On March 10, 2017, a delegation of the South South Education Foundation (SSEF), headed by Dr. Wu Zhong and Ms. Yao Zhen, respectively Director-General and Deputy Director-General of the Foundation, went to Tianyang - a county subordinated to Baise City of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region – to study local projects. In line with the Foundation’s commitments to “Education Fights Poverty”, this visit emphasized on education for disabled and left-behind children, in the hope of delivering love and dreams to these poor kids.
Following the statement in the 13th Five Year Plan that absolute poverty has to be eradicated with 70 million poor rural citizens lifted out of poverty by 2020, “targeted poverty alleviation” has become the guideline for this battle against poverty. Aiming to assist “targeted poverty alleviation” with the power of charity, the SSEF set up the “Education Fights Poverty” project in 2017, targeting education for vulnerable groups such as left-behind children and the disabled, with Guangxi being the first stop. Tianyang County has a population of 350000, among which there’re around 10,000 vulnerable children like the left-behind ones, the disabled and the impoverished ones, accounting for 28% of the total number of students entitled to compulsory education in the County. It is fair to say that this group of vulnerable children constitutes a weak point in social management. First, away from their parents during the period when they grow up rapidly both physically and mentally, the left-behind children tend to be introvert, unsociable, self-abased, emotionally unstable, poor in communication and academic performance and exposed to other problems such as lack of moral education. Second, living in mountainous regions in Guangxi, they also face security concerns featured by rampant traffic incidents caused by inconvenient transportation. Again, unable to be taken care of by special schools after class, disabled children have a lot of inconvenience in their daily life. Not to mention that they lack confidence and capability in communication, resulting in self-contempt and loneliness. Children are the next generation of the nation and the region, their physical and mental health would have direct implication to future national and regional development.
To be in close touch with the disabled and left-behind children in Tianyang, the SSEF delegation first visited the Tianyang Special Education School. As a comprehensive full-time boarding school, it incorporates education and rehabilitation for mentally retarded and deaf –mute children as well as those with multiple disabilities. With 7 classes including service for mentally retarded children, service for deaf children and service for rehabilitation and 97 current students, the school aims to teach these disabled children in accordance with their aptitudes by unleashing their potentials and conducting rehabilitation exercises as well as compensating their physical and mental defects, so as to equip them with self-care ability, social adaptability and certain working skills, thus enable them to have job opportunities. Having listened to the introduction of the school’s history and current situation from Ms. Huang Juanjuan-the headmaster, the SSEF delegation learned that the most urgent need was the money for new buildings construction and campus expansion, so as to provide education opportunities to more disabled students. The SSEF suggested that, in addition to ordinary teachers, rehabilitation teachers were equally important for special education schools, therefore, it was necessary to provide rehabilitation courses for disabled students.
Later, the SSEF delegation headed to the Central Primary School of Babie Township, 56 km away from the county center. Located in the southern mountainous region near the border with Vietnam, the school hosts children of school age from 13 villages of Babie Township, with 11 classes, 24 teachers and 570 pupils, mostly left-behind children whose parents have gone to other cities or Pan Pearl-River Delta region for work and thus left them with their grandparents. Located in high mountainous region, the Babie Township is short of water resources, with humans and cattle both having difficulty in finding drinkable water. The school is not immune to the scarcity of water caused by the severe drought. At the same time, because of its remote location, it is hard for the school to attract teachers. As a result, the lack of teachers directly limits the number of pupils. After visiting the teaching buildings, playgrounds and canteens, the SSEF delegation further enquired the situation about assistance of physical and mental health to left-behind children and presence of “caring mums”. They understood that the teaching building constructed in the 1990s had an old body and a permeable ceiling, which constituted a security risk and also caused inconvenience to the teachers and pupils. Hence, it was necessary to demolish the old building and reconstruct a new one that is in line with standardized construction requirements. This new building was projected to cover a gross floor area of 2200 square meters and cost 3.96 million RMB to complete. The school expected that social capitals could provide supports for the improvement of its infrastructure and teaching environment. In response, the SSEF reckoned that it was vital to improve the hardware of the school, hence it would consider funding the construction of the new building. Meanwhile, the SSEF emphasized the importance of software. Daily life caring and psychological counselling for left-behind children should also be focused on to give them a better childhood.
In the morning of the second day, the SSEF held a meeting on poverty alleviation with officials from the Party Committee of the Tianyang County. The meeting began with Ms. Yao Zhen’s introduction on the SSEF’s efforts in charity over the previous year, including “One Laptop, One Dream”, “South-South Education Program for Economics and Finance”, “Minutes of Thinking on Chinese Characters”, “South South Education Scholarships” and “South-South Cooperation Annual Report”. She also expressed SSEF’s firm supports to “targeted poverty alleviation”, saying that the Foundation hoped to change the future of vulnerable children by using education to stem the intergenerational transmission of poverty. Mr. Huang Songliang, Permanent Member and Head of the Propaganda Department of the County Party Committee then reviewed the County’s efforts in poverty alleviation, including accomplished 15 poverty alleviation missions ranging from characteristic industry, housing guarantee, infrastructure, drinkable water, public amenities, basic health care guarantee to compulsory education. In particular, he mentioned a new phenomenon in Tianyang: as local economy flourished, many citizens who had previously went outside to make a living began to come back and managed to find a decent job in the County. Since many of them had brought their children home as well, the school enrollment rocketed, which drove demand for teachers. Presently, the County’s 97 kindergartens and 79 schools for compulsory education were no longer able to meet this burgeoning demand. Accordingly, the County expected to mobilize social capitals to establish 6 kindergartens, 2 primary schools, 1 junior middle school and 1 high school, as well as attract more teachers and provide them with continuous training. Regarding left-behind children, the County currently had 7 schools for them, mostly in countryside with a weak, aging and poorly qualified teaching faculty, which negatively affected the teaching quality. Hence, the County had to further increase investment in education for the purpose of improving hardware and teaching quality as well as strengthening moral education and promoting physical and mental health for students. Ms. Fan Linna, Deputy Secretary-General of the Party Committee added that the SSEF was not an ordinary social organization but the first international charitable institution that the County had been in contact with. A successful cooperation would be a great opportunity for Tianyang and “targeted poverty alleviation” should serve as the breakthrough point. Lastly, Dr. Wu Zhong indicated that the force for poverty alleviation had grown within the country. The SSEF aimed to find the most meaningful targets hardly covered by government budgets, such as left-behind children and the disabled. The Foundation preferred quality to quantity and wanted to contribute to the national efforts in alleviating poverty.
Before leaving the County, the SSEF delegation visited the “Tianyang-Lingyun Poverty Alleviation Relocation Project through Cross-County Land Exchange” and the “Tianyang Core Demonstration Zone for Ecological Poverty Alleviation with 200,000 acres of Farmland and Forest”. Through this visit, the team had a deeper look into the panorama of poverty alleviation in Tianyang and was looking forward to determining the orientation for projects in the County.