I’ve been absent for awhile doing academic work, but I really wanted to share my experiences from back on April 7, when I visited the Guang’an Vocational and Technical College.
I was joined by Sichuan University Students and UW exchange members Zhang Yin and Huang Wenlan for a 3-1/2 hour bus ride through lush and drizzly Sichuan countryside, on a freeway so smooth I could write in my field notebooks on the ride. We arrived around noon to find Yangjuan graduates Qubi Lisan, Ma Xiaoyang, and Li Musa waiting for us at the bus station; we hopped a city bus to the College, not far out of town, where we had lunch at a little restaurant outside the campus gate, and caught up with the students’ doings:
All of the boys are in three-year credential programs, studying to be elementary teachers. Lisan wants to teach English, Musa early childhood education, and Xiaoyang art. They had all recently passed their first-year qualifying examinations with no trouble, and the next hurdle was a test of pronunciation and grammar in the Standard Chinese language known as Putonghua (ordinary speech) in China and Mandarin outside. They had gained an enormous amount of confidence since I had known them back in their middle-school days, and it seemed to me they were going to be a credit to their ethnic group and their village. In addition, studying to be a teacher is, I think, not just a matter of job security, but a way of giving back to the community and the schools that had enabled them to come this far.
After lunch, we toured the campus, dominated by a statue of Guang’an native Deng Xiaoping on a high pedestal. The boys said several times that it was too bad we didn’t have more time; they would have liked to go with us to Deng’s birthplace, which is now a local museum, which they have visited twice already. And rightly so; if it were not for the visionary program of reform that Deng set out for China in the 1970s and 80s, it would have been very unlikely that Xiaoyang, Musa, and Lisan would have been able to go to college.
Still, for Xiaoyang’s family in particular, college expenses are almost prohibitive. Lisan’s and Musa’s fathers are both township officials, so they are not feeling the economic pinch of college as acutely as Xiaoyang’s family is, though our scholarships still help. But consider that these boys have expenses, including tuition, room and board, food, and transportation home for vacations, that amount to about 11,000 or 12,000 yuan (between $1,700 and $19,00) per year. Xiaoyang’s father Labbu, whom I have known for a long time, is an ordinary farmer in Yangjuan, though endowed with special skills in the old Nuosu art of felt-making. In recent years, he and his older sun Muga have been traveling to big cities, including Beijing, to work on construction projects. Together, they can probably net enough to cover Xiaoyang’s college expenses in a half-year’s work, but of course they have other expenses as well. Muga was seriously injured three years ago by a falling crowbar, but he is now back to work. Xiaoyang told me that his father had insisted that Xiaoyang come along to Beijing last summer and work construction with them. It was incredibly tiring, he said, much more so than the farm work he has been doing after school and during weekends and vacations since he was a little boy.
So if we hope to continue success stories like Xiaoyang’s, and to add more of them, we need to redouble our efforts to raise funds, and hope that we can perhaps increase the amounts of our college scholarships beginning with the 2012-13 academic year.