A Tale From the Deep Mountains

Ye-lun Primary School was built to provide an in-depth elementary-level education to the local children, but receives insufficient funds from the local government to provide an adequate education. Ye-lun Primary School is hugely understaffed; it currently has only a handful of teachers to teach over 400 students. 

A Family Legacy of Supporting Education for Children

    Supporting children's education has long been a tradition in my family. My grandfather, in his time was the principal of Ye-lun Primary School, and he understood perfectly the challenges these children experience in their daily lives. Therefore, once he moved out of the mountains, he devoted the rest of his life to helping improve the quality of education in the mountains. As my grandfather grew older, my older cousin followed in his footsteps, and began visiting the children in Ye-lun Primary School twice a year in order to bring school supplies, food and clothing. Because there is a lack of books and study materials at the school, my older cousin helped to build a library to increase the children's learning opportunities. However, he was forced to end his work abruptly, as he was killed in a car crash at the end of 2013. Despite the grief that I suffered from this heart breaking news, his death compelled me to continue his work in supporting these children from the deep mountains.

My Grandfather
 My Older Cousin
 Me
Principal of Ye-lun Primary School
Consistently brought school supplies 
Visits the children and bring supplies
Created a foundation to support education
Built a library
Creates personal relationships with the students

My Diary

    With the help of San Domenico School and Children in Need, I gathered a total of $350 for the children by the end of summer 2014. Because these funds were not enough to support all the students in Ye-lun Primary School, I decided that alongside visiting them regularly and bringing school supplies, I'd focus part of these funds on supporting one specific student throughout her school career. After discussing with the teachers, I selected one of the students who not only does well in class, but also holds a positive attitude towards everything she does. Her name is Yilu Lin and she is a second grader. Her teacher briefly explained to me her situation: because of her family's poverty, she has to carry her homework and books to school with her hands, without the aid of a bag o fany sort. Therefore, I bought her a special gift -- a pink backpack -- to show my sincerity in becoming friends with her. 

Yilu interacting with us in class

My mom tutoring Yilu

    I was a bit nervous when I first arrived at Cenxi on June 10th with my mom and my friend Qian Gu. Even though the official language in Cenxi is Mandarin, most people speak Cantonese, which I have not spoken since I moved to the U.S. a few years ago. Additionally, I was also worried I would be unable to become friends with the children easily. While we had planned our trip days before arrival and were fully prepared, we were still scared our plans would be hard to integrate into the class. Luckily, this was not the case. The children there were very friendly and had a keen curiosity for strangers from outside of the mountains. When they saw us, they pranced over with big smiles. "Big sister, are you from outside the mountains?" a girl asked, shyly hiding behind her friends. "Yes", I responded, giving her a warm smile in return. "Do you wanna know what it's like?" There was a burst of excitement among the children, and we broke into laughter as we walked together up the narrow stairs to their classrooms. 

   Their classroom was designated for third graders, however the children aged between 9-10 years old. The moment I entered, I felt a collected gaze of curiosity on me from all the children. While unnerving at first, I quickly grew accustomed to their curiosity just as they quickly grew accustomed to my presence. In order to appear as their big sisters rather than teachers, Qian and I chose not to stand in front of the class, but to spend our time around among the children instead. We began with a brief introduction, in which we talked about ourselves, our favorite food and our hobbies. Then we encouraged the kids to tell us more about them. We were amazed to find out that we shared a lot in common, especially in tastes of food. 

    In order to become more familiar with them, we prepared some songs to sing with them. At first, some of the children were too shy to follow, but as we continued, more and more kids started to sing and clap. We continued singing until the bell rang, indicating the beginning of our first "class". 

    During our first class, we made some posters describing what lies beyond the mountains; the themes included cities, Disneyland, culture and festivals. We walked them through a typical day in our lives, from getting squeezed by crowds of people in a busy subway station, to browsing different items in a shopping mall. From the sparkle in their eyes, I can tell that they were paying close attention to the stories. "What is a subway?" a little boy asked, blinking innocently. "A subway is a train that runs underground in order to save space above ground." I tried my best to answer him as clearly as possible, but was unsure if he really understood. Luckily, Qian drew a picture of a subway on the blackboard and made some sounds of a running engine. "Ohhh I got it!" With Qian's jocularity, the classroom was once again filled with laughter.

    The sun was hanging high in the sky, and the children were ready for lunch. There wasn't an actual cafeteria in the school, but rather a small classroom redecorated with round tables and tiny chairs. Everyone gets the same food--a serving of melon and some potatoes, in addition to a small bowl of rice. I wondered if such little portions was enough for their bodies. Meanwhile the boy sitting on my left told me that his family can only buy meat on special occasions, such as festivals. I was astonished as I watched his face turn wishful as he spoke of those special occasions. In that instant I understood the challenges that are masked by the beauty of the mountains. The scarcity of resources is the harsh reality, yet the children are so lively and happy. Sometimes, happiness is as simple as a mouthful of meat. 

    In the afternoon, we had fun in the playground, playing games like hopscotch and hide-and-seek. The playground is small, with just an old ladder and a slide. They asked us if we've been to any other playground, and we spoke of the playgrounds on San Domenico campus, and even about Disneyland. Soon we were sharing all sorts of Disney stories; we talked about Elsa's grand castle, the poison apple that made Snow White fall into an eternal sleep, and the magic spell that gives the Little Mermaid her feet. Attracted by the stories, the children's eyes widened as much as they possibly could. I once doubted that a mere high school student like myself could really make a difference in the kids lives, but a girl named Siyan gave me a hug and told me that today was one of the best days in her life. All of my doubt vanished under her warm hug, and I was more than happy to have spent my time with these kids

A picture of Ivy with the kids 

    During our visit in Ye-lun Primary School, we stayed at Yilu's house, where we returned their kindness and hospitality with sharing in their housework. I was amazed by the amount of work she needs to do at such a young age, but we were surprised at her skill and efficiency at accomplishing her tasks. We started to prepare for dinner, which is not as easy as we thought. But with the help of Yilu, we learned how to collect vegetables, wash them and cook them. 

Collecting Veggies

We first went to their farm to collect vegetables for dinner. It was not as easy as we thought. "You can't take too much from one plant. If you do, they won't be able to produce any more vegetables. Also, you don't want to rip the root up," said Yilu. After 30 minutes of picking and collecting, we got a basket of vegetables, together with a tiny pumpkin and a melon.

Washing Them

After collecting the vegetables, we took them to the front yard of the house, where we placed two buckets to wash the veggies. We needed to wash them a certain way so the vegetables can be cleaned thoroughly and efficiently. Afterwards, snapped them into small pieces so that they would be suitable for picking up with chopsticks. 

Cooking 

Cooking the veggies requires some skill too. Since Yilu has several siblings and some other relatives living together with them, their pots were super huge. We collected some firewood from up the hill, and then started to cook. "You need to turn them over again and again to make sure it gets cooked thoroughly." Yilu explained.


    I spent the following days in Ye-lun Primary School and nights in Yilu's house. During the days, we did a lot of fun activities. I showed them some movie clips with my laptop. Some of the kids were so interested in my laptop that they decided they wanted to be "computer builders", or software engineers when they grew up. 


    Time flew, and soon it was time for us to leave. We hugged the kids one by one and waved goodbye. Our time at Ye-lun Primary School was a time of learning, not only for them, but also for us. They escorted us all the way to the gate of their town. "Sister, will you visit us again?" a girl asked, holding the edge of my shirt. "Yes we will!" I held her up and kissed her goodbye on the cheek. On our way out, I could not help but think about them. What will they become in the future? Will they grow taller the next time I visit them? All these questions filled my head. But there is one thing that I'm sure of: their future is bright.

cenxi

Nuo-dong Town is located in the east of Guangxi Province in China

 

When we first arrived at the town, we saw children playing around, looking at us curiously

 
 
 

The purple backpack I bought for Yilu Lin. 

 

Kids in Ye-lun primary school

Qian Gu (left) and Ivy Liang (right) with curious children on the first day of our visit 
 
 

Singing with the children

 

Children's drawing, their impression of the outside world

 
 

A picture of Ivy and Yilu 

Ivy (left) and Qian (right) with a group of children

Having fun in Yilu's house

 

About Me

My name is Ivy Liang, the current technology coordinator of CiN. I believe that with everyone's small effort, we can eventually change the future of millions of children in need.