, the headmaster told us they only have 50 students attending, many of whom have to walk an hour to get there each way.
We all met back at the main school and shared locally-grown oranges (famous in Fujian for being so sweet and juicy) before it was time to leave. As the buses pulled away the local kids lined up and waved goodbye. Although it was a tiring day with a lot of travelling, everyone there shared a special experience that will stay with us for a long time and the books we provided will make a big difference to the lives of the students there.