ActionAid - China
Locations: Lin Tie Village near NingMing, GuangXi province, China.
Ling Jiao Eco-village near Hengxian, GuangXi province,China.
Sherpai Village near Hengxian, GuangXi province,China
Date: 18th September 2006 - 22nd September 2006
Having arrived in Nanning on the morning of the 18th of September after a 13 hour sleeper train ride we were in need of some nourishment. Luckily, we met up with Li Ql (pronounce Lee Chee) – the HIV and AIDS Project Coordinator for the GuangXi province who brought us to lunch. After lunch, we got back on the public transport - bus this time - to the out-of-town bus station then onto another bus to the city of Nanning. Upon arrival, we met the other members of ActionAid based in the area - Mr. Liu - the Development Area Coordinator and May, a volunteer. We had a bit of time to explore the city centre area of Nanning and were surprised at how relaxed it was in comparison to other cities in China. Down by the river, old men played Erhu and sang traditional songs, while children painted models and zoomed around in toy go-carts. I couldn’t resist having a go with the pump action ball bearing guns and it was a major struggle to resist the temptation of peeling off a few rounds in Richard’s direction. Further along, in a tree-lined square, middle-aged women waltzed gracefully to the strains of French music. It was hard to believe that this area of China had been identified by ActionAid as one of the poorest but as the staff pointed out, there is a major difference between city life and village life in China. A fact that was to be demonstrated first thing in the morning.
It was a long and bumpy ride out to Lin Tie village in a 4×4 on Thursday morning (nice to see one working). The poor standard of rural roads in China is a major contributing factor to the poverty of rural villages as transporting materials along these roads can be prohibitively expensive. Eventually we arrived and spent some time viewing the Water Irrigation Project that had recently been completed. This project installed a 3 Km long pipeline which channeled water from the mountains to irrigate previously barren land. The project materials were paid for by ActionAid but the installation was undertaken by local volunteers who clocked up 280 man hours of work in just 16 days. The project cost was low at 14,000 Yuan (~950 pounds) and resulted in large areas of land which were previously too dry to farm becoming fertile. In mountainous regions, every square meter of flat land is vital for growing rice - the staple diet of subsistence farmers in China.
Next we visited the village itself to see the community centre that had been constructed for the elders of the village. Following the strategy that has been adopted by ActionAid worldwide, a needs assessment exercise was performed with the community. This revealed that a community centre for the village elders was the number one priority for this village. This came as a surprise to us but later conversations revealed the reasoning. Almost all the middle generation now work in the city (as there is no money to be made from mountain farming) and are therefore away for most of the week. The elder generation are left to work the fields and look after the children. People cannot move their family to the city because their residence card states their birth village and their children cannot be educated anywhere else. This is a method that the government is using to try and prevent wholesale evacuation from rural areas to the cities and all the associated problems that would result. However, despite the responsibility and workload that the elders were forced to shoulder, they had no place where they could meet up at the end of the day. This resulted in them being confined to their homes where they were often isolated and lonely. After the needs assessment was carried out, ActionAid again donated the materials for the community centre but the design and construction of the building was carried out by local volunteers.
Buoyed by the success of these projects, the village now has a committee that meets to discuss future projects that they can undertake. By coordinating the development of the committee and the use of local labour to complete the projects, ActionAid has given the villagers a fresh confidence in their own ability to undertake solutions to the problems they face. On our way around the village, it seemed to us there were more pressing problems that needed to be addressed - the sanitary conditions were poor, with no collection of rubbish. Also, there were no toilets of any sort in the village. However, the needs assessment process had ranked these as secondary problems. This is why it is a useful and necessary process. If left to outsiders, the most pressing problems that the people faced my never get revealed or solved. The villagers are currently discussing methods of dealing with these issues and they are using the community centre as the venue for conducting these meetings as well as a host of other activities including the teaching of Mandarin (some villagers only speak the local language) and the preservation of the folk music tradition.
Before leaving the village, we went to the local primary school where ActionAid had undertaken some simple but effective projects. Basketball nets had been donated which gave the children some activity to do after school, especially those who were forced to board due to living too far away. The distance in fact was not great but due to the road conditions it would not be possible for them to travel every day. Also, the children had been taught about HIV and AIDS and were given leaflets they could use to inform their parents about the issues. AIDS awareness is still low in many areas of China but due to the proximity of this area to the Vietnam border and the resulting drug route, this area was deemed to be at a higher risk than others.
Walking around the school, it was striking the difference between here and the more wealthy city schools. The children were amazed to see us as for them it was the first time they had seen a foreigner in the flesh. This was true of some of the teachers as well. Needless to say, after we got trounced by them at basketball, they weren’t so afraid of us anymore.
Back in Nanning and we somehow managed to get coerced into cooking dinner. A trip to the market was in order. Not for the faint of heart! Buckets of fish lay side by side with turtles, eels, crabs, toads and various other unidentifiable things - all of them living. The sight of a woman picking toads out of a bag, slamming them onto the ground to stun them and then gathering a bunch onto a weighing scale with a cheery grin on her face is an image that will stay with me for a long time. Not to mention the dog flesh, goat flesh, chicken innards, pig guts and snakes that were liberally spread around. We ended up with some goat meat and chicken and a bunch of vegetables that looked vaguely similar to their western counterparts.
After dinner we checked our emails and were delighted to see that the PSB had found us out and weren’t too happy about us scarpering from Kunming. Naught that could be done about it though. If they hadn’t of taken so long etc. Also, there was a delay in getting the distributor sent out which will put even our extension date in jeopardy.
On Friday we attended the monthly group meeting that is held for people with HIV in the area. Team building exercises were held followed by a discussion on the group’s future project. Most of the members had contracted HIV through the use of shared drug needles due to a lack of awareness of the danger. The group was set up to allow people to meet fellow sufferers and to try to rebuild their confidence and provide a method for them to attempt to make a better future for themselves. The group was given the loan of a fixed sum that they could invest in a project that would pay the loan back in a set period. Submissions of potential projects were made by group members and the final one would need the backing of all the members. Most of the members were subsistence rice farmers so the project that was chosen was to invest in a crop of sugar cane that could be sold for profit. Due to the hurricane damage to the American crops of sugarcane, the price had increased substantially and it was reaping good returns for farmers in the south of China.
By setting up this group, which will become autonomous after 12 months, ActionAid is attempting to give HIV sufferers in the area increased social interaction and encouraging them to find methods of improving their situation.
The rest of the evening was spent on buses. One back to NingMing, then one to Nanning, then one to Hengxian. In Hengxian we met up with Liu Yanyan, the Development Area Coordinator for the area. In the morning we were to attend a “Green Map” exercise in a local village.
The village turned out to be Ling Jiao Eco-village near Hengxian. This village is sponsored by the government as a flagship village which has pioneering design for sustainability. The Green Map exercise involves creating a map that charts the natural and cultural environment. The idea is that the process of drawing the Green Map will force people to think about the natural resources that are available to them and how to protect and use these resources in a sustainable manner.
The project invited school teachers from surrounding villages to come to Ling Jiao to learn about how to draw the Green Map so that they could teach their school children and undertake the exercise in their own village. The village of Ling Jiao was an ideal place to site the exercise as it had an abundance of natural resources which had been designed in a very clever manner to ensure their potential was both harnessed and protected. Water was channeled effectively to irrigate the fields, septic tank systems piped methane gas into homes for use as cooking gas and the village was designed to maximize the use of communal areas for cultural activities such as music and dance.
We spent 4 or 5 hours exploring the village and gathering information to draw the Green Map. The exercise undoubtedly was a success for the visiting teachers who had the opportunity to explore the eco village and learn from its design. The Green Map exercise made them take notice of the natural and cultural features of the village and think about how they could introduce similar features in their own villages.
On Sunday we traveled to the remote village of Sherpai where the local project committee which had been set up by ActionAid were celebrating the completion of their second project – the opening of a bridge. Due to the remote location of the village and the poor road infrastructure, transport to and from the village was difficult. The construction of a new bridge over a part of the road that was prone to flooding made access to the village much easier in the rainy season. In a similar manner to the village of Lin Tie near NingMing, the project committee had grown in confidence and were now considering a number of other projects that they could undertake with government funding – the improvement of the road surface being a primary objective.
Yet again, we have been very impressed by the commitment and enthusiasm the staff of ActionAid China have demonstrated for their work and we have also gained a good appreciation of the difficulties that rural populations face in China. It was surprising to us how much difference simple, low cost (e.g. water irrigation, AIDS awareness) projects could make to these areas. Small projects undertaken by local volunteers were making a huge impact to these communities and giving them the skills and confidence to undertake future projects on their own initiative. By facilitating the development of these skills, ActionAid is arming people with the knowledge and enthusiasm to help themselves and their communities.
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