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Town and Country

November 2, 2006

Even though Hong Kong is a part of China, many Hong Kongers don't have much opportunity to see the poorest parts of the nation – the mountainous regions far away from glittering cities like Shanghai and Beijing.  In order to bring the reality of poverty closer to home, Hong Kong Christian Council launched an amazing exhibition by recreating a village schoolhouse right in the middle of a busy shopping mall. The schoolhouse was built by a local set designer company with authentic furniture and school supplies brought from minority regions in China. A statue of a cow also from the mainland added a rural touch.

Image Our Little Schoolhouse

Thousands of Hong Kong shoppers who visited the exhibition were amazed at the sad reality of school facilities for many children just over the border – broken roofs, no electricity, rickety benches and tattered books. The contrast to even the lowest of Hong Kong schools was startling to local schoolchildren and their parents.

As part of the promotion, the exhibition featured our newly released book - "Living in the Mountains: Voices of Joy and Sorrow from Guizhou" – a collection of essays written by children living in such conditions. Among my favorite stories were:

  • A boy who cried as his parents sold his best friend – the old ox
  • A girl who dreamed one day of seeing a car
  • A child who heard a 'voice from heaven' for the first time – English!
Image Children Learn a Lesson

I share a translation of an essay by a Grade 6 student in Laojun Village that particularly touched me:

"The new teacher is coming! The new teacher is coming! Into all the noise and excitement there came a slender girl who walked into the classroom with a smile on her face. She was wearing a white one-pieced dress and hair was tied up in a ponytail. The classmates got more excited when they saw how young she was. Ours was a class of mischievous boys and girls. Many male teachers had been helpless before us no matter how experienced and skillful they were. How could she possibly succeed? As monitor of the class, I couldn't help feeling nervous when I saw the mischievous faces. Under the signal of some troublemakers, the class became noisy again.

The new teacher taught Chinese lessons every day, and sometimes that little playful thing – English. However the troublemakers in class kept playing truant or continuing their fighting with one another as usual. The new teacher wasn't angry at this, but instead with a tinge of sadness she told us a vivid story:

'There was a hardworking and intelligent girl studying at university. Her aging father traveled more than 100 miles to bring her a specially made spongy vegetable from her home village. It was a long and difficult journey. He mistakenly paid a RMB 50 bill into an auto-ticketing bus that only cost RMB 1. He didn't use the elevator but climbed nine flights of stairs to get where the daughter lived. When he arrived, sweating and exhausted, all he took out was a bottle of moldy, rotten spongy vegetable. His daughter cried. Do you know why the spongy vegetable was ruined? Why he didn't try to get his RMB 50 back? Why the old father climbed nine flights of stairs and exhausted himself? Why the daughter cried so sadly'?

There was silence in the classroom. No one understood. I was shocked too.

'It was backwardness', she said. 'The result of lacking knowledge, and education…I am that girl. From that time on, I swore I would work hard and do everything possible to change my life. Today I came back to where I was born and brought up: Laojun Village.'

You were right, teacher: our home village is too poor and backward. Here, school children can only squeeze themselves in a tiny kitchen to study; the villager can only toil on the land in the same way as their forefathers; the outside world can only be reached by walking along those winding mountain paths. In face of this, do we have any excuse for not studying well?

Our teacher is ill! She is ill! Everyone was whispering this in the room. Then there came sobbing. The troublemakers turned dumb too. The only thing we could do was to work hard. After a week, we came to the hospital each holding a bunch of wild chrysanthemum flowers in our hands. There was a delicate fragrance floating in the air. When the teacher saw there were 32 pupils standing downstairs in a line and holding 32 bunches of wild chrysanthemums, tears welled up in her eyes. Under the sunlight, the flowers shone."

We believe stories like these and exhibitions like ours will continue to touch the hearts of Hong Kong people to get involved in our "Rebuilding Collapsing Schools Project". So far we have rebuilt 500 schools in the mainland and brought a much better study environment and renewed hope for many, many children in the mountains.

I pray that there will be more opportunities to improve the lives of China's children and all God's children, sharing the love of Christ through our own commitment and action wherever we are.

With best wishes from Hong Kong,

Judy

Judy Chan is a missionary serving with the Hong Kong Christian Council. She is responsible for communications for the Council. She is also in charge of ecumenical radio broadcasting ministry, English publications and ecumenical partnerships in Hong Kong and overseas.



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