December in Yangjuan

by on Tuesday, 28 December 2010 Comments

I went to Yangjuan beginning of December 2010. During these 10 years I have been more or less10 times to this little village…

This time my purpose was to see the state of the school we help to start in 2000. The school does not need outside subsidies any more. Now schooling is free and the government is also paying for textbooks. But there is at least one reason to worry: this semester the school has only 6 certified teachers. According to the number of students the school should be entitled to get 11 certified teachers, but the local government or the bureau of education is always short of personnel. Consequently the gap is filled with substitute teachers. They receive a monthly salary of only RMB 600 which is not high (RMB1100 for a unqualified work, construction work for example, is not considered that much). Nothing surprising that a there is a great turnover of substitute teachers. How to help in the management of the school is another question that none of us presently can answer properly. There is an informal network of friends that may provide some ideas. It seems to me that we cannot only focus on the management of the school. From the beginning, ten years ago, we came with this idea that the school could become a center for local development. The school itself has its own goals but the shelter it provides every summer has been instrumental for working on the development of this small place.

In 2001 we started to bring Taiwanese students for animation and tutoring. In 2001 and 2002 two nurses and two medical students came to make a health survey of the children. After the health survey we started “waterworks” in order to provide cleaner water. The idea of a French engineer during a trip to Yangjuan has been at the origin of this endeavor. He thought it could be possible to build a dam along the river feeding a small power plant. That idea brought to Yangjuan the following years a team of “Hydraulic without borders”, an organization founded by a retired hydraulic engineer, Mr Wang, born in Canton but brought up and educated in France. Our first practical realization was to dig a well. That was a failure and a good example. A failure because the well dig during summer (when underground water is at its highest level) became dry three months after. It was a good example because we told the people that the water from the well was much cleaner and healthier than the water from the river. Thereafter, especially in lower locations of the village, people dig wells in their courtyards to keep water supply at hand and alleviate the chores of fetching water from the river (most of the time this burden is allotted to women and children).

duraud_yangjuan_dec_3The next step was very interesting. One year after digging the well we were ready to dig another one the following summer. We were served a flat refusal. People from the 3rd brigade belonging to a “lower class” in the “old Yi society” asked us if it could be possible to help them in order to fetch water more easily. The fact that the initiative came from them is noteworthy. After discussion we decided to build a very simple network of water supply serving about twenty households. Unfortunately this network is less efficient during the “dry season”, but it was successful enough to inspire later the 6th brigade who asked for help in turn. This new water network has not been a success either for the same reasons but led the people of the whole village to look for a more satisfactory solution.

During these years my back and forth travels were always reported to the Liangshan Friendship Association. People from the office knowing what we were doing in Yangjuan and what we were planning to do sent me an estimate asking if I was willing to finance a project intended to provide water to the whole village. The price tag was well above our means and the realization of the project would have been entrusted to an outside company. This outsourcing could deprive the villagers from appropriating the technology, so to say, and from being involved in the maintenance of the network. Of course that would have also guaranteed a more reliable construction and for sure that would have sent money in private pockets.

 

duraud_yangjuan_dec_6

This year, on December 7, I could see that the work had been done: a small dam on the creek of a remote valley tributary to the river running down the school secures water intake and brings it 20 meters down below to a water tank. About 1500 meters down below from the first water tank another one was built above the houses of the 6th brigade (the highest houses in the village). Most lines for distribution seem to start from this water tank. While I was in Yangjuan, one morning, water ran from the faucets for about half an hour. I guess by now distribution of water is ensured.

Though impressive and as far as I can judge well built, this water supply is not absolutely perfect. After a survey I found out that 4 houses from the 3rd brigade were left aloof though the main pipe runs only 200 meters from their houses. After pondering the matter I decided to give them RMB 1,000 to buy the pipes needed for the extension.

This very remote village, Yangjuan has been affected all these years by the changes in Chinese society and the effects of globalization. Ten years ago very few people had left the village to pursue studies outside and even to work outside. Now it is obvious that the trend for young people is to go out for temporary work. People went even as far as Pakistan and Burma, with the company they were working for. Most of the people go to places like Shanghai, Beijing or Canton and Shenzhen. Three years ago, an acquaintance from Taiwan operating a factory in Shanghai tried to hire about 30 workers from that village. That was a failure. Despite seriously warned about the necessary requirements they left the village unprepared (lack of documents like ID card, health certificate, under age etc.). After one year they were all back to Yangjuan or headed on for other destinations. On of their main complains was the weather conditions in Shanghai (very cold in winter and unbearably hot during summer). During that year a friend of ours in Shanghai tried to accompany them. Their salaries were spent in sophisticated electronic objects like cell phones but it seemed that there was no plan whatsoever to use the earned money to improved their livelihood back home.

duraud_yangjuan_dec_4While in the village, I had a conversation with one villager. He has been going out for work for 20 years. He is now 42 years old, father of three children (one in Senior High School, one in Junior High School and the third one is attending classes in the elementary school of Yangjuan). He has been working all over China. So his Mandarin is devoid of the Sichuan’s accent. During these twenty years his longest absence from the village was a full year. Now he does not venture farther than Chengdu and only for periods of three to four months. He usually does not go alone but with other villagers.

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Another phenomenon affecting the village is that people from the upper part buy land halfway between the village and the nearby township. The reason is that communications with outside is easier. They nevertheless continue to cultivate their plots of land in upper locations. Moving down the village these people find themselves now deprived of the benefit of the last water supply improvement. They came to me asking for subsidies in order to extend the network up to their houses. I did not give a definite answer as I don’t know clearly the capability of the newly built system. If the network is extended for 2 kilometers it may require the construction of another water tank in order to secure enough pressure. In the coming months this is a matter to consider.

This last trip showed me also that living conditions were improving. Nobody builds anymore adobe houses. They all use cement bricks, and in many houses they cement the front yard, which is cleaner and more practical to dry the crops.

After this trip I can see that further action from our side could be the improvement of the water supply. Water supply is not only of importance for good health condition, it is also a factor that makes life in Yangjuan more sustainable particularly if part of the young labor force is outside to secure some cash income. Water supply makes life of those left behind (often children and grand parents, women) less painful.

duraud_yangjuan_dec_2Another line of action is education. The general trend is to go outside to work. This task force unfortunately inflates big cities underclass. Mr Ma, mentioned above, who has been working outside for 20 years thinks that a monthly salary of RMB 1,100 for construction work is indeed not a good salary. It could be that helping young people getting skills will allow them to emerge from the underclass. It might be a better option than sponsoring studies up to Senior High School that don’t secure anyway access to good Universities. A skilled worker can make much more than the basic RMB 1,100 a month and can, if smart enough, start his own business. There is a Japanese foundation running a school not far from Yangjuan providing short trainings to boys and girls in different crafts and businesses. That could be a possibility to explore.

Photos by J. Duraud

 

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Jacques Duraud (杜樂仁)

Board member of the Taipei Ricci Isntitute. Former Publisher of Renlai Magazine. 

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