Ethnic minority girls in Guangxi (top) and Guizhou take up the education opportunities provided by The Salvation Army
A girl from Longsheng County, Guangxi Province, attends school
A boy who is being provided with a place to stay as well as schooling prepares a meal
Salvation Army-sponsored girls in a class in Longsheng County, Guangxi Province
Some of the ethnic minority girls have the opportunity to learn traditional handicrafts
Major Alfred Tsang Hin-man, second-in-charge of the The Salvation Army in Hong Kong and Macau, with minority girls in LuoPingi, Yunnan Province
China: Learning to Escape Poverty
by various reports by The Salvation Army’s Hong Kong and Macau Command
Funded through Hong Kong
In some areas of China, poverty means that families cannot afford to send their children – especially girls – to school. Sadly, this lack of education often means the children cannot get good jobs and so end up following in their parents’ footsteps and facing a life of poverty themselves. It’s a vicious circle.
The China Sponsorship Development Programme, part of a wider poverty alleviation scheme funded through The Salvation Army’s Hong Kong and Macau Command, works with local authorities in China to help children from poor families receive an education. Around 2,300 children are sponsored in China through this programme.
The regions the programme is active in suffer from great poverty. They also contain a large number of villagers from ethnic minority tribes such as Yi, Yao and Miao. It is particularly common among these minority people for girls’ education to be neglected. Many girls work on farms to supplement the family income, never dreaming they could ever go to school.
With the development of the sponsorship programme, a growing number of children in these rural areas will receive basic education. Information is sought from schools about children who will benefit from the programme, such as children from poor families, those who are from a minority race and orphans. Once the screening process is complete and routine administration finalised, financial assistance is provided to the families for the entire education of the selected children.
Donations are sought to finance the sponsored children’s school fees and pay for stationery. Some funds are also used for teacher training in order to enhance the quality of education. Additionally, the construction of schools, basic property maintenance and teaching facilities will be offered in order to provide a better learning environment. Over the past 15 years, 70 schools have been built in China through funds raised by The Salvation Army’s Hong Kong and Macau Command.
A scholarship programme benefits children from poor families who have succeeded in primary school and want to go on to further study in junior high school.
The Salvation Army has been collaborating with Longsheng County Education Bureau following a flood relief and rehabilitation scheme in 1996. Since then the relationship has blossomed – a vocational and literacy teachers’ training programme in 1997 was followed by the first sponsorship scheme in the region.
In Longsheng County, as in many parts of rural China, the education of girls was being neglected. Poverty played a major part in continuing the culture of sending boys to school but not girls. The problem was so deeply ingrained that the phrase, ‘It would be better to let the girls stay at home and take care of pigs than send them to school,’ entered common usage. Statistics from 1990 show that, out of a total of 20,473 illiterate people aged 15 or above in Longsheng County, 72.1 per cent were women.
The greatest problem was found among ethnic minority families, many of whom lived in the mountains some distance from any schools. The Salvation Army identified this and set about working with the education bureau to provide funding that would enable more girls to gain an education.
As a result, ethnic minority girls were funded in classes in Si Shui and He Ping Elementary Schools. Both schools served a large number of minority students, and all the 85 girls in the scheme were national minorities (Yao, Miao, and Zhuang) living far away in mountain villages. Some students lived as far away as 35 kilometres from the school and so were provided with room and board too.
In a nurturing environment, the girls took courses in mathematics, language, physical education, music, nature, art, social science and health/hygiene.
The scheme has proved to be a great success and The Salvation Army is trying to raise more funds to enable other girls from poor families to have a goodeducation.
One such girl is Zhu Cai-ying, a 12-year-old attending the 5th year in an elementary school. She lives with her parents, an elder sister and two younger brothers in Guangxi.
The family lives on an island in the middle of the River Gui. This geographical situation contributes to the unstable income of the family because the crop yields vary due to changes in soil conditions resulting from differing water levels. Hit by frequent floods, life is very difficult. Cai-ying’s parents now grow fruit to support the family but there is barely enough to cover even the most basic of expenses.
The little brick house where the family lives is covered in numerous patches and the sunlight gets in only through small crevices. Cai-ying returned from school in the middle of a visit by a Salvation Army team member. When asked about her study she burst into tears.
She said she would have to drop out of school soon due to the family’s lack of financial resources. To enable the children to attend school, Cai-ying’s father borrowed money. Now it is time to pay school fees for the new school term but it is also time to repay the borrowed money and a fee that they owe the school. The family income is scarcely enough for daily expenses – the urgent need to repay the debts now puts the family into greater trouble. Unfortunately, in this poor village, there is nothing they can do about it. The only way out is to stop schooling for Cai-ying, which costs more than that for her younger brothers and sister, and let her work to make an income to support her family.
With support and funding, Cai-ying’s story may have a happy ending like that of Re Ge Shi Zi, a 14-year-old girl from the Yi minority. Her parents originate from a remote valley but moved, with their six children, to Er Pu Village in Sichuan Province. Because they are migrants they were given just a small piece of farmland by the local government, but this was not sufficient to support their whole family.
Being the eldest daughter, Shi Zi was eager to lessen her parent’s heavy burden by helping to chop firewood and assist on the farm. Even though her family was very poor and lived in very difficult conditions, her parents were aware of the importance of education. They believe ‘knowledge changes one’s future’.
In order to pay for his children’s tuition fees, Shi Zi’s father worked for several years in an electric power plant a long way from their home, but the impoverishment of the family continued. Shi Zi had always been worried that she would be forced to discontinue her schooling due to her family’s financial hardship.
When Shi Zi’s primary school was selected for a sponsorship programme run by The Salvation Army, the children were asked to write about their family’s economic condition. Shi Zi, like many children, wrote that her family was poor and found it very difficult to pay for her schooling. She really hoped she would be chosen to be sponsored since her parents were unable to afford the tuition for the coming semester.
Fortunately, Shi Zi qualified for sponsorship under the Hong Kong and Macau Command’s Child Sponsorship Development Programme. Her mother was very happy and told Shi Zi that she should study very hard to get excellent results to thank the donors for their unconditional assistance.
Shi Zi shared her delight in a letter which sums up the determination of many girls like her to get an education and then do more to help others:
I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude for your generous assistance to let me continue my education. I can learn in a safe and better environment. When I grow up I will support my brothers’ and sisters’ study as you do, and help those children in need like me.
Your sponsored child
Because of the success of the project, The Salvation Army has continued to support the education bureau’s efforts in bringing in more ethnic minority girls to the programme. It is now looking to support an additional 100 girls, 50 in He Ping Township and 50 in Le Jiang Township. It is hoped that, as the programme develops, sponsorship will enable many more ethnic minority girls in rural mountain villages to receive an education and escape the poverty trap.