Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Jie Shao - Introducing Zhang Lin

Jie Shao is a noun and a verb, meaning introduction or introduce.

Today is about 4 months after I decided to start Bamboo Village Educational Fund, and I am really excited to introduce Zhang Lin, our first scholarship recipient. I met her and her grandmother last winter when we were walking down the unpaved path to see my husband's grandmother. We were visiting China, in Sichuan seeing family. Despite travel delays because of dense fog that closed airports and highways, we made it all the way out to HeJiaWan, a small village in rural Sichuan Province.

On the day we were leaving, we made a stop to see Zegang's maternal grandmother, who lives in a neighboring village. I tend to attract a lot of attention, you know, being white, and plump, and all (I stand out like a sore thumb), and people know my husband and his family, of course, so while we were walking Zhang Lin's grandma called us from the path to come sit with them and visit in the courtyard, which we did.

I wish it hadn't been so cold, not only because I was practically numb , but because my camera batteries were also frozen, and I wasn't able to take any pictures. At the time, it would have just been more photos of our trip, and more portraits to send back to the village, since we always send back any photos we've taken for the actual families to enjoy. It's pretty rare for a family to have a camera there. Now, of course, I wish I could have documented Zhang Lin's home and shown her to you in her own element, and not dressed in new clothes, in a street-side photo studio. But we'll take what we can get, she comes across in these photos with the innocence and shyness of a true countryside girl, and I'm sure she was nervous, thinking about where this photo was going to be sent.

Without further ado, gentle readers, meet Zhang Lin:

Zhang (her surname) Lin (pronounced like the English word "lean," meaning "cute and smart," according to Zegang) is a serious and hard working young woman. The photos we received today were accompanied by letters testifying to her character and situation - one from one of her teacher, and another from her local government office. I'll post those letters later this week.

Lin was essentially orphaned before her third birthday, when her mother died of tuberculosis and her father abandoned her and her older sister, a common occurrence for children of widowed or divorced men in China. After her mother's death, she went to live with her maternal grandparents, peasant farmers like many of the other families in this region. Her grandparents have struggled and sacrificed to support the two sisters, her grandfather, in his late 60s, now works as a quarry man in the steppes of Tibet, his physical labor of breaking stone bringing home about $500US per year.

Without a son to support them in their old age, and without any kind of pension, social security, or health insurance to depend on, this family lives on the edge of survival. The fact that the generation between these grandparents and the children (Zhang Lin's parents) is missing means that every cent spent on Zhang Lin's education and upbringing leaves the grandparents closer and closer to life and death decisions.

Zhang Lin was actually a really good choice for Bamboo Village's first sponsored student. She's just finishing Jr. High School, and is at the point of making the decision as to whether or not to go on to Senior High School.

While she attended junior high school, her school and local government, in a very rare gesture, covered her tuition, but now that she's about to enter senior high, or a vocational school for actual job training, her family will have to pay for her to attend. This is no small feat: families like hers in this region may make about $200 US dollars a year, and that's less than we predict the tuition to be.

This family faces the decision so many in China's poverty-stricken countryside must make: to choose deep and dire sacrifice to send a child to high school, or send them off to work. Often times, the choice is clear - the short-term gain of earning even $50 a month in a sweatshop or dangerous construction job is deemed more feasible than three or four more years of sacrifice for school, and then even more, to attend college.

Zhang Lin is a good choice on our side because she doesn't need 10 years of support; she needs about three (the course of senior high school or vocational school). It's a big commitment for a fledgling fund, but it will be worth it. I know you'll agree.

I'll write lots more about Zhang Lin's personal story in the days to come. For tonight, know that your support, moral and monetary, is meaningful and being put to use. I can hardly believe that I get to introduce her here to you. Your purchases at the many Bamboo Village shops have made this possible. Thanks so much - you my friends and supporters - you've made this possible.

Zhang Lin and her maternal grandmother. May, 2007.


child_of_africa said...

how moving!! so glad the pictures arrived!

Shannon said...

Great job :) :) :)