An unhealthy school

by Martin Lachmann

- Amity's School Rebuilding Project Part II -

Education and empowerment of people is one of Amity's core visions. The Chinese government is also eager to provide a better education to the rural population and thereby supporting a strategy to slow down urbanization that has exceeded all expectations over the last years. On the one hand urbanization has released many people from poverty. On the other hand rural areas are facing new challenges. Elderly and children are left behind in the villages without sufficient care. Although there is compulsory education in China, remote areas cannot yet cover education for all villages. Children must walk to school up to three hours to attend classes. This jumbles school hours and curricula. Additionally, young children are exposed to the danger of doing this long and harsh trip every day on their own.

Exposed to wind and weather, students have

 to walk to school up to three hours

Parents or relatives often cannot take the burden of accompanying them as they have to cultivate their fields to assure a livelihood as farming is a 24/7 job. So they are in permanent stress of worrying about the safety of their kids. A sustainable rural development implies the possibility of good education for the youngest. Otherwise a village is in the danger of being abandoned.

Often they have to do the school way on their own

handling with dangerous traffic and weather conditions

Amity is working closely with the Chinese government to boost education and a harmonious village life. After inspecting schools, Amity decides on the basis of figures, which schools can be rebuild with our assistance. Beside the condition of the school buildings, the consideration will be given to official projections of pupils who will be enrolled for the next years, the outreach based on the population that will be covered by the school and how much the government is willing to match our donations and to recurrent finding.

Amity staff and local partner on the way to the school

By these guidelines Amity ensures that the local government also gets involved in the school funding and is keen to run the school for at least ten years. Usually Amity is not covering all the costs of funding. Usually, the school campus includes a playground, the toilet and often also a dormitory for the teacher and pupils, as well a kitchen for providing school meals. Amity will decide on the basis of these figures if a school can be supported and for which buildings of the school Amity will raise funds.

The journey into the mountains of Hunan was arduous and we had to drive hours, often along the edge of a ravine on a narrow mountain road, to reach the next village school. Then after our arrival, the conditions of the schools were usually terrifying. There is one occurrence in particular that I cannot forget and that seems to be so unreal in contrast to my childhood, which I could experience with all the benefits and security of education, health and my family’s support.

When we arrived at a school site in Changsha County, our team had to cross a small river while balancing ourselves on a stony bottom. After passing old village houses and small fields with tombs, an old and dilapidated school building came into sight.

Family tombs between the farmer's fields

Entering the playground squalid children curiously looked down on us and some of them soon take advantage of our visit playing games with us. While my colleagues were collecting data and discussing the situation on-site with the local teachers and partners, I had the time to walk around and to understand the fate of the young village kids more precisely. The only teacher of the village school explained to us that most children are left behind by their parents. The school and their classmates are the key element of their life. The classrooms were in a very poor condition, with derelict walls and equipped with old and broken school desks, chairs and boards.

The village school in Changsha County is in a very poor condition

The facilities and the equipment are old and broken. The education enviroment for students is terrible.

I was wondering how this education environment can ever lead to a better future for those children.

While I inspected the classrooms and took pictures of the seemingly dangerous wooden roof, I saw some of the kids entering a room denoted as the “schools office”.

The roof of the school seems broken and derelict

The school's office "bangong shi / 办公室"

Following the kids into the room I saw them surrounding a dirty bucket. As I approached the scene I noticed, to my horror, that the pupils were drinking water out of the bucket.

Students drinking water out of a dirty bucket

At that moment, there was nothing I could do about it and a feeling of helplessness took over. Meanwhile Li Ling, the director of Amity’s Rebuilding School Project entered the room and when she had a closer look into the dirty bucket she discovered a dead fly in the water. By this time, the children left the room to go on playing outside on the playground.

When we had a closer look, we even found a dead 

insect in the bucket

Besides the enviroment, the students play blithely on the school's playground

Our group left with a downcast feeling, trying to figure out how we can help

Shortly thereafter, our group left the village, crossing the small river, to visit the next school on our schedule. And we took an acrimonious feeling along, about the unhealthy and dangerous living circumstances these kids have to face. They live in poverty without the prospect of a better life. They are facing the life’s hardship much too early. But there is also a spark of hope. I am wondering if Amity can repeat the story of the school, that has been rebuilt by the support of Amity's volunteer group led by "Mountain Dog", and that we have visited at the beginning of our trip. Will there be supporters who consider those kids as brothers and sisters and take actions?

Students in mountanious areas of China still waiting for equality

educational opportunities

Read the story Amity's School Rebuilding Project Part I: A spark of hope in the mountains of Hunan