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The Struggle of the Poor

January 19, 2006

Doug & Elizabeth Searles - China

Few minority students pass the exams, and only a few of those who pass the exams have enough money to go to high school, much less university.

CGMB programs make learning possible for students such as these.  At home in their village, they are at the top of the heap--the best and the brightest.

When they come into the big city of Chengdu, however, they have no family connections and no money, and people look upon them as "hicks."  In China, the personal relationships and connections that help you get along in life are everything.   This network of associations is called "guangxi," and it's what makes business possible.  In their village, they have it; in the city they don't.  It's very hard suddenly to be such a small fish in such a gargantuan pond.

Here's an unsolicited e-mail from a student, Sharon (English name).  Each of my students is asked to e-mail me 10 weeks out of the 18 in the term.

Sharon had said that she missed her parents and hadn't seen them for a long time.  I asked why she couldn't visit them over the Spring Festival Holiday.  Her letter follows:

"I come from a poor village, my parents have to go far away home to earn money for my study. In China, farmer is the poorest state, usually, they can't afford a student to finish university school work without working for these big companies in other provinces.  And some coastal cities in China are much richer, the salary is much more, so most of the people go there to work.  My parents had gone there for 5 years. I can't often meet them , one reason is that the fare is much expensive, another is that my little brother is still at home, he is in a middle school.

I have to take care of him in my holidays.  I haven't met my parents for more than two years and my little brother hasn't met them for 5 five years, that means he didn't meet them since my parents left home 5 years ago.  I miss them very much.  Sometimes I even want to stay with them instead of studying here without any power."

Middle schools in rural areas often are boarding schools.  Her brother stays at his school until his sister picks him up for the holiday.

They have been alone in their family home for five years--since she was 15.  Their parents believe that they are doing what is best for their children by earning the money to pay for their children's tuition in the only way they know how.  Parents pay directly for education in China.

When you hear about the miraculous economic growth of China, remember that the boom affects almost exclusively the people in big cities.

The rich are getting richer.  Meanwhile, the poor continue to struggle to feed and educate their child or children, at great personal cost, and in an inflationary market.  Also, it's getting harder and harder for people with only a middle school education or less to find a job that will keep the body and soul of even just one person together.

The Searles family:
Doug, Liz, Mackenzie & Mickey
Chengdu, Sichuan, China
Doug and Elizabeth Searles work with the Sichuan TV and Radio University in Chengdu, China.  They both serve as English teachers.

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