A Village School at Lugu Lake
Text and photographs by Qin Bin
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.