On July 11, 2018, with the settlement of Green & Shine Mini Library, Wugou Primary School welcomed their first real library.
Wugou Primary School is situated in Wugou Village, Santun Town, Ruyang County, Henan Province. It is a primary school in the middle of the mountains. Because of rural traffic inconvenience, officials of education department visit less than once a year on average. The school is now in charge of 61 pupils and more than 30 preschool-age children. There are 7 teachers including the principle and 4 of them are substitute teachers. Among them, the most educated one only received degree from a technical secondary school. The rest of them only graduated from primary school or went to junior high school but never finished. The substitute teacher gets 1000 RMB as salary every month.
A school deep in the mountains
There is only one bus that travels to Wugou every day. I missed this bus so the principle, Mr. Lian, had to picked me up from the county by car. On the way back to the school, Mr. Lian asked us, “Have you ever seen mountains this big?” I sniffed at his question and wondered how giant it could be. However, at day when I could see the mountains clearly, I realized how deep the school hided in the mountains. It takes more than half an hour only to drive out of the mountains.
Wugou primary school takes students from Wugou and two nearby villages, Huangying and Liuzhu. Huangying school merged with Wugou Primary School 3 or 4 years. The principle told us that Liuzhu only had around a dozen students from Grade 1 to Grade 4 and the school wouldn’t be able to last long. Wugou Primary School would be the only one left. The better off families would rent houses in the town, Santun, to support their children with better education. Some parents would take their children with them to study at where they travel to seek better job opportunities. There is also a private school that can pick up students. This causes Wugou Primary School to lose many students.
When it was the time to have the final exams before the new year, the snow was so heavy the it cut off the traffic to outside and Principle Lian had to pick up papers from Santun town on foot. He left the school a little over 6 am in the morning. It was mountain road and some of it already got frozen. One had to be extra careful when walking on it. It was already past 6 pm in the evening when principle Lian fetched the papers and carried them back to the school. In the principle’s words, they are so locked away from the world that they have nowhere to spend money even if they have some. A new teacher has passed exams to teach here last year, however, after he actually saw the school’s environment, the teacher decided to forsake this opportunity he earned by achieving qualifications.
“41 out of 61 students are the left-behind children”
Here are two sets of data: Wugou has a population of over a 1000 people. Among them 500 are considered as poverty stricken. 41 of the 61 students enrolled in Wugou are ‘left-behind’ children. If is often the case that children only get to see their parents once a year and some of the kids have lived with their grandparents for years. Jingyi Guo, a girl who is in third grade lives her life only with her grandfather. Her parents took her younger brother to the city and sometimes couldn’t make it back home once a year.
Wugou is a typical poverty-stricken village, this is well-known in the county. Last year, the poverty alleviation program intended to send allowance to each ‘left-behind’ child, and the parents just have to give their signature as confirmation to receive money. However, many of them give up this money because they are far away from home and travelling back would cost them greatly.
As introduced by the principle, it is the norm for a family to have 3 or 4 children in their village. Children usually live with their grandparents and they are all quite sensible and mature for their age. The older ones often take their younger siblings to school and tend to them during lunch time. They have to bring bowls from home, the older children come to their younger brothers and sisters’ classrooms and help them get food, watch them eat and help washing their bowls. The school charges 2 RMB for a meal which normally includes a steamed bun, a bowl of porridge and some stir-fried potato. Once, the head of teaching wanted to raise the price, the principle insisted on not changing the fee.
“She has to travel this long road by herself from now on”
Wugou Primary School starts and finishes at the same time around four seasons because half of the student live far away from the school. Some luckier students can pick up a ride from the bus which covers a part of their journey and passes Liuzhu according to a fixed time schedule. Parents pay the drivers a small fee to let their children take the bus. In the mornings the bus takes the children to a certain point along its route and takes the students back to Liuzhu at 4:40 pm. Some of the kids still have a long way to go after they get off the bus. There are some kids who ride electricity motorbikes to go to school. The parents have to sign a safety agreement for their children to do so. The rest of the students have to walk to the school by themselves.
There is a long and devious mountain road at the right-hand side of the chool gate. It takes the volunteers around an hour to travel this road. Two sibling sisters live on this road and they used to always come to school together. However, the bigger one, Xinru Yang, graduated this year and the younger one is left alone. There is no one else to chaperon this journey, such a long road has to be traveled by herself from now on.
Fengge Zhang, a girl who is to attend the fourth grade, lives with her aunt who cooks for the school. Her home is in Huangying village, quite far from the school and her mother has left the village to seek work. It is only her father who is at home. She occasionally travels back to her own home in the evenings. Rest of the nights after school when all of her classmates has left, Zhang wanders in the school on her own. She is quite an introvert and doesn’t like to talk much. You can always see her sitting quietly by herself on the stairs.
“I have begged for this G&S Mini Library”
Principle Lian has only been transferred to Wugou Primary School for less than 2 years. When he first arrived, there was no such thing as a decent library and children had nothing to read aside from their textbooks. Mr. Lian decided to collect and set a library by himself. But there weren’t many books, let alone books suitable for small kids. There was no foundation to be discussing ‘making good use’ of the books at that time. This year, the set-up of G&S Mini Library has finally fulfilled the principle’s expectation of a library.
Principle Lian speaks proudly when he mentions the G&S Mini Library project. “I was at the education department to do some administrative work when I run into a director from Green & Shine Foundation. I dropped my papers at hand immediately and followed them everywhere they went. I followed them to the schools in Beibao and Guozhuang village, and once they finished their originally planned visit, I forced them to come with me to have a look at our school.“ Principle Lian smiled, “Our school wasn’t on their original list, I begged for this to happen and it did eventually.” They almost missed the application deadline to fill out the forms but fortunately they managed to figure out the application procedures before the deadline.
“Children should read more; it is beneficial if we can get them something to read before we have classes.” The principle told us that the school across the lake, Yuma Primary School, received a library from G&S Mini Library project and their principle spoke highly of it. As a result, Mr. Lian fought for it when he saw the opportunity.
“I cannot be considered as an assiduous person in daily matters; however, I do commit deeply when I feel responsible. Before I came, this primary school had ranked bottom on academic scores, now it climbed to the top 4 at its best.” To encourage the teachers, Mr. Lian has set up the full-attendance prize and students would also get rewarded if they achieve good grades. The principle also told us that they plan on to build a small building on the other side of the school. They will use the first floor as classrooms and the second floor as teachers and students’ dormitory, so that the children won’t have to travel long distance in the winters.
”I will do the surgery after the students leave the school”
Mr. Shi is the oldest teacher in the school, and he is now over 70 years old. He has taught here for decades, yet still is a substitute teacher. He excels in calligraphy, especially through a brush. Mr. Shi always takes student out to practice calligraphy when the weather is good.
In this April, sadly, Mr. Shi has found a renal cyst. However, he is always thinking of his students and won’t go to the hospital. He insisted on “going to hospital after the students take vacation break”. The students have their final exams on July 4, and Mr. Shi continued to teach until July 3, the day before the final exams. He had the surgery July 5, right after the students leave the school.
After Mr. Shi had the surgery, he always comes to the school to visit. On July 12, the day when the summer camp started, Mr. Shi paid us a nice visit.
The world outside is eye-opening
G&S Happy Reading Summer Camp starts on the morning of July 12. Mr. Wei Fan, village chief, and the cadres of the village come to see the volunteers and students. After spending some time with the children, Mr. Fan told us, “It used to be only the grandparents who take care of the children in the summers. They have never known these games that you introduced them to. These weren’t accessible to them before. The kids in rural areas are not intellectually deficient; they just couldn’t get in touch with the world beyond these mountains.”
During the opening ceremony, an organizer for Camp 2 asked what to name their camp. Xiaoming, a volunteer suggested causally with the name ‘Brandy’, as it was the name of a camp in another school. The children smiled with innocence and also with shyness because they didn’t understand this joke and didn’t have a clue with what ‘brandy’ is. Yet, they were very enthusiastic about the camp. A child abandoned his grandpa to join his friends immediately when they came to sign up for the camp around noon.
Inadequate conditions have limited the children’s access to books. This has caused many students the chance to develop the habit of reading. On the second day of the camp, I asked the children in the fifth grade what their favorite book is and how many books they have. Only two kids gave answers to my questions. One of them said his favorite book is ‘Hundred Thousand Whys’ and the other told me that she has 7 books, but she can’t name them clearly and doesn’t read them very often because there are some characters that she can’t read.
To save a surprise for the children, the volunteers keep the library as a secret until the last day of the camp. They selected some books every day to put them in the reading corner and shared the books with them on reading lessons.
On a class in the later days, a volunteer from Henan Agricultural University organized a session called “I appreciate that … I expect that …” where the students talk about how they did great that day and what they hope for tomorrow. The students put up their hands one after another, one wished to have the book‘Hundred Thousand Whys’; one wished to read books on safety; one on history and another wanted to read about learning….
Changes have happened right from here.