On August 3, 2014, Ludian County in northeastern Yunnan province suffered a devastating earthquake, and since then has been slowly recovering. This small school in the mountainous Yunnan hinterlands accommodates more than 100 students who travel to and from school everyday along dangerous mountain roads.
From the mountain pass looking on, it is clear that the village’s most prominent structure is its main yellow school house. Built in 2010, it is by far the village’s most picturesque structure. Because this community’s residents are scattered all over the mountain valley, students have to traverse all sorts of varying terrain. From the high mountains to the low lying river valleys, children come from all over to attend school each weekday.
For many families living in this rural mountain community, simply tending to their small plots of land barely provides them with enough to scrape by, so a significant amount of the village’s population has had to leave their homes to find work in cities. In the wake of the devastating earthquake that rocked the county last year, families are in dire need of funds to rebuild their homes, and so many children are left in the care of relatives while their parents are off searching for work. While this provides the children with a roof over their head and food to eat, numerous other facets of life remain neglected.
A grade schooler practicing “pinyin,” the phonetic alphabet of Mandarin Chinese. From textbooks to stationery, the conditions of this school has continued to improve over the years.
A teacher standing on a podium next to her class materials and a pointer.
One young student holds a dictionary open with both hands. Because this village receives intense sunlight, the children are of a darker complexion, and look relatively sturdy when compared to their urban counterparts.
For these children, providing lunch is the responsibility of the school. The majority of students live either on the mountain side or in the nearby river valley.
A ping pong table placed at the corner of a wall. In recent years, basic facilities have been gradually installed, yet even as progress is made it is clear that serious problems remain. Software for computers and money for teachers is lacking, as is basic disaster preparedness training for students.
Two young girls embrace each other in the hall between classes. Because their parents are often away from home, these girls count on each other for company.
As students hangout in a sunlit hallway, one student lifts his foot, revealing soles worn flat by rough terrain. In this region of Yunnan, rough mountain roads and inclement weather combined with cheap shoes means that most students are left wearing shoddy footwear.
A young man furrows his brow as he watches students rush home after class. When class concludes for the day, teachers have no means by which to look after their children. Last year’s August 3rd earthquake has left the region stricken by continual aftershocks that have persisted to this day, which poses a constant threat to the safety of the students.
Children slipping and falling on this region’s muddy roads are a nonstop cause of stress for the school’s headmaster. Unfortunately, all the headmaster can do is demand that his students travel in the company of others while holding hands. While there is no way to prevent falls from happening, so far there have been no deaths among the rugged youngsters.
Even with a car, the trip can take hours to complete. Although the route is relatively short, it is also extremely dangerous, especially during the rainy season.
After coming home, Xiaorui drops her school bag and rushes outside to play. School normally lets out at 4 pm every day. After the one hour it takes to get home, there is time to rest before the sun sets.
Xiaorui’s father has left the village to find work, leaving a 10-year-old Xiaorui alone in a half-finished brick house with her only neighbors scattered far away about the countryside. Because her mother normally spends her days tending to the fields, Xiaorui’s only source of companionship aside from her classmates is her pet dog and cat.
Xiaorui jumps rope on top of a half-finished building. After the earthquake, the local government compensated every resident with 40,000 RMB to rebuild, but in order to improve their quality of life, Xiaorui’s father was compelled to leave the village to find the means to provide his family with a better life.
Her family has a bamboo basket outside of their home that they use to store old or worn out shoes. Because Xiaorui is still growing, her family needs to regularly buy her new shoes, but because of their economic situation they can only afford cheap pairs.
Lin Yongjian and accompanying children call out “I love you!” and “I miss you!” into the surrounding mountains. Lin Yongjian regrets not being able to take another child, Dajun along. Dajun is normally picked up from school every day by his parents, and lives in a relatively nicer area, so it is difficult for him to understand the difficulties of the mountain-folk.
With the arrival of public welfare services, the locals have only just begun to get a grasp on their problems. The Dongfeng Richan Company purchased more than 100 pairs of shoes to be handed out by teachers. On the playground, children eagerly await a new pair of shoes.
A volunteer has brought a camera with which to record the event. As part of this welfare project, the company has also donated 3 million RMB to a foundation to help fund education assistance and disaster preparedness.
A teacher, Lu Qinghong, writes: “For these children, life is a lonely and desolate existence. At night, one can hear the wind howling as it weaves through the mountains and river valleys. Come nightfall, while children are sleeping, in their dreams we are still together laughing as the days pass us by.”
Lu continues writing: “But while the children stay in the village, public welfare can only bring them a moment of respite. The road to maturity is like a mountain pass; lengthy, difficult, steep, and winding.”
By Stanley Yu
[Images via Sina]