A Vil­lage School at Lugu Lake

Text and pho­tographs by Qin Bin

China Pictorial (English) - - SOCIETY -

Af­ter 12 years of de­vel­op­ment, in­vest­ments in the Dazu Pri­mary School are pay­ing off. Not only does its teach­ing per­for­mance rank among the best in the re­gion, but it has also helped over 2,000 poverty-stricken stu­dents from the ar­eas sur­round­ing Lugu Lake, and even the greater Liang­shan re­gion, re­ceive fi­nan­cial aid. The school, which has flour­ished by wise uti­liza­tion of so­cial aid, will con­tinue to pass on its ex­pe­ri­ences to help more peo­ple.

L ocated in Mukua Vil­lage of Yanyuan County in Liang­shan Yi Au­tonomous Pre­fec­ture, Sichuan Prov­ince, the Dazu Pri­mary School is sand­wiched be­tween a pre­cip­i­tous moun­tain and stun­ning Lugu Lake. The only pri­mary school in the vil­lage, it em­ploys 10 na­tive teach­ers and three vol­un­teer teach­ers from else­where in the coun­try to serve 71 stu­dents.

Af­ter 12 years of de­vel­op­ment, the school is now highly re­spected thanks to the ef­forts of the three suc­ces­sive prin­ci­pals: Li Nanyang, Lin Zi­hong and Wang Mu­liang. Not only does its teach­ing per­for­mance rank among the best in the re­gion, but it has also helped over 2,000 poverty-stricken stu­dents from the ar­eas sur­round­ing Lugu Lake and even the wider Liang­shan re­gion re­ceive fi­nan­cial aid. Restor­ing Faith in School

In 2000, the Dazu Pri­mary School was forced to shut down for rea­sons like di­lap­i­dated build­ings and a lack of teach­ers. Five years later, fi­nan­cial aid from two en­thu­si­as­tic phi­lan­thropists from Tai­wan, Li Nanyang and You Jingfen, en­abled res­i­dents of the en­tire vil­lage to par­tic­i­pate in the restora­tion of the school. Res­i­dents contributed stone and tim­ber as well as la­bor. Many con­tin­ued work­ing on-site even on the eve of Spring Fes­ti­val.

When con­struc­tion com­pleted, Li Nanyang be­came the first prin­ci­pal of the new Dazu Pri­mary School. He contributed most of his sav­ings to school con­struc­tion, main­te­nance and teach­ing, and re­cruited vol­un­teer teach­ers from all over the coun­try. He also built a pub­lic bath­room and a clinic at the school, which are open to vil­lagers.

How­ever, lack of fund­ing has al­ways haunted the school, so the school has tried var­i­ous ways to in­crease its bud­get from the start. For ex­am­ple, the school leased land from lo­cal farm­ers on which it built a small farm that pro­duced pota­toes, chick­ens and pigs. Dur­ing har­vest

sea­son, many of the stu­dents’ par­ents came to help out.

To main­tain its nor­mal op­er­a­tions, the school es­tab­lished a stu­dent aid fund. By post­ing in­for­ma­tion about the moun­taindwelling chil­dren on its mi­croblog, QQ and other so­cial me­dia plat­forms, many peo­ple dis­cov­ered the vil­lage school and more and more aid was of­fered. By 2012, the stu­dent num­ber of the Dazu Pri­mary School had in­creased to 120 from about 40. All of the chil­dren were granted free tu­ition and liv­ing ex­penses.

In 2011, Wang Mu­liang, a na­tive of Mukua Vil­lage, was ap­pointed prin­ci­pal of the school. “Af­ter the school was re­stored, I was left to

con­cen­trate on solv­ing the prob­lem of the chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tion,” he re­called. “Since then, the sit­u­a­tion has changed. We can­not solely rely on sup­port and do­na­tions from the pub­lic. We can­not be con­tent with the way things are.”

Wang main­tained fo­cus on his goal, and all of the staff con­cen­trated on im­prov­ing stu­dents’ scores in ma­jor subjects. Count­less hours of tire­less ef­forts by both teach­ers and stu­dents have fi­nally paid off for the Dazu Pri­mary School in re­cent years.

For the 2015-2016 school year, the Dazu Pri­mary School led all other pri­mary schools in the Lugu Lake re­gion in all the uni­fied ex­am­i­na­tions of Yanyuan County, ex­cept the math tests for the first and sixth graders.

“Av­er­age mid­dle-school en­roll­ment rate in the county was 17.9 per­cent in 2016, and our school’s fig­ure was 40 per­cent,” Wang an­nounced proudly.

In ad­di­tion to em­pha­sis on aca­demic achievement, the school also strives for qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion.

Along­side the ma­jor cur­ricu­lum, the school of­fers var­i­ous ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties each Fri­day af­ter­noon such as en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion, craft mak­ing, out­door sketch­ing, farm­ing ac­tiv­i­ties, nat­u­ral sci­ence ac­tiv­i­ties, folk dance and more.

To en­cour­age stu­dents to read, the school of­fers a daily read­ing class. The school li­brary is open not only to stu­dents, but also past grad­u­ates and all the lo­cal vil­lagers.

From School to Pub­lic Ser­vice Plat­form

In ad­di­tion to a pur­veyor of ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion, the school has grad­u­ally de­vel­oped into a pub­lic ser­vice plat­form cov­er­ing stu­dent

fi­nan­cial aid, ma­te­rial and med­i­cal aid to the moun­tain chil­dren as well as vol­un­teer teacher recruitment.

Over the past 12 years, the plat­form has re­ceived do­na­tions val­ued at 9 mil­lion yuan (US$1.42 mil­lion) which have pro­vided fi­nan­cial aid to more than 6,000 stu­dents. About 600 peo­ple have worked in the vil­lage school as vol­un­teer teach­ers.

Fo­cus­ing on the de­vel­op­ment of both the school and the vil­lage, Wang Mu­liang has six wishes for the fu­ture de­vel­op­ment of his school in­volv­ing ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion, poverty al­le­vi­a­tion, med­i­cal as­sis­tance, en­vi­ron­men­tal con­ser­va­tion, cul­tural pro­tec­tion and eco­log­i­cal tourism.

In 2012, the Dazu Pri­mary School be­gan to de­velop a nat­u­ral eco­log­i­cal farm. Wang led the teach­ers, stu­dents and vil­lagers to re­claim waste­land on which to grow crops and breed an­i­mals.

Along with the farm, the school has also leased a to­tal of 100 mu (6.7 hectares) of farm­land from vil­lagers. By sell­ing self-cul­ti­vated agri­cul­tural prod­ucts on their Wechat store, both the school and vil­lagers have seen bet­ter fi­nan­cial gains.

Mukua Vil­lage is in­hab­ited by 150 house­holds, with over 900 res­i­dents, 95 per­cent of whom be­long to the Naxi eth­nic group. To in­herit and pro­tect the Naxi cul­ture, the school launched a spe­cial course of the Dongba lan­guage—the writ­ten lan­guage of the Naxi peo­ple—to help lo­cal Naxi stu­dents and vil­lagers learn about their lan­guage, tra­di­tional arts, crafts, songs and dances.

The school also started a week­end evening class for adults and es­tab­lished the Naxi Dongba cul­tural li­brary. In their spare time, teach­ers from the school vis­ited el­derly in­her­i­tors of the Dongba lan­guage to record and pre­serve the Naxi cul­ture with video, au­dio and pic­tures. In 2015, the Dazu Pri­mary School or­ga­nized vil­lagers to es­tab­lish a folk art in­no­va­tion cen­ter to pro­tect and pro­mote Naxi eth­nic hand­i­crafts, which have teetered on the verge of ex­tinc­tion.

By in­vest­ing so­cial aid into self­de­vel­op­ment, the Dazu Pri­mary School not only solved prob­lems hin­der­ing chil­dren’s school­ing but also pro­moted the de­vel­op­ment of both the school and the vil­lage. By prac­tic­ing the school motto—“ac­tions speak louder than words”—with bold en­deav­ors the in­sti­tu­tion has been widely rec­og­nized across the coun­try. The school, which has flour­ished by wise uti­liza­tion of so­cial aid, will con­tinue to pass on its ex­pe­ri­ences to help more peo­ple.

Stu­dents read by the win­dow of the li­brary dur­ing af­ter­noon read­ing class.

Stu­dents wait in line for lunch. The veg­eta­bles for lunch are all har­vested from the school’s own farm.

In class, a stu­dent writes in Dongba lan­guage.

Along­side the core cur­ricu­lum, the school of­fers var­i­ous ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties such as en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion, craft mak­ing, out­door sketch­ing, farm­ing and sci­ence ex­per­i­ments.

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