Traveling Conditions: It took about 2.5 hours to get from Lanzhou to Da Shu Xiang. The first hour was spent traveling on the highway; then the next 1.5 hours was spent traveling on the county road; the remaining hour was spent on the winding road in the mountains.
Here the mountains are almost only one color – yellow. The mountain road is rugged with steep slopes and lots of turns. Although the car can directly get to the school, it is a test of the driver's skill. The main crops are corn and potatoes because of an ongoing shortage of water.
The three elementary schools we visited are all located deep in the mountains. All of the children and teachers are of the Dongxiang ethnic minority group. The common problems in these three schools include water shortage, having water cellars that are too small, poor hygiene for students, and lack of toilets.
1) Zheng Elementary School
There are 62 students at this school, including 20 preschool children and only 7 children in grades 5 and 6; there are 5 teachers. There are 40 students that are unable to go home at noon. The child who lives the farthest is about 3 kilometers away from school, which is at least a 2-hour walk. Because there are not enough children, they combine classes for preschool and 1st grade and classes for 5th and 6th grade.
Although there is a water shortage, the government still requires tree planting. The water that the school gets needs to provide not only for the teachers and students but also for watering the trees. They have covered the ground with a film of material in order to keep the moisture. However the trees still have difficultly surviving because of the lack of water.
Last year, ChengZhang foundation funded a bathroom for the school. It cost 50,000 RMB. They also purchased 2 basketball hoops.
Because of the long-term shortage of water, the drinking water supplied for the teachers and students comes from the cellar. There is only one small cellar at the school. The stored water can only supply 1 week's worth of use. Although tap water has already been supplied to the school, the amount supplied is limited. At times there were only two supplies per year. According to the principal, they had already gone more than two months without a water supply. Because of the small cellar, they need to go to the county to get water, but it's expensive, costing 150 yuan ($23 USD) per ton of water (about 265 gallons). Therefore the school is hoping to add a bigger cellar to ease their water problem.
The local farmers' livelihood is also dependent on the weather. There has been no drop of rain since early spring this year. The crops cannot be planted.
The school provides breakfast. There is one egg, one carton of milk, and one piece of bread per student. Because some of the children are unable to go home for lunch, their breakfast would become their lunch.
2) Central Elementary School
There are 184 students and 6 teachers at this school. There are about 40 students who are unable to go home at noon.
There are more teachers and students in this school, so using the bathroom is a major problem. There is only one bathroom in the school, and students need to line up for it after class. Some students are still not able to use the toilet until class starts.
We arrived at this school at noon. The children who were unable to go home at noontime were playing on the vacant lot in front of the classroom. Most of the children were playing with rocks on the ground. Although there is a ping pong table at school, only a few children had paddles, so they had to take turns playing. The jump rope that the girls were using was made of rope so there was no elasticity at all.
There is about a 800 square meter field at the back of the school, which is connected with the local kindergarten. However, there are only a few pieces of playground equipment on the field. Students need to go down to the field on a very steep slope, and there are no stairs. In order to ensure the students' safety, the field was blocked off, so it is temporarily not in use.
The school has already explained their problems regarding the bathroom and playground to the ChengZhang foundation and Xing Bang, hoping to receive assistance.
3) Huang Elementary School
This school has 56 students and 7 teachers, including 2 social workers. There are only 9 4th graders, 1 5th grader, and 4 6th graders. Part of theirs classes have combined teaching. All of the students go home for lunch.
Water shortage is also a problem here. Getting water from the county costs 100 RMB/ton.
The school building was built in September 2015. There is one library and six bookcases that were donated by Zhongshihua. All of the books were supplied by the Department of Education. Students are able to borrow books to take home. The books are managed by the 6th grade students.
There are 2 social workers who board at the school. There are 2-3 counseling sessions a week (indoors and outdoors) at the school. These two social workers spend one day a week at Gudu Elementary School to do counseling. At Gudu Elementary School, there are 33 students with 3 teachers. Motorcycle or walking are the only means of transportation because the road is very rough.
Last year, when Huang Elementary School was in collaboration with Chengzhang foundation, a kitchen and bathroom were added for the boarding teachers and social workers.
The social workers started their service at Huang Elementary School and Gudu Elementary School in 2014. We participated in one indoor and outdoor counseling session taught by the social worker for students in grades 4, 5, and 6. The children are very simple but smart. They are shy and not good at verbal communication. When the children had to go to the front of the class to describe their own drawing, they spoke very quietly and were afraid to look at the class. They were almost unable to talk in front of strangers.
However, when the children went outside they behaved differently than in the classroom. The contrast was very obvious. They were very excited when playing games on the field, which showed the liveliness and enthusiasm that children their age should display.
The sports facilities are quite simple, but under the guidance of the social worker the children can do a lot of interesting games by using existing mats and ropes which help to develop the children's creativity and teamwork. We found out there is no shaded area at all on the field and all the time we were under the sun. When we played games with the children sitting on the mat, our skin stung from being exposed to the sun for just 1 minute.
The social workers have had great influence on the school and students, and even the whole village. They have brought vitality to the school and helped relieve the burden of the local teachers.
Background on Da Shu Xiang
The population of Da Shu Xiang is approximately 8,000 people. The economy and ideology generally lags behind. The geographical environment is unique and there is only a single industry. This place has been a concern of the local government, and also has been chosen as a poverty site. 80% of the households in the village are poverty reduction targets.
Drought is an ongoing problem, and crop yields are so low that most of the families can only work outside the home. Children can only see their parents during harvest season, which is also one of the reasons why the children are introverted.
Original article written by Ai Ju, translated by Cindy, edited by Carolyn.
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