[2015-07-21] China school visit: thoughts and reflections
“Take Actions to change”

(This article is Part II following “Visiting Journal: School # 63 in Qinghai”). In addition to the Qinghai school, we also visited an elementary school in Hunan. It used to be a complete primary school, but in recent years, student numbers greatly decreased, so now only the first and second grades remain, totally 42 children attending the school. The students in the third grade and above attend the center school in town as boarding students. Two teachers, both age 50 or so, are natives in the village, teaching while farming every day. Almost all the children are “left behind children”, who live with their elderly grandparents, and look very shy. On the way we also saw local villagers, mostly the elderly or disabled, standing and working hard in the rice fields, no helpers other than old oxen. In the provincial capital, or even in the local county town, large-scale construction sites are everywhere. Construction projects attract rural labors to leave their families, leave the land, and flock to the city to work. According to local people, when they turn sixty, physically they can no longer keep up, the villagers return to work in agriculture, because they have no choice.

After the school visit, many questions were rolling on my mind. Why in the 21st century, China's agriculture is still not mechanical? Why cities and counties are undergoing vigorous constructions everywhere, is it because building is more importantWhy farming brings in such a meager income, can only sustain livelihoods? China's rural children who grow up in such an environment, become mature so early out of frustration, so small but taking up the burden of life, do they have healthy heart and mind? So far away, we can not often visit these teachers and children, what can we do for them?

“The Research Report on China's Rural Left-behind Children and Urban and Village Migrate Children Situation” by National Women Association Task Force gave us many insights and they proposed series of strategic solutions to address the issues of “left behind children” and “migrate children”.

One of the strategies is “to vigorously develop productions and industries with local characteristics, deepen rural financial reform, apply tax exemptions, subsidized loans and other preferential policies to attract more rural surplus labor to work locally.” Such examples have been reported by CCTV as true stories about changing the status quo in rural areas. The interviewee was once a left-behind child, and he even walked barefoot on the mountains to go to school. Luckily, his father became successful after working in the city, and moved the family to the city to live a good life. Construction industry helped them develop into a strong corporation with abundant assets. He and his father did not forget their fellow villagers, so they invested to hire local farmers to develop long-abandoned mountain land, making their home village a high-quality tea garden. Villagers who were out to labor in cities heard the news and came back home to cultivate tea. The high-quality tea products brought considerable income to the villagers, who are very grateful for the father and son who return kindness to home. They not only improved their lives, but also solved the problem of left behind children. Maybe a very small number of successful people would be like this father and son, but such examples brought hope to the rural areas, and aroused the concern of the community.

For voluntary organizations , what can be done is another strategy proposed: "Build care networks that connect schools, families , and communities. Further increase the boarding school construction, in accordance with an appropriately assigned number of life and psychology counselors that are integrated into school planning. In each village with concentrated “left behind children”, communities establish care services for them, providing hosting, counseling , family education guidance , and extra-curricular activities .” For example, one of my friends who visited the Qinghai school with us, has been involved in an organization called "Little Red Pony" around Chengdu, Sichuan. These “Red Pony” volunteers drive to the countryside each month, bringing interactive games, village classes, expressive painting lessons etc. to the “left behind children” or disadvantaged children, focusing on children's emotional communication, and building friendships. After volunteers go back, the children will continue to exchange letters with them to keep in touch until the next visit. SSEF can learn from these friendship exchange activities, and make plans to recruit volunteers in China to organize such public service events, in order to make up for rural schools' urgent need in students' mental health education, psychological counseling and emotional communication.

Also worth mentioning is what Deng Fei, a Hunan reporter, has said and has done, "Stop complaining, take actions to change China." Deng Fei and his reporter colleagues started the "free lunch" charity projects in 2011. They used news media to report children's hungry realities in rural schools, and raised tens thousands Yuan donations from several caring people and businesses. They started the program at one school, and gained support from the government to maintain financial transparency and credibility. No matter how big or small the donation was, all donation records were posted timely on their website. Within just a few years, by May 2015, they have raised more than 143.02 million Yuan, and offered meals to 450 schools. Not only did these school children stay away from hunger, China's State Council also started to implement "Rural Student Nutrition Program under Compulsory Education", reforming the nutritional status of China's rural children in a large-scale. Deng Fei mentioned in the interview, when he started out as an investigative reporter, he often made critical reports, exposing the darkness of society. Since he started the "free lunch" project, he discovered a new method - "soft power": "Softness is the kindness and conscience hidden in everyone's heart, once aroused, more durable and cohesive than anger. " This perhaps is the answer to our questions for the China trip , and these words opened our eyes to see a lot of Chinese people in action, started from bits and pieces of kind acts, and accumulated public power to improve the educational level and quality of life of the China's rural children.

Maybe you are in the city, or maybe you are overseas, it seems too far from the reality of rural China. In this IT-driven era, through the telecommunications and networks, SSEF volunteers are personally involved in the operation of the Foundation in the U.S., in order to help reduce the gap between urban and rural education. Many volunteers work for their employers during the day, but at night, they spend time contacting the schools, implementing programs, and recording data. Some volunteers write programs to track projects, some edit news articles, and others participate in fund-raising activities. SSEF also set up an office in Beijing, to strengthen communication with the Chinese government and education sectors, simplify the process of donation distribution, and facilitate the recruitment and organization of domestic volunteers. Every summer in China, Shin Shin teachers and principals attended trainings for several weeks in different centers, while university outreach volunteers from SSEF's partner colleges spent a few weeks organizing educational activities in rural schools. If you have a zeal for improving rural education in China, welcome to join SSEF's teams or other related public service organizations, taking actions to change.