Sunday, May 25, 2008
Melissa visits scene of a collapsed middle school
A week later (yesterday) a three-day mourning period started. I was told about the mourning period but I was shocked to my core to experience the three minutes of silence (marked by air-raid sirens) while I was checking out at the supermarket. For three minutes the impossible happened, the whole nation of 1.6 billion stood stalk still. The hair on my arm still prickles when i think about those three minutes. Nearby the checkout a t.v. continued to play dreadful footage of children being pulled from wreckage. This is a taste of it:
And finally, fear still abounds as everyone waits, here to hear about loved ones and there to see what the next aftershock will do.
No word from Stone Gate Village yet, an update to hopefully come soon.
Friday, April 4, 2008
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Friday, October 5, 2007
As Chinese civilization developed, leprosy patients where eventually sequestered to leprosy “colonies” or “villages” where they could live, marry and have families though their disease continued to be misunderstood and stigmatized.
When Briton Samuel Pollard came to Shimenkan (Stone Gateway Village) in the early 1900's he worked hard to research leprosy and increase the community’s awareness. He wrote articles, recorded data and created leper colony along with a specialized leprosy hospital (the earliest leprosy hospital recorded in Chinese history) several kilometers from Shimenkan where leprosy patients could continue to live out their lives in peace.
A second addition has been added to the same compound built under Pollard's successor's orders, after the Cultural Revolution, where leprosy patients, now non-infectious, live; still sequestered from society.
In 1988, thanks to a 12 month multi-drug therapy introduced to China in 1982, there are no longer active cases of leprosy left in the Shimenkan “colony”, though a doctor and nurse are still available for patients. The colony is no a legitimate “village” called Liushu (Willow Village) though local people still refer to it as the “Leper Village”. There are 13 patients still living in Liushu and 63 of their relatives—still stigmatized by old Chinese tradition.
In 2005, money was donated to build a third addition. New “dormitories” or “apartments” for the leprosy patients and their families. All together, 20 20-square-meter rooms were constructed. Families with less than 5 people live in one room, and families with 6 more members have two rooms. Each patient receives a 25 RMB (3 USD) stipend every month from the government. Unfortunately, this is not enough to support the living costs of one person, much less a family
In 2005 the money to build a primary school was also donated. However, due to the lack of a teacher, the school was not able to officially begin until 2007. There are around 30 children attending this primary school, aged from six-12, all together in one room.There is one teacher who travels around four hours round trip from Shimenkan to teach the children each day. His salary is 400 RMB per month (50 USD) and is donated by a local Shimenkan church.
We were lucky enough to arrive on the first day of school for these children in Liushu.
After having a chance to teach a short English lesson (including “If you are happy and you know it”) Cammie gave stickers and love to the children attending class. By the time we left, the Chinese teacher was leading the students in a song “…we go to school, we love study, we love labor….” As we know, where there is education and knowledge, there is hope.
Financial Needs and Projects-The government only provides 25 RMB (3 USD) per month for each patient (some of which have over 6 family members). They have been given a bit of land to farm potatoes and corn, but it barely provides enough for daily nutrition needs, and definitely not enough to sell.If they can’t get enough food for their families from the bit of land, they have no money to buy rice an, consequently, will starve. These cases are especially common in the elderly that have no family to help support them.
With their disfigured limbs in the high mountains of Guizhou, they are physically confined to the village (the mountain paths being steep and dangerous for completely functioning people), plus they have no money to wander or work beyond their village. Furthermore, the stigma and superstitions about their disease are still very much alive in Chinese rural communities, (i.e some will not even take the seat of a chair vacated by a leper).
Living stipends for leprosy patients:Since Aug. 2007 the Chinese government provides a 25 RMB living stipend for the 16 leprosy patients.This money comes twice a year (2007.8-12: 1625 RMB and 2007.8-12: 1625 RMB) to Ma Laoshi to distribute. SJA wishes to match this stipend, as 3 US dollars a month is not a livable sum. This money will come through private donations, any extra money received will be saved until next year.
Library:SJA hopes to raise enough money through private donations to provide a library for children and adults in the Liushu, including equipment such as a television, DVD player and tape-recorder for educational purposes.Proposed finish date: Feb. 2008
Second hand clothing donation: plan to finish before Jan. 2008.
General Coordinator: Cici Zheng (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Assistant Coordinators: Cammie Brennan (email@example.com) pastor at Zhaotong church, Bian Laoshi and Ma Laoshi in Shimenkan
Since the Cultural Revolution, Chinese society has toted the phrase that “women hold up half the sky.” In Ma Guirong’s case, this is an understatement. A committed mother, wife, farmer, teacher, Ma has led the women of her small village, Xinzai, a village outside Shimenkan (Stone Gateway Village), Guizhou, to make a difference in their homeland.
Ma, ethnically a Flowery Miao, a historically persecuted people group in the highlands of northwestern Guizhoui, has dedicated her life to preserving the Miao culture, promoting women and helping her community to improve their standard of living. Historically, the area of Shimenkan has been heavily influenced by the outside world. In 1905 United Methodist Sam Pollard came to this region and embraced the Flowery Miao culture; he created a written Miao script, church, post office, hospital, leper colony (that the lepers might not be burned but could live a fulfilling life), and over twenty church schools throughout this region. Thus, during Pollard’s time, the city flourished and the people were able to grow plenty of potatoes and corn. Schools blossomed, producing students that later would serve in the army and receive their doctoral degrees. Through the years Shimenkan became a center of learning and culture in which the Flowery Miao thrived after years of being oppressed by the Yi, Bai, and Han people.
With the Cultural Revolution, however, Shimenkan’s western ties were completely severed and Christianity went underground. After the establishment of the People’s Republic of China the area, and especially the Flowery Miao people, were once again oppressed and impoverished. At age 38, Ma has taken it upon herself to improve the situation and turn the derelict living situation around, in attempts to transform Shimenkan back into the cultural and economic center it was in the early 1900’s. Ma created a women’s committee that meets weekly to fellowship together and confront community issues. As 90 percent of the women in this area are illiterate, Ma also provides classes as the farming schedule allows. Together the women study basic Chinese characters, hygiene and health practices, farming technology, and simple veterinary medicine. In 2004, Ma and the women’s committee held their first annual Women’s Festival Day. The festivities consisted of women celebrating traditional activities such as script writing, singing, dancing, and playing the music of the minority and Han people groups in the area, while dressed in traditional costumes. Xinzai women have been able to enjoy and expand this festival for three years. Aside from her committee work and farming potatoes, tobacco, and corn with her husband, Ma fills in at the Xinzai primary school (making 13 dollars a month as her only salary) as the school is sorely lacking qualified staff. She frequently visits the school even when she isn’t teaching, to assist the other teachers, facilitate teacher training and spending time with the children. When Ma can find the time she often travels two or three hours on foot through the mountains to assess the needs of nearby villages and local schools. Ma also partners with Oxfam as the executor of the micro-loan given to Xinzai for development in 1995.
She has also agreed to lead a China Now Community Project initiative to help the local women preserve their traditional skills and earn an income of their own by selling their handicrafts in both China and America. Her determination, aspiration and open smile have enabled her to overcome great obstacles and truly fortify Shimenkan’s future.
British missionary Samuel Pollard came to China in 1887 at the age of 22 and died at his post in 1915 while he was caring for infected Miao villagers in Stone Gateway. The respectable personality and devoted spirit of Pollard helped Christianity spread throughout the region of Sichuan, Yunnan and Guizhou provinces. A large number of Miao people in these areas converted then to this religion. Pollard was honored as a national hero in a popular folk book and named as the “Savior” of Miao People.
In 1905, Pollard started building churches and schools on this desolated hillside. Within less than 50 years, Christianity’s influence here helped the Miao people to overcome difficult barriers and make a substantial difference in their quality of education and social welfare. This was something Chinese Confucianism hadn’t been able to accomplish in the previous 2000 years. However, today the name of Stone Gateway is again disappearing into this poorest Wumeng mountain area, no longer as known to the public as before. Stone Gateway had the earliest co-education and bilingual teaching system in contemporary China. The Stone Gateway school was equipped with all kinds of facilities, including dormitories, an auditorium, a swimming pool and a playground. The community here also developed quickly under Pollard’s influence so that it soon possessed an orphanage, hospital, leper house, post office and so on. Due to the elevation, the mountain-top village Stone Gateway lacked essential crops and large portions of the villagers perished due to famine.
In 1906, missionaries Rev and Mrs. Harry Parsons brought potatoes into this area for the first time. Potatoes were easy to grow, even in the harsh climate, and its harvest time was earlier than the other crops so that the people had a more consistent supply of food. Even now, along with corn, potatoes are the main food source for the villagers around Stone Gateway. Today, the church’s population is no more than 100; the number of Christian believers has dropped sharply compared to in Pollard's period when thousands of people were coming to church. There are only 3 churches in the whole Shimenkan area, with less than 6 hundred believers altogether. Most of the church population consists of women because the Miao men must migrate for work in order to support their families.
After almost half a century's isolation and poverty, the phenomenon of early marriage and early pregnancy is once again prevalent in Shimenkan. With Pollard's influence the church popularized adult-marriages rather than child-marriages for health, respect and practical reasons. In Pollard’s time, schools were so developed in Shimenkan that two thirds of the Miao population in the Wumeng Mountain area became literate. Two students even went on to get a doctoral degree in medical studies. Now, the illiteracy percentage of Miao people here is far higher than the Han and Yi people (less than 10%), and not a single university student has come from Shimenkan since 1949.