When I started to work for the Amity Foundation three years ago, my first site visit took me to a village school project in Hunan. At that time, a new academic building had just been rebuilt after the previous building had been demolished due to the danger of collapsing. Three years later, I returned to visit the school and experienced how continuous financial support of this school contributed to a new development dynamic in the village.
Education is highly valued in the Chinese society, and if quality educational access is ensured, the government and villagers are likely to invest more in their village and its infrastructure. In 2013 new governmental provincial guidelines for poverty alleviation came into effect in Hunan. "Poor villagers could apply for up to 50,000 Yuan to build their own home," explains Li Ling, Amity’s project officer. Today, three years later, I have to look closely to realize that I am in the same village as before in 2014. Before, a dirty and unpaved road led to the village and by the time we arrived in 2014, it was soaked and impassable by car. In 2017, the muddy road has been replaced by a concrete road that was built by the government. The street stretches into the village and to the school—looking around the street, new buildings have been built, and even more are under construction. Instead of a raised earth hill, the schoolyard is now surrounded by a wall, adorned with a beautiful gate.
In 2014, Mountain Dog (in the front ) accessed the village on a muddy road (left). Three years later we could enter on a concrete street (right)
Villagers observed us skeptically in the year 2014 (left). Students proudly present the new school campus to a visiting group in 2017 (right)
In 2014, the director's bedroom was shabby (left) and the whole dormitory was in the danger of collapsing (right)
Students invite visitors from overseas to celebrate with them in front of the new dormitory and school canteen
The old shabby dormitory has been replaced with a second new building—teachers and students from outside the village no longer have to live under pitiable conditions; rather, they can enjoy the comforts of the new rooms. On the ground floor of the new building, a canteen and kitchen has been set up. Rather than cooking in an improvised and sooty kitchen, today the meals for the students are prepared healthily. More importantly, the children are not exposed to cold and rain during their meals. New toilets have been built and the hygienic conditions have improved considerably. As a final measure, showers and toilets are now under construction, and will form part of the new dormitory. "Finally, the teachers and students who have to sleep in school will have a real shower. And when the students need the bathroom during the night they no longer have to disturb the teachers by having to leave the building," explains Yi Ling.
In 2014, the preparation of the lunch food was hazardous to health (left) and students were exposed to bad weather conditions while eating during lunch time (right)
Since this year, the students have a canteen and a kitchen facilities on the campus (left) and the shower room for the dormitory is under construction (right)
The unhealthy sanitation facilities (left) were replaced by a new facility (right)
Three years ago, I visited the poverty deprived village with a group of Hong Kong school principals, who donated for the new academic building. This was an initial reason for the government to invest in further village infrastructure. "For many villagers it might be a reason not to give up on the village and to become a part of the floating population searching for a better life in the big cities", explains one of the local village cadres. Today, I accompany young adults and Amity English teachers from Amity's Volunteer Program. For one afternoon, they teach and interact with the children of the village school who have never or rarely seen people from overseas. Before the new academic building was completed, school director Mrs. Li was the only teacher of the school. Since then, she has been able to hire four new teachers and the school’s level of teaching has improved immensely.
Over the last five years, the Amity Foundation and passionate donors from Hong Kong continuously invested in the school. After the academic building, new sanitation facilities and a canteen has been built. Finally a new dormitory and shower rooms are under construction. The school was the initial step to revitalize the village because the local government and the villagers regain hope for the village's future. Amity hopes that such a development model can be copied to other deprived areas where the government lacks of the initial funds to offer decent education on site. Providing fundamental education might be the beginning of transforming the whole community to the better.
Today, as we leave the school, Mrs. Li repeatedly shows her gratitude, and proudly bids us farewell. "Come back soon," she calls out to us, as her students insist on accompanying their overseas substitute teachers back onto the bus.
Amity volunteers teaching and interacting with the students of the village school
Mrs. Li with her students in front of the academic building (left). Students accompany us back onto the bus (right)