News Release: Cool Mountain Education Fund Receives Grant to Fund Scholarships in China

The Journey Charitable Foundation of Houston, Texas has awarded a $5,000 grant to the Cool Mountain Education Fund, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization headquartered in Seattle, Washington. The grant will provide scholarships for female Nuosu ethnic minority graduates of the rural Yangjuan Primary School in Yanyuan County, Sichuan, China to attend high school and college. Many of these students are the first in their families to attend high school or college. Although their families are eager to support their educations, the costs of schooling are rising dramatically while farm family income is rising much more slowly.

Secondary school students in Yanyuan County.
Secondary school students in Yanyuan County.

Educating girls has profound effects on social and economic development that extend across generations. Women with higher levels of education have more economic opportunities, earn more than their less-educated counterparts and can postpone marriage and child-rearing until they are more equipped for family responsibilities. What’s more, the children of educated women raise their children to be more educated.

One student supported by Cool Mountain Education Fund is Xiaolan from Yangjuan Village. Her father completed elementary school and her mother does not read. Xiaolan showed promise when she was a primary school student; she was one of the Cool Mountain Education Fund’s first scholarship recipients in 2005. In July 2015, Xiaolan graduated with a BA in mathematics education from Xichang College. She now teaches mathematics. Xiaolan is one of 60 Yangjuan graduates who have continued to college since 2011. Other graduates are serving as elementary and middle school teachers in art, English, and primary education teachers. Others are working in industries from hydropower to insurance.

About the Cool Mountain Education Fund

Founded in 2005, CMEF is a completely volunteer-led, non-governmental organization.  Our international board includes scientists and professionals in anthropology, environmental engineering, public health, economics, biomedical research, resource management, and education in the U.S., China, the United Kingdom, and Hong Kong. CMEF aims to improve student outcomes by providing scholarships to all qualifying students, seeking gender parity. CMEF supports higher quality education, more access to modern information and education technologies, and innovative teaching methods. CMEF encourages teachers and students to use the shared, local knowledge of the Nuosu community to become more critical thinkers and informed citizens.

We have beautiful new Neo-Nuosu jewelry

Nuosu people love jewelry.  Young women adorned in silver display not only their youth and beauty but their family’s wealth. Older women are more modest in their display, but still sport a pair of silver earrings, a ring or two, and a silver collar.  Men customarily wore a silver earring in the left ear, as well as a finger ring or two of their own; some carry on this tradition even in today’s urban society.

A smith in Butuo County uses tweezers to assemble floral pattern silver earrings
A smith in Butuo County uses tweezers to assemble floral pattern silver earrings

Smiths who have inherited the craft through generations continue to produce these traditional objects, and people continue to wear them.

But ethnic arts, just like other arts, are not frozen in time, and increasingly in recent years creative and innovative Nuosu artists have drawn on traditional themes to produce new kinds of clothing, lacquer ware, and other art items.  When University of Washington junior Tiffany Fox spent the year in Sichuan in 2014-15, she became interested in Nuosu language and culture, and got to know some artists around the Cool Mountains.  Among them was
Tang Yuehui, a young woman who uses brass, enamel and glass to produce new kinds of jewelry inspired by the red, yellow, and black patterns of traditional lacquerware, thus combining two of the most prominent Nuosu decorative arts with modern materials and techniques.  Thanks to Tiffany’s gift, we are delighted to be able to offer some of Ms. Tang’s jewelry this holiday season on the Nuosu Marketplace. Here is a sampling:

Bracelets
Bracelets
Medallion bracelets
Medallion bracelets
Keychains
Keychains
Post earrings
Post earrings
Medallion necklaces
Medallion necklaces
Adjustable rings
Adjustable rings
Compacts (two mirrors, no powder)
Compacts (two mirrors, no powder)

2016 Calendars are on the way

We’re delighted to report that our 2016 Cool Mountain Education Fund calendars are at the printers, and should be here by December 7 at the latest. Calendars are still only $20, plus $5 shipping for an order of any size, or you can pick it up from a board member for free.

As usual, all but $3.50 of your calendar purchase goes directly to our scholarship fund (the $3.50 is what it costs us to print the calendar). Amounts over $10 are tax deductible (we have to subtract the “fair market value” of the calendar, judged to be $10, from what you can deduct from your taxes.

This year’s calendar features photography by Kaitlin Banfill and Tami Blumenfield of the Cool Mountain board, Steve Rigdon of the Yakama Nation, and Zhang Haibin. Have a look at a few sneak previews of monthly pages:

August

December

February

Success!

 

Before the 2015 Scholarship Ceremony
Before the 2015 Scholarship Ceremony

Thanks to the generosity of many of our donors (listed below), we have met our goal of raising enough funds to provide seven more college scholarships and nine more high school scholarships to students whose names were unavailable to us when we carried out our last scholarship ceremony  in late August. Our new board member He Wenhai will deliver the scholarships within a few weeks, well before our self-imposed deadline of the Nuosu New Year.

We want to thank the following people in particular.

Helen Rees

Cristina Chan and Bryan Chow

Peggy and Walter Swain

Cynthia Zhang

Geoffrey Morgan

Rachel Meyer

All of you have helped us fulfill our promise to sixteen deserving students.

 

 

 

 

Successful Scholarships and an Appeal

On August 22, we arrived in Yangjuan for our latest yearly visit: Our newest board member, He Wenhai; Nuosu education researcher Aga Rehamo, who will be spending the next two years at UW; old friends Tom Hinckley, Sara Jo Viraldo, Keala Hagmann, and I.  We came in the wake of a flood that devastated Apiladda Valley all the way from Gangou to the fields below the Yangjuan School, and found mud everywhere, though the waters had receded for a few days already.  We had  been warned, and had stopped in Yanyuan town to buy Wellington boots, which were necessary just to walk the muddy “road” from Fagen’s house, where we were staying, a few hundred meters up to the school.

The road a week after the flood. Photo by Aga Rehamo.
The road a week after the flood. Photo by Aga Rehamo.

The next day, we walked the 5 kilometers each way up to Gangou to check out the devastation of the waters.  Cornfields were washed away, the ripening stalks strewn everywhere on grassland and newly planted poplar forest; a former potato field was covered in good-sized rocks that washed down; banks were severely eroded, even a child was swept away by the waters (he was rescued; we talked to him). 83-year old Apu said he had only seen floods this bad four times in his life.

Pretty devastating.  These were potato fields a week before.  Photo by Keala Hagmann
Pretty devastating. These were potato fields a week before. Photo by Keala Hagmann

Despite the devastation of the waters, we were able to conduct a successful scholarship ceremony, helping out 51 college students with stipends of 3000 Renminbi, or about $500, each, and giving a small boost of RMB 1000 each to 18 students who have graduated from middle school and are now starting the first year of high school.  Principal Sha Kaiyuan, Village Head Ma Guohua, CMEF board member He Wenhai and I spoke at the brief ceremony, along with two student representatives.

Ma Jingui, one of the first Yangjuan graduates to benefit from our middle-school scholarships starting in 2005, was one of the student speakers. His high school and college educations were delayed by a bad head injury, so he is now in his sophomore year of a bachelor’s degree program at Chengdu College of Digital Information Science.

Ma Jingui speaking at the scholarship ceremony.  Photo by Aga Rehamo.
Ma Jingui speaking at the scholarship ceremony. Photo by Aga Rehamo.

Speaking entirely in Nuosu, he exhorted students not to miss out on opportunities, as he had when he was younger, but to apply themselves wholeheartedly not just for their own life advancement, but to show proper gratitude to their families and to the benefactors at CMEF. A poignant moment came when he broke into tears, and I saw four mothers in the front row of the classroom start to cry at the same time.

Ma Huaying at left, with CMEF board member He Wenhai, Village Head Ma Guohua, Steve, and Yangjuan Principal Sha Kaiyuan. Photo by Tom Hinckley
Ma Huaying at left, with CMEF board member He Wenhai, Village Head Ma Guohua, Steve, and Yangjuan Principal Sha Kaiyuan. Photo by Tom Hinckley

Ma Huaying, who is now in her final year of a three-year program at Guang’an Vocational and Technical College, also spoke, half in Nuosu and half in Standard Chinese, or Putonghua.  Her speech was notable for its poise and for her perfect Putonghua pronunciation.

Then, when we passed out the scholarships, we discovered something. Despite all the best efforts of several of our friends, we had omitted seven college and nine first-year high school students who, after careful checking, were eligible for our scholarships.  We had held some money in reserve for just such a contingency, but not enough, and now we find ourselves about $4000 short.

All those envelopes full of cash were still not quite enough. Photo by Aga Rehamo.
All those envelopes full of cash were still not quite enough. Photo by Aga Rehamo.

I think we can raise these funds by Yi New Year in early December, and He Wenhai can travel to Yangjuan to disburse them. Please consider contributing whatever you can so that we can complete our obligations.

Thanks in advance to everyone!

 

 

 

Going to a good school

My Nuosu colleague Aga Rehamo (now a professor at Sichuan Normal University in Chengdu) and I wrote an article about the changing ways Nuosu people are adapting to education, as many parents’ goal for their has risen from “going to school” to “going to a good school,” which at the high school level means going to either Yanyuan County High School or Yanyuan Nationalities High School. Since both these schools are in the County Seat, this means boarding, and boarding means family arrangements. Kaitlin recently wrote after she visited her “little sister” He Ying or Yyhxo Vugamo in Yanyuan:

“I am back in Liangshan studying the Nuosu language for the summer. Last weekend I visited two Yangjuan high school students, He Ying and her cousin Li Vuzhi, or Hximop Vutjy. I wrote a post about He Ying last year.

He Ying and her Cousin Li Vuzhi in front of the Yanyuan Nationalities Middle School
He Ying and her Cousin Li Vuzhi in front of the Yanyuan Nationalities Middle School

She and her cousin are living in Yanyuan County city where they are finishing up their second year of high school. They previously lived in the school dorm, where they lived with eight roommates and had to adhere to a strict schedule. This year, their family decided to rent a room just down the road from school for the two girls to live in.

He Ying's grandfather, Hxisse Vuga, shares a toast with Steve at the Yangjuan School celebration in 2010.
He Ying’s grandfather, Hxisse Vuga, shares a toast with Steve at the Yangjuan School celebration in 2010.

Their grandfather, Hxisse Vuga, lives with them from Monday through Friday, helping them prepare meals and monitoring their studies. He returns to Yangjuan on the weekends to tend to his farming. Next year, their grandmother will switch with him and accompany the girls.

He Ying’s parents, who worked at a toy factory in far-away Guangdong province last year, have also moved closer to home. They live in Weicheng, a town twenty minutes from the county city, where they are renting a farmhouse and an apple orchard. This allows them to be closer to He Ying and to take care of their nine-year –old daughter, He Zhen. He Zhen is finally living with her parents for the first time in several years and attending a new school in Weicheng. These changes in He Ying’s family over this past year show Yangjuan families’ growing concern for their children’s education, as well as the time and energy that they are willing to invest in ensure their children have a good learning environment.

He Ying reported that their new room costs less than the dorm (300 yuan per month)and makes studying easier because there are fewer roommates and no strict requirements such as lights out at ten o’clock. Their room is one of eight rooms around courtyard and a shared bathroom. They have two beds, a table, an electric stove, and plenty of space to store clothing and books. Their neighbors are fellow students from school and a Mosuo grandmother. He Ying and Li Vuzhi quickly made friends with the other girls in the complex. They walk to school together in the morning and study in the evenings. They plan to continue renting this room through next year- the final and most rigorous year of senior middle school. He Ying and Li Vuzhi hope they can study hard this upcoming year and attend college in Xichang or near Chengdu. They often talk about their older cousins, who have graduated from college, and are an inspiration for their studies. I wish them the best of luck this upcoming year and look forward to hearing about their college life in the future!”

2015 Calendar is at the Printer’s

Our 2015 Calendar is almost ready. This year, we asked Kaitlin, who has been doing a lot of really interesting photography in Yangjuan and with Yangjuan graduates in other places, to design the calendar around her pictures. She was particularly interested in using square-format pictures that she takes with her professional 2×2 dual-lens reflex film camera.

Kaitlin chose 15 of her best pictures, and asked her friend Lama, a young Nuosu instructor at Southwest Nationalities University in Chengdu, to write Nuosu-language captions to go along with the English ones.

Then we ran into a bit of a snag at the printer’s it would cost us $10 per calendar to print in our desired 10 x 10 size, but only $4 to print 8.5 x 8.5. So we are going to have what I called a “compact” design this year, i.e. the calendar will be narrower than usual. But the difference in printing costs will mean four scholarships for 4-year college students.

The calendars will be ready around Dec. 12. In the meantime, here are a few samples of the photography:

3 January picture small

17 August picture small

23 November picture small

The First Teacher to Graduate from Yangjuan

Ma Xiaoyang, Yangjuan graduate and elementary school teacher.

I met Ma Xiaoyang for the first time on a hot summer day at his college in Guang’an. The first thing I noticed about him was that he seemed older than the other Yangjuan students there. Everyone seemed to follow his lead and he helped me carry my backpack and find a hotel. Ma Xiaoyang seemed to act as an older brother to his younger relatives, taking care of them and joking with them. He had a tendency to call everyone (including me) haizi or “child” and we often joked back, calling him “Uncle Ma.” Whenever he made jokes, Li Musa would role his eyes at him and Ma Huaying would hit him on the arm. Seeing this, I asked Ma Huaying if he used to tease her when she was little and she replied “Of course not! He was our older brother and took care of us!” And although Li Musa sometimes acted annoyed with him, he later told me “Whenever I feel sad, Ma Xiaoyang can always cheer me up. I’m glad he goes to school here with me.” Ma Xiaoyang also had many friends in his class. At their class graduation party, he shifted from table to table, joking and laughing with all of his classmates.

Ma Xiaoyang (center) with his cousins at school in Guang'an
Ma Xiaoyang (center) with his cousins at school in Guang’an

I visited Yangjuan last winter when Ma Xiaoyang was fulfilling his internship requirement at Baiwu Elementary School. I visited to his class for a day and he introduced me with his trademark humor: “This is Yang Yingqiu. She has an English name, but I can’t pronounce it.” The children roared with laughter. It was clear he had a good relationship with his students.

That afternoon I visited Ma Xiaoyang’s family’s house and we took a walk up the mountain behind Yangjuan. Walking up a quiet lane between mud-brick walls, Ma Xiaoyang told me the following story about when he went to work in construction with his father in Beijing:

“When I was working at the construction site, I didn’t want to tell the boss that I was a college student, because I was afraid he would think I had no construction skills. So I hid my identity as a college student for a few weeks. One day, all the workers had to fill out forms, but I was the only one who could write, so I filled out the forms for everyone. That day the boss called me to his office and said “You have good penmanship, are you a college student?” and I confirmed that I was. He smiled and told me going to school was a good thing. He didn’t fire me and even ended up paying for my 300 kuai ticket back to Sichuan.”

On the mountainside, Ma Xiaoyang walked ahead clearing a path for me. Along the way he pointed out various landmarks, the hill where he used to collect firewood and some large stones where he and his cousins used to sit and study. We made it to an area with a good view overlooking the entire village and all the way to Baiwu, but we stopped there because Ma Xiaoyang was afraid I was too tired and said “if you pass out, you’re too tall for me to carry down.”

Ma Xiaoyang on the mountainside overlooking Yangjuan
Ma Xiaoyang on the mountainside overlooking Yangjuan

Steve first visited Ma Xiaoyang’s family in 1993, when Xiaoyang was a small boy.  When I first went to their house, Xiaoyang pulled out a slightly wrinkled photograph of their family with Steve holding Xiaoyang’s older brother Muga on his lap.  Steve still has the original slide.

Steve with Ma Xiaoyang's brother Muga on his lap, Ma Xiaoyang (right)
Steve with Ma Xiaoyang’s brother Muga on his lap, Ma Xiaoyang (center) on his father’s lap
Ma Xiaoyang's nieces surprised to see their father and uncle as children
Ma Xiaoyang’s nieces surprised to see their father and uncle as children

In the spring, Ma Xiaoyang was living in Xichang. When I asked what he had been doing recently he smiled and said, “I’m picking up glass bottles and turning them in for five cents apiece.” Everyone at the table laughed, as they often do whenever Ma Xiaoyang tells a good joke. In reality, he had finished his internship and was focusing on studying for teacher placement exams. He often spent time with his cousins and classmates from Yangjuan who went to Xichang College. In the day he went to the library at Xichang College to study for exams. In the evening worked at a quiet bar serving Snow Beer and peanuts to college kids.

Ma Xiaoyang periodically messaged me that he was passing through Chengdu to take teacher placement exams in various cities around Sichuan. One day in July he messaged that he had passed the test for Leibo County in Liangshan and would soon be placed in a teaching position for the upcoming school year. He is now teaching a third grade language arts class in a village in Leibo County. He recently posted a photo of him playing with the children during recess. I commented on the photo “cute.” He jokingly replied: “cute, but also a little scary.”

I am thankful to Ma Xiaoyang for his kindness to me over the past year and I wish him the best of luck in his new job!

Ma Xiaoyang with his students in Leibo
Ma Xiaoyang with his students in Leibo

Two opportunities to share our experience

On September 4th and 5th, I had the opportunity to share some lessons from our experience in Yangjuan with audiences of teachers, researchers, and students at two educational institutions in Chengdu: The College of Yi Studies at Southwest University for Nationalities or 西南民族大学, and the Institute for Multicultural Education at Sichuan Normal University, or 四川师范大学。

The talk at SWUN was a great opportunity to revisit old friends among the Yi studies community and to introduce Noah and Tiffany to younger scholars and students who will be working with them in their study of Yi language education.

The talk at SNU was particularly special. I was hosted by my friend and co-author Professor Aga Rehamo, and she introduced me to a wonderful institute where she is now a faculty member, the Institute for Multicultual Education. Under the leadership of Professor Badeng Nima (Palden Nyima), a Jiarong Tibetan, they have gathered a multi-ethnic faculty from Tibetan, Qiang, Yi, Miao, Naxi and other ethnic groups, who are actively involved not only in research but in practical experiments with education in minority communities.

Photo by Zhang Wei
Photo by Zhang Wei

The audience, consisting of these faculty and their undergraduate students, was raptly interested in what I had to say about the successes, challenges, and transformation of our work in Yangjuan, and when I was done talking, a lively question-and-answer session lasted over 45 minutes, after which Professor Badeng gave a masterful summary combined with a challenge to his faculty and students to make their research serve the development and improvement of multi-ethnic education in the rapidly changing ethnic communities of China’s Southwest.

Professor Badeng Nima listens to Li Lan. Photo by Zhang Wei
Professor Badeng Nima listens to Li Lan. Photo by Zhang Wei

A special treat came when Li Lan, a graduate of Yangjuan and a CMEF scholarship recipient, who is now a sophomore at SNU, emailed me to say she would be able to attend the talk, and was invited by Professor Badeng to make comments on her experience as someone who had come through Yangjuan School and was now herself studying multicultural education. I felt like the circle was complete, and I’m confident that Li Lan will join those recent college graduates who have begun to give back to the communities that have supported them through the course of their education.