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ABC in Terraces

By Ingrid Liu
Translated by Nie Xu Min

In November 2005, I participated in home visits organized by PEACH foundation and saw with my own eyes the shocking family situation of the extremely poor children in Yunnan border area. What I witnessed deeply troubled me. Throughout the following months, I constantly felt depressed. Determined to help and learn more about these children, I joined PEACH English summer camp for children in Yunnan Province in July 2006. I was the "head teacher" of No. 2 Class Number 2 in the first phase of Yuan-Yang summer camp.

Yuan-Yang, located in the mountainous area in south Yunnan Province, is a small county famous worldwide for its terraced fields. They lay in layers on rocky hills, a miracle of hard work by generations through hundreds of years. Yuan-yang boasts a cool and pleasant climate all year round. Although it is in rainy season, it is still a paradise compared with the dry, hot and stuffy weather in Shanghai. Yuan-yang No.1 high school, where the summer camp is held, sits on top of a hill. To reach it from the town, one has to climb over a hundred steps. The shabby and simple classrooms are surrounded by hills covered by terraces. Colorful clouds gently float through the hills from time to time. I imagine the place where the recluse poet Tao Yuan-Ming lived to "leisurely watch the mountain" is just like this!

The camp has three phases, each hosting more than 200 children. Most of the children come from villages near Yuan-yang, such as Ga-Niang, Niu-Jiao-Zhai, Huang-Mao-Ling, and are mainly of Yi and Hani ethnicity. In addition to four regular English classes every day, there are classes for emotional management (EQ), Happy Life, Q&A, music and games. PEACH provides children with food, accommodation, bath and physical examination. As a PEACH sponsor, I am delighted to know that my donation is being put to the best use.

My first impression of the children is that they are "thin". It's not the bony kind of thinness like a hungry wolf, but the healthy and strong kind, "sturdy sticky" as people from Shanghai would say. When I, a stranger from city, greeted them with "How are you", they were at complete loss. When I did it in English, "How are you, children!", they all blushed and lowered their heads. To make them feel at ease, I came up with an English name for each child. This little "trick" made their eyes shine again.

The children are in second or third year of middle school, their ages range from 14 to 17. Since they have been using their local native dialect and have had no constant exposure to TV and radio, it is sometimes difficult to communicate with them in Mandarin, let alone English. I look through their standard English textbooks. They are rich in content and superbly designed, and may be of great help to big-city children who have been learning English since early age and have a solid foundation. For these poor kids who have just started to learn, however, the textbooks are just impossibly difficult. The lack of teachers in the villages and towns is a huge problem in the local education system. Several local English teachers who come to my class admit that their majors are physics, history, computer and even politic science. The only job vacancies in the remote areas are for English teachers. If they want to teach, teaching English is their only choice.

Seven days of intensive teaching has been exhausting but I managed. Class participation by the children has quickly evolved from being "forced" to being "active", even "competitive". It is rumored that in the dorm at night, English has been uttered by children during their sleep. On the last day of the camp, instead of correcting their pronunciation and cramming them with grammar, I decided to have a chat with them, to let the children talk. Talk they did!

Ian, who was top of his class, lost his father a year ago. When he was not in school, he cooked for his mother, washed clothes and looked after his younger brother. "Auntie, I am the eldest son. I will love my mother and give her a good life." Lily, lovely and pretty, lost her mother at an early age. She was often driven out of the house by her stepmother, constantly went hungry. Occasionally she would go to her old grandmother's house for refuge. "Auntie, I'd rather go to a deserted island than see my stepmother's face."

Towards the end of the class, David stood up and asked, "Auntie, can I read you something? "

"Of course!"

It was "Paper Boat" by Bing-Xin. When he read, "Mother my dearest, if you see a tiny white boat in your dream, don't be surprised that it comes to you for no reason. It is made by your beloved daughter, tears in her eyes. Across rivers and mountains, I pray that it sails away with all my love and sorrow." I burst into tears.

After the summer camp, Guo-dong and I visited Vietnam. On our return, we walked back to the Chinese border along Mang Street from Vietnam. Guo-dong was eagerly walking in the front and I followed. When we saw from afar the border sign "The border of the People's Republic of China", I was overwhelmed emotionally. Guo-dong turned back and yelled, "Does it feel wonderful, being back home!" "No kidding!", I replied and quickly stopped my tears with my cuff. My beloved motherland! I hope under wise leadership of the sages, you will prosper. Everyone under your wings will thrive!

Thanks to PEACH, at an age of over fifty, I am given the opportunity, like the Indian prince Siddhartha Gautama who stepped out of the confines of the Imperial Palace, to see for myself, sometimes with horror and sadness, the real world. I'm no Buddha. I'm not a doctor. I'm not rich. I have no authority. I have no power to make more changes for the better for the poor children. To me and my conscience, I dedicate this article!

 

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