I heard very early before I visited there that Gansu is quite a poor place, and the areas which located in the mountains of the Loess Plateau is of even more hard condition. In the afternoon of June 27th, members of our “BangZhuHaiZi” organization arrived in Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu Province.. Along with the local volunteers from Yuzhong (in Lanzhou) we went for the schools there, from which we started our “trip to the Loess Plateau”.
Our group was formed by a girl, who was a volunteer of the “Skyblu” association, Marco and Xuan, member of the Bangzhuhaizi. There were also 8 would-be volunteer who, made curious by the sight of a stranger in their land, had joined our group. These 8 people were also part of a “Fiat” Chinese group (Fiat car made in Nanjing) and gave us 3 cars for our trip.
FIRST STAGE: THE SCHOOL
About one hour by car did we arrive at the No.1 High school of Yuzhong County. There we met another fellow traveller, Mr. Zhang, who teaches in this school. From many years Mr. Zhang helps poor kids: he selects the cases, he visits the families in order to have some information and he relies on people who want to help him in his project (private citizens, voluntary associations,…)
The school’s secretary and some of the leadership met us in the front gate and then showed us around the school. The secretary told us that this school was founded in 1943 and was confirmed as a “first level” high school by the county government in 1995, it became to one of the best high schools of Lanzhou in 2000 and now it is a paradigmatic one in Gansu province. The school covers an area of 80 acres, including 48classes and more than 3,800 students (of which 1,900 were boarders).
In the course of visiting the school, I found out that the overall hardware facilities of the school are good. And the current urgent problem is the need of a library. Their library was transformed from some old classrooms, presently, only one of the rooms has some books on display. When making a scrutiny, u may find many of those books are not suitable for high school students, such as industrial books, agricultural books as well as some old books which have been out of date. Another problem is the school’s dining hall is also outdated, and the sanitation there really needs to be improved.
On the playground, some students are doing sports, looking at these students; Mr.Zhang told us that many of them came from rural areas, their families’ condition usually very poor and they live far away from the school. So that some of these students have to choose to live in the school, but the costs of boarding have no doubt to make those families from bad to worse. Fortunately, there are many kind people are giving them helps to support them go on their studies. And those students are also studying hard. We could see many students who had made outstanding achievements in this year’s college entrance examinations had been announced in the promotion field.
SECOND STAGE: VILLAGES IN THE MOUNTAINS
while cleanSubsequently, we left the school to reach the aim of our trip: we went to visit those students’ home, their homes are in the mountains (on the Loess Plateau) with remote location (from house to house it’s necessary to travel even 1-2 hours by car). All the scenes that came into my view are just barren loess along the way, and occasionally there would be a few trees which I know without names or a small piece of bean/corn fields.
But according to Mr.zhang, these crops are basically relying on the weather there. If unluckily encountered a severe drought year then it would be erected. This area is located on the “Silk Road” which can be dated back to the beginning of the Chinese Empire – Han dynasty (when the capital was nowadays’ Xian) and it was once covered by forests; the large use of wood during the years has made this zone a desert. In many parts of this area there is a water failure from years and the Chinese Government is promoting difficult works in order to make this area covered again by forests.
The soil here is sandy and very crumbly, so it’s easy for people to dig it. Most of the local people live in cave dwelling or house made of clay, while there are stoves in their kitchens. As a result of locating in the Loess Plateau, and having sufficient sunshine, every household has a solar cooker (a sort of umbrella made with lots of pieces of mirror; these pieces reflect the heat and converge it in the centre of this “umbrella”, where there is the cooker) and those inverted shiny silver “umbrellas” constitute a unique landscape of Loess Plateau. Besides, residents there may feed livestock like sheep, donkey.
Originally, I thought the students’ homes may be house to house and would be found easily, however, the car run for more than 3 hours without finding out one student’s home, the households there are scattered and far away from each other. We visited some families, but we had some problems with the street: it was too narrow and our cars risked to fall from the mountain. After some villages, we reached a way too difficult for cars, so Marco, Mr.Zhang and I had to get off the car and walk for a short time (this was what they said us: instead, we had to spend nearly 40 mins on foot) to reach a student’s (Liqianqian) home (located in Baimu village).
There are 8 people in her home, qianqian, who study at school as a boarder, while her father working out to support this family. In the same time, we phoned our “Fiat” group and we discovered that the 3 cars hadn’t wait us: they were go back… with our luggage!!! As it was too late for us to get back, the whole family invited us to share dinner with them and to spend one night there. They cooked some noodles and vegetables for us, simple but it was their best things and tasted pretty good. The whole family has only 2bedrooms and that night their 8 into one room and treated us with another. At night before going to bed, they gave us a bowl of water to wash ourselves and we used it recycled. There, on the Loess Plateau, every drop of water is very precious, even for such little water in this small bowl, you would never know how long it was saved in the water cellar. As they described, it has been long time no rain there. The night there was really so cold and dark, fortunately, there was Kang (brick bed in English, people may make fire under it to keep it warm) so the house was full of warmth, but people there still use quilts though it was already at the end of June.
Looking around the room, it was furnitured simply and tidy; women there may work at leisure to do needlework, making embroidery in the bedding. The life there is poor but peace. The silence and the darkness here (which started around 8-9 p.m.) is impressive! Often the electricity here is present, but it is used only a little (only few light bulbs used only when it is necessary). During the night, people are “imprisoned” in their house: the narrow paths, the mountains, the precipices,… all is covered by darkness and it’s impossible to move.
In the morning, people wake up early (with the sun rising); the old people leave the village with some animals in order to look for same grass, while the women sweep the farmyard in order to pick up the night hoar-frost in the well, where it becomes precious water.
They cooked for us a sort of flat bread made with wheat and some eggs.. This was an outstanding menu for those people: in fact, they wrapped some newsprint around the remains of the dinner and asked us to bring it to their children at school.
After the greetings, we left the house and started to walk again.
Even the 6-7 years old children have to walk for more than one hour on dusty streets in order to reach the school, where they stay for the whole day; they don’t lunch, so they can eat only in the evening, when they go back from school.
We were walking on the same street, from the villages in the mountains to the main village: there is the school and also a paved road (Zhang had phoned the school and asked a car for us).
THIRD STAGE: FU XING VILLAGE
The car drove us to the capital, where we arrived around midday, and then it drove us towards our second stage, after about 3 hour on the highway. We greeted our friends and then we traveled by taxi (it belonged to a Fuxin volunteer) towards the village (the trip lasted about one hour): the landscape was first rich in coal mine and then bare and mountainous again.
We arrived at the primary school: the people here gave us a warm welcome. Mr. He (liable to projects of charity works in Fuxing) said us that there were 9 schools, including 8 primary schools and 1 middle school and all of which are located in the seven villages here. Then we went to visit a primary school nearby, it’s a small school and a teacher there told us that usually a primary school here has only about 50 students for the all six grades, it may have as much as 10 kids for one grade or as less as 4. Owing to the scatter of the villages, it is unable to manage the 9 schools into a big one. Besides, the children have to walk for about one hour to reach the nearest school everyday. Then we went to check their library, this school’s library had been equipped by a donor, it is very small and with 3 bookcases, in which with all of the book donations.
Out from the school we went to visit 3 students’ families. I got to know that most of the families here have many family members especially kids. In addition, the quality of family labor is not high, which showed as low cultural qualities and low physical fitness. However, the people here are hardworking, simple and kind. We had our dinner at a student’s home in the evening, and they picked a bag of peas for us (they eat it without cooking it!). We learned to eat the pods taking off the strong film using the hands. You should know that people here rely on this kind of crops, their survival crops, but they treat us with it generously; they also cooked for us some pork.
They haven’t got the refrigerator, so they have to use other ways to preserve food. The pork is cut to pieces, preserved with salt and put into a small cave in the soil; also the potatoes are put in the cave with some straw. In this way they can preserve food for about one year.
During the night we stayed in the “hotel of the village”, a small building with only 5 rooms (you had to enter each room from the outer side), without toilets.
The morning of June 29th, we continued to visit a few students’ homes and to investigate the libraries ( in Shanghan primary school and Fuxing middle school, both located in the Shanghan village) which our organization will donate to build.
The round plan is 500 books/library.
In the school yard of Fuxing middle school, the students were having morning class and they were all devoted into reading their books; and when we reached Shanghan primary school, it was at the time of break, but those kids were still holding their books, studying and seemed no one had the willing to put the books down.
Often in these school there is a power cut and during the winter they must have their afternoon lessons outside because there isn’t light enough.
They show an exceptional care; they don’t have television neither other amusements, so the only way they have to express their wish to emerge is the school; the care of children who live in the country is bigger than the care of the richer children who live in the cities.
Finally, we had to leave, but when looking at those kind villagers, cute kids again, we were little reluctant to leave. I remembered what the villagers told me that this area is too poor that almost no one is willing to come to visit them, to observer and care their lives. In all of the donors, Marco was the first person who came to visit them and also was the only international friend who came here.
Goodbye, Fuxing; goodbye, the Loess Plateau. We will come here again!