Diary of Delegates

Chinese Academy of Memphis and Fournier Learning Strategies sent a team of students, teachers, and parents to China. Each individual went with her/his own expenses, but collectively they represented the Yunnan project group to deliver the funds they raised for underprivileged children in China for educational needs. More than $12,000 and 10 musical instruments have been raised from this project. More than 90 schools and more than 50,000 students will directly benefit from this effort. This team had been warmly welcomed by both the Chinese government officials and children who benefited from this project. This group of representatives had a once in a lifetime experience over about ten days to visit China.  They not only learned the school conditions that the children had, but also the hearts of these students.  They were proud that what they had done made this world a better place. They have found their love, their compassion, their understanding, and their meaning of life throughout this exploration.  Each of them returned from China a different person. It was truly a great pleasure to share their spirits.

Please look at their own feelings from their journals and pictures. No editing has been done to alter the reality of the journals.


Entry One:

Form June 4th...

    ďTwo days ago we arrived in the Xianshuabana (spelling may be incorrect).  Xianshuabana is very close to Myammar, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand.  Therefore there are over 52 ethnic minorities in Xianshuabana.  The climate is humid-subtropical - not cool like we were told! 

    Later that night, we went to see a theatrical song and dance production that highlighted the minority groups from this region.  The costumes were spectacular (minus the dancing elephants!).  The water splashing festival is very important in Xianshuabana, and after a song the dancers started splashing the audience with water, which is meant to bless you.  Since we were sitting in V.I.P. seats we got splashed first!  The audience joined in all the chaos next!  Walter was absolutely soaked.  It was wild!  I couldnít believe it was happening inside the theater. 

    Today we set out to visit some of the poorest schools in Xianshuabana.  We were able to ride a bus to the first school.   We were greeted by about 40 kids ranging from 1st to 6th grade.  They clapped as we got off the bus.  They all wore red handkerchiefs tied around their necks.  They all looked like they hadnít bathed in a long while, and a few did not have shoes.  Their school buildings and dormitories do not have windows or any kind of ventilation.  Three to four students shared a bed in each room.  The room in which they cook their meals has bricks stacked to form fire pits.  The walls are charred black from all the cooking.  It looked as though hell itself had opened beneath the room.  The smoke gets so thick inside this room that I had to walk out.  How do they not get carbon monoxide poisoning?  Many of the students as young as 6-7 were lighting their own fires to boil rice for their lunches.  (I was barely able to tie my shoes at that age!)  Many of the students who stay

in the dormitories have not seen their families in a long time.  One child had not seen her family in about 4 years. 

         As harsh as the conditions may seem, these children were smiling!  They laughed!  They were still children.  You wanted to hug them all and give them the world.  Everything I once thought was so important now seemed so insignificant.  Several times I had to turn away to keep away the tears. 

         As we gave the students their supplies (2 notebooks, two packs of pencils, and a tin box to hold their pencils), they placed homemade necklaces around our necks.  They symbolize friendship.  These gifts may be the most meaningful gifts I will ever receive.  I will cherish them forever. 

        We then walked around the village and saw some of the living conditions at home for some of the students.  The land here is very steep clay-like.  Walking from house to house required real balance and strength- the kid made it look so easy!  The houses were mere shacks and some still have grass roofs.  Most of the families in this area make living by growing rubber trees. 

      In order to reach the second school, we had to climb into the bed of a small truck.  The road was soooo bumpy, and the trip to the top of the mountain takes about one hour.  My rear still hurts!  I cannot overemphasize just how uncomfortable this ride was. 

       Once we reached the top of the mountain (breathtaking by the way!), the students gathered to receive our gifts.  We handed out the supplies and various cookies.  As I was handing out some cookies, I ran out about halfway through a group of boys.  Remembering how the last group of students gave us necklaces as signs of friendship, I unclasped the necklace I have worn for years and gave it to one of the boys.  He smiled, and I thought to myself, ďI hope to see that necklace again someday."


Entry Two:

Today was our final day visiting a school and village in Yunnan before heading back to Beijing.  We visited a small mountain village of Hani people. A portion of the Yunnan project money raised was allocated to buying books for the students of this particular school.  We hand delivered 7 large boxes of books. I handed over the library dedication plaque that acknowledges both the Chinese Academy and FLS.  I even had the opportunity to make a speech of my own to the students, teachers and parents.  I was impressed that they allowed me the opportunity.  Elizabeth was able to ceremoniously hand over an envelope containing enough money to allow the children of the village to attend school for the year.  All the people we have visited have stopped at no bounds to show their gratitude and thanks for all our efforts.  I hope that on future trips more time could be allocated to spending quality interaction time with the children rather than just the ceremonies.

      The students had been planning for our arrival almost as long as we had been planning to get here.  They gave us gifts of the their traditional tea, hand made necklaces and hand made purses that had taken them the previous two months to make.  The students also prepared a demonstration of their traditional dances.  The amazing part is that I (and some of the rest of the troop) recognized a dance from our elementary school days.

      After the ceremony we made a short drive further up the mountain and visited a sixth grade girl who had won an award for being the best student.  She lives in a small basic shelter with her father in a small tea farming village.  She has to walk 6 km alone a dirt road along the mountain every morning to school, then again back home in the evening.

      On a lighter excursion, we left the village to catch our flight back to Kunming.  We had such a long layover we  took a trip to the minority Nationalities Village.  The Nationalities Village is most likened to Epcot Center in Orlando, except all the minority cultures are actually residing in the Yunnan province.  They only employ people of each respective minority to work their particular section of the park year round.

     From the park we made our way back to the airport to travel northeast to Zhengzhou, the capital city of the Hunan province.  We didnít arrive until 1:00 am, then we had to take 1 hour bus ride to our hotel, where I am now.  Itís almost 2:00 am and we have another early start tomorrow.  Good news is that I think the restaurant downstairs may serve waffles in the morning!


Entry Three:

      Today I know why I came to China. We left early this morning to drive up in the mountains for our visit to the first school we are helping with the contributions we raised. Even though it was Sunday, all of the children put on their best clothes and, for those that had any, shoes, and gathered in front of the school to meet us. They had made special pom-pom necklaces out of yarn that they placed around our necks as we gave each one a package with notebooks, pencils, and a pencil box. Later we toured the schoolrooms and dorms where several live. Many students live so far away they canít walk to school and home each day, so they live at school. The dorms consist of 3-4 sets of bunk beds that are barely standing up and mosquito nets, if the family can afford one for the student. There are so many needs here that should be addressed, but we can only meet a few on this trip. This afternoon we embarked on a truly memorable adventure. Since this is the rainy season in Yunnan, many of the dirt roads up to the high mountain schools are washed out; so to visit there we were transported on a flatbed in the back of a tractor. I was fortunate to be asked by our guide if I wanted to ride up on the back of a motorcycle with one of the scouts. It was great fun! When we arrived, the children had walked back to their homes to put on their best clothes in honor of our visit. All the villagers were watching from atop a hill as we gave the children gifts of pencils, pencil cases, and notebooks. Before we left their families went out to pick the finest mangoes they could find to give us as a gift. I am overwhelmed by the generosity of these people. I believe they would give us their last bite of food if they could. When we left to return to Banna, the motorcycles were nowhere to be seen so I rode standing up in the back of the tractor bed and was nearly bounced out many times! I must admit that I had a wonderful time!


Entry four:

June 1, 06

        Happy Childrenís Day! (Or at least I think thatís the right translation for what they call it here.)  Quite frankly, itís been very hectic around here, and Iím exceedingly tired, and I think most of the other kids will agree with me.  I also found out that Iím a lousy translator, or at least when it comes to translating from English to Chinese.  It was quite embarrassing trying to speak in Chinese with my very limited vocabulary in front of elementary students and leaders, both of whom had infinitely better skills.  Chinese to English, on the other hand, was no problem.  The handicapped school was actually much better than expected.  It was so awesome some of the crafts hey made there, and they looked so innocent, so trusting, like little children.  I wonder what disorder many of them had.  A few of them Iím sure had disorders which although in America it would have been perfectly fine for them to attend normal school, in the fiercely competitive Chinese atmosphere, they wouldnít have survived.   

       I think we had enough food today to feed a village for a month.  At the first ceremony with Lu Qin, a journalist talked to us about some of the things he reported in Gui Zhou, and it was really depressing.  Translating for him, I could feel myself starting to choke up, with tears starting to come to my eyes.  There was a little girl, about 14, who because her family couldnít afford school, had to get married.  All the kids, because they lived so far away, had to carry their firewood to school so they could cook their food.  There was one little girl who was nine who went to school to cook for her older brother, and that way, she could go to school as well by listening outside by the school windows. 

June 3, 06

       Yunnan is very beautiful.  When I was on the plane last night, we passed over some hills.  E mist gently covering them made it look dreamlike, and the view looks exactly like that one would see in National Geographic or one of those scenic calendars.  I canít even describe it accurately to do it justice.  With the mist blanketing the water and the mountains with an orange sunset in the background, my heart wants to melt.  Itís such a shame that such a beautiful landscape could hold such a poor population. 

       Today we went to the wild elephant valley.  It was actually a bit disappointing though, because I had expected the kind of rainforest typical of South America, but instead, I saw woods very much like those in my backyard except a bit denser and vaster.  It was really sad seeing the debris and litter from human infiltration though.  Later that night I saw the most awesome show that had dances from the different nationalities of Yunnan and it was possibly the most awesome performance Iíd ever been to.  All the dancers were totally awesome; their ballet moves seemed flawless and the stunts were incredible.  I donít think anyone could have appreciated it enough!

June 5, 06

      Iíve fallen in love with Yunnan, with the people, the beautiful scenery, the adorable children, the atmosphere, everything, and it breaks my heart to leave it.  If I ever get old, Iíd love to live my life there until I die.  The country is beautiful, and I donít ever want to leave it.  The first school we visited yesterday was heartbreaking, especially because I had expected it to be better off.  When we came into the school, the children had lined up on both sides of the street to welcome us.  None of them had very good clothes though they were all wearing their best and some of them couldnít even afford shoes.  Seeing those children made me want to cry.  We didnít deserve that much applause and recognition.  All the children were so adorable, though shy.  When we gave them their supplies, they gave us their special gifts.  They were of the Ah Ke nationality and David told us that each trinket expressed all their love and friendship.  Seeing the children so poor but still able to give us such lovely, handmade gifts made me cry, though I tried not to let them see.  When we visited their school, their classrooms were so plain.  Their playground was a dirt yard, and to earn extra money for their school, they had planted banana trees in their schoolyard.  When we visited their dormitories, it was one room with two or three children to a bed; the boys' dormitory was an absolute mess, and many beds were broken.  Their kitchen had only two windows to let the smoke out, and to start the fire, they had to use plastic bags, which considering they breathed the smoke everyday, was extremely bad for their health.  I spoke to one little girl who was twelve.  She had five siblings, and two of them went to school.  Since the second grade, she had come from a place far away to go to school and hasnít been home since.  Sheís now in the fifth grade.  When we went to visit the students' homes, their conditions were horrible.  There was one little boy who had two siblings; their mother had died when they were little so their father took care of all of them, so the boy couldnít even afford shoes.  When we got back to the school, all the families' homes that we visited gave us mangoes and several pineapples though they were very poor. 

       I forgot to mention that just getting there was a problem. It was about an hourís drive of bumpy, dirt roads, with a very steep incline so that if the bus had gone off from the road, it would have been totally destroyed and we all would have died. Just thinking about the children still brings tears to my eyes, and I was crying the whole way back. 

       Today, we visited the school we donated a library to.  It was so adorable since all of the children, about 200 or so, were all dressed in their traditional Ha Ni holiday clothing.  Extremely enthusiastic, they gave us numerous gifts and each a beautifully hand-woven purse.  All the children were adorable and performed two dances for us, one of which we learned as well.  When it came to visiting the students' homes, I became teary again.  The house we visited had a brother and a sister who were both in school.  Their parents were divorced so the father had to raise the children and unfortunately, they didnít own any tea trees on their land so they were extremely poor.  The father often had to go out of town to find work, leaving the sister to take care of her siblings.  The father could only afford to send one child to school so when it came time for the brother to go to school, the sister couldnít go because of the preference of boys over girls.  The director said that

when she talked to the girl, she started crying and saying, "I want to go to school." It broke my heart, again.