inside thoughts on China and beyond

Photo Story – Schools of Hope

Victor Hugo once said: “He who opens a school door, closes a prison“. This is surely true here, in the Land of the Yi, around Xichang. Long have the local people of the Yi ethnic minority lived in extreme poverty that lead many of previous generations into alcohol and drugs abuse, leaving deep scars in the younger generation. Here, a few determined teachers with small budgets but great hearts have started schools for the Yi children. Many students walk hours through the mountains each day to come to school, their school of hope.

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Driving through the ‘Land of the Yi’, the sky is beauty blue and the fields are lush green. But the hills, where most of the Yi now live, are dry and dusty.

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Only old people can be found in the villages…

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Old people who care for the young. Most parents have left to find work in the city.

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At the foot of the mountains is a school. Many kids have to walk the hills for several hours to reach the school.

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Peeping in classrooms during recess. Due to shortage of teachers, classes sometimes need to share a teacher, by rotating study and play time.

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Classes with up to 60 students is normal. At the back wall is Yi-writing.

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A class ‘echoing’ the teacher; the most common (and due to the large class sizes also the most workable) teaching method is drilling.

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Students who have some money, can buy snacks at a neighboring ‘store’. Most can’t afford it.

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Playing is a universal joy!

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But to come to school, most students from the mountain villages need to climb dangerous and slippery paths each day. A young migrant couple resting from their walk to their home village.

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After an hour walk, we reach the first village. But all that seems to live here, are some goats and pigs.

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The old, windowless mud houses with their leaking roofs are weathered, dark and humid, as in Anton Pieck’s 19th-century paintings.

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A cow in a typical farm courtyard.

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Some farm women welcomed us with shy smiles.

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Before we could enter the house, the chicken were chased out.

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The farm house exists of one large room with on all sides ‘stuff’ piled up. In one corner, behind some plastic is a bed where all family members sleep. Meat is hanging on the roof beams.

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Two cousins who only return from work in the city during holidays. For them life in the countryside is boring and has nothing to offer. His father died of alcohol abuse, his mother is a drug addict, currently in rehab. Although life is hard for these teenagers, they do not tend to escape into alcohol and drugs abuse as many of their parents did. Unlike their parents, they do see hope, little it may be.

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Many end up as low-paid migrant worker in bigger cities, usually in factories, but some, like this seamster, on the road side.

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3 generations in their courtyard door.

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The child is 6 years old and too young to walk the large distance to school. As with many Yi-children, he will only start school at the age of 8 or 9.

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Although the schools are poor, their principals and teachers are all working very hard to help and educate and love these children. With the help of passionate teachers and local government, these kids might escape the imprisoned of poverty.

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Education is for these children really the only window of opportunity; the only chance for change.

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Many who grew up with an abundance of schooling opportunities, experience(d) education as troublesome and a stumbling block -and even Albert Einstein can be counted among them. These Yi children surely not. For them, education is the only hope to escape poverty and hardship, provided to them by a few determined people -with small budgets but great hearts. For them, let’s recall the words of George Washington Carver, whose early years was not unlike theirs and whose later years are an encouragement that gives hope, “education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom”.

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Please note that upon request, photos of teachers are omitted, as well as names of people.

Read more about Xichang in my posts ‘Exit Xichang‘.

6 responses

  1. What a fascinating photographic story into a hidden corner of the world. I will have to share this with my 6-year-old daughter when she gets home from school here in Hong Kong later this afternoon.

    May 24, 2013 at 2:06 pm

    • I liked the way you captured such a story “education is freedom”through your pictures.

      May 26, 2013 at 1:01 am

  2. How inspiring. The quote at the beginning drew me right in. Great job!

    Emily
    {Photography and Wisdom}

    May 28, 2013 at 11:45 am

  3. captivating! well done // you have quite a talent for story telling with your images xx

    June 12, 2013 at 1:21 am

  4. Excellent post Steven. As always wonderful photography. This is a topic close to my heart.

    Matt

    June 12, 2013 at 10:21 am

  5. Pingback: Photo Story – Schools of Hope | Dutchinaman's Blog

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