On July 18, OCEF Chicago Group will partner with the Association of Chinese-American Scientists and Engineers and the alumni associations of various schools to host an annual picnic in Palatine. There will be an OCEF booth with volunteers available to answer questions about OCEF, along with great performances and recreational activities. Please register at http//:acse.org/2015picnic/, and be sure to select OCEF as your affiliation when prompted.
On June 14, OCEF Northern California Chapter organized a BBQ picnic at Foothills Park. It was a family-style gathering and nearly 100 volunteers, donors and friends participated. There was plenty of delicious home-made food, and many families brought three generations to enjoy the event together. Youth volunteers led kids in a variety of games that filled the park with laughter. Over a dozen display boards showcased assistance programs OCEF had launched, which attracted many viewers. Volunteers and donors alike braved the heat to man the barbecue stove. After the picnic, many participants stayed and hiked up a nearby hill to enjoy the bay area scenery. A pledge was made by all to spare no efforts in the fundraising events to be organized in the second half of the year. Many volunteers and donors are visiting OCEF-sponsored schools during summer or plan to do so soon. We believe they will witness firsthand the difference OCEF has made in the past and appreciate that still many more schools and students are in need of help. We wish everybody a safe and happy summer!
On June 16, my family and I visited an OCEF-sponsored school in Rongshui, Guangxi, along with another Chinese family of four from the U.S. Rongshui is about 200 kilometers from the City of Liuzhou, and the school we visited, Mucun Elementary School, is another 20 minutes of driving from the county seat.
Minmin, the volunteer who accompanied us on the trip, is the OCEF point of contact for schools in Guangxi. She visits rural schools very often, and a typical trip takes five days. Many of the locations she visits do not even have mobile phone signals. Though she works almost full-time for OCEF, she only gets reimbursed for lodging, transportation and 30 RMB a day for meals.
Mucun School sits right by the provincial highway. Lying just inside the main gate is a concrete-paved basketball court. Minmin told us it that used to be a muddy field where no activities could be planned when it rained. Later an entrepreneur in the village provided the funds and the villagers furnished the labor to build the current playground. There are two rows of classroom buildings, one of them is rather old and is classified as being dilapidated, but it is still being used by the preschoolers. The other row consists of newly constructed brick buildings, where the 1st and 2nd grades share one classroom while the 3rd and 4th grades share another. There are three teachers at the school, including Teacher Qin, who has been there for 18 years. Three desks lined up serve as the teachers' office.
Mucun School is one of the top-performing schools in the area. According to Minmin, the school used to be poorly run until Teacher Qin devoted a lot of efforts to improve the students' behavior. Once that was done, great academic performance followed. Minmin also mentioned that despite the official student-teacher ratio guideline, many schools did not have enough teachers as the best performers tend to be “borrowed” by local government agencies for other purposes without vacating their teaching positions, and thus the alternate teachers cannot get official appointments.
In Rongshui area, alternate teachers make about 900 RMB per month, which comes further down to about 800 RMB after the normal deductions, such as insurance premium. It is not unusual for young teachers to change jobs for better income. As a result, the remaining teachers are typically older and find it more challenging to learn new skills. It took over a year for some teachers to learn how to type and send e-mails on a computer. Currently, the “hardware” at Mucun School is in relatively good shape thanks to both donations from OCEF and efforts made by the teachers. For example, Teacher Qin got a lot of desks, chairs and bookshelves from local companies when they upgraded their furniture.
It was lunch time when we arrived. Under the nutritious lunch program in Guangxi, elementary school students get their lunches for free, milk included. The kids are very well mannered and cleaned up their dishes after lunch.
After nap time, we participated in student activities. We prepared some stationary sets as gifts for the students. Then we read to them and invited them to ask questions. The students were quite shy at the beginning, but they soon warmed up and raised their hands. One of the questions was: How is the world outside?
At 4 PM, students were getting ready to go home. Teacher Qin told us that some kids lived as far as one hour away. The older kids helped care for the younger ones. Before setting off, the students all shouted: "Safety first! We are good students!" Then they went along under the bright sunshine.
Teacher Qin took some pictures for my family on the empty basketball court and thanked us for visiting. However, I felt it was us who should thank Teacher Qin for persevering. With the recent economic development, the “hardware” has been greatly improved even in the schools in remote areas, but it remains a huge challenge to retained qualified teachers. Minmin told us that some schools in mountainous areas had just one teacher. Over the last few years, Guangxi started a policy to have graduates from normal institutes practice for 1-2 years in schools with urgent needs to improve the situation. OCEF also organizes training programs for teachers and selected teachers are able to participate for free.
The next day, my family and I visited Dalangtang Elementary School in Rong'an County. The school is in the mountains, accessible only by a 30-kilometer dirt road from the nearest provincial highway. The principal of the school, also named Qin, is 51 years old and took the job three years ago. The first thing he did there was to build a wall around the schoolyard because the school is right by a river and the students could fall into the river easily when they play around. For us, that river meant a ferry ride after the long drive to reach the school finally.
There are more students at Dalangtang School than at Mucun School, and they face similar challenges in terms of an aging teacher population. Fortunately, Dalangtang has two young visiting teachers at the moment, but there is no teacher available for classes such as English, art, PE or music. Many students live in deep in the mountains, so they board at school and have to take care of themselves from a very young age.
The main building of the school was funded by a company in Hong Kong, and it is equipped with a library and a reading room. Students have lunches in school and we joined them. There was even a treat that day: a hard-boiled egg. Dorm rooms are quite simple, sometimes three students share one bed, since they are small and can sleep across the bed. Principle Qin told us that water sanitary was an issue because there is no filtering equipment, so the students have to drink tap water and sometimes it causes diarrhea. The water cooler in the teacher's office is very old. After lunch the boys played basketball. We saw a few well-behaved dogs on the playground. Minmin explained that they were the students’ pets and followed the students to school. I went into a 4th grade classroom and tried to chat with the students. All the boys ran out and watched me through the window.
Principal Qin told us a few teachers would be retiring soon and it would be difficult to replace them. Before escorting us back to the provincial highway, he bought a few Red Bull drinks for us. He said his salary was about 2500 RMB a month, after 30 years of service. Minmin pointed out that teachers on average made roughly 2-3 times more in neighboring Guizhou Province than in Guangxi. Without improving teacher benefit, it will always be hard to keep them on the job. The lack of quality teachers will affect not just one generation of students, but many generations to come. That is the biggest problem.
When we bid each other good-bye, Principle Qin held my hand and invited us to come back in the future.
第19期（2015年6月）/No. 19 (June 2015) 组稿：杨敏 英译：何雪炀 编校：汤柏 Compiled by Catherine Yang Translated by He Xueyang Edited by Tang Bai