Canadian writer and artist Lisa Carducci, who has make China her home, is calling on our readers to help 270 students enjoy the first warm winter of their lives.
In 2003, I visited Tongren Tibetan autonomous county of Qinghai Province and met a Tibetan university student who could speak some "understandable" Chinese with a strong accent.
Rinchen Shanggya was helping his cousin with the teahouse, where I could finally rest and have butter tea while chatting with him. We remained friends, but I was always too busy to visit the place again.
Recently, I felt a strong tug from the bottom of my heart. I tried to shut off the voice, but it was stronger than my will. I felt I "had" to go to Tongren, but I didn't know why.
The train that runs from Beijing to Lhasa stops in Xining after 20 hours. From there, I took a bus to Tongren.
The price of the bus had doubled from 16 to 32.8 yuan (US$2.3-4.9) since my last visit, but I was glad to see that the traveling time reduced from seven hours to four. The road has been improved and allows for high speeds, and a 3,340-m-long tunnel has been dug through the mountain.
The road followed the Yellow River, which is yellow because of the sand it carries. To my great surprise, I discovered the most beautiful waterscape where the river was as large and blue as the sky.
I found Rinchen Shanggya had become a handsome, 29-year-old young man with dark golden skin, snow-white teeth and black, shining eyes.
He had arrived with the headmaster of Lancai Tanglhaka Technical School where he was hired as a teacher several months ago. Both of them greeted me with a white hada. I felt then that I was in Tibetan region.
Headmaster Shau Jigme, 43, started teaching at the school in 1984, when there were only 60 students. The school has now 270 students and 15 teachers, all of them Tibetans.
The teachers are all university graduates and their salaries vary from 600 to 3,000 yuan a month. Tibetan and Chinese languages are taught from first grade, and English from third grade. Half of the children board at the school, and there are a dozen orphans among them. Most parents are illiterate.
Rinchen Shanggya teaches Chinese, computer skills (but without access to the Internet), and mathematics. He works 10 hours a day for 10 consecutive days, followed by four days off, for a meager 600 yuan a month. With his conditions, it's easy to see why he is still single.
Nine-year compulsory education has reached 99 percent in Tongren, while in the countryside, only 85 percent of the children complete primary school, aside from the compulsory middle school. Why is that?
The main difficulty, said Shau Jigme, is transportation.
There is no road from the county center to the school, which sits on top of the mountain, at almost 4,000 m above sea level and 70 km from Tongren.
The only way to reach the school is by motorcycle, which takes three hours. When it rains or snows, it's impossible to climb up or down. That is why teachers have to stay at school for 10 consecutive days, living in tents.
The school was also a tent before. Now, a wooden structure has been built. But there is no heating in classrooms or even in dormitories. In winter, the temperature plummets to -20 to -30 C. Only the sunshine, bright in the unpolluted sky, can soften the daytime conditions.
"Why don't you install a stove in each classroom?" I asked the headmaster. "First, because coal bricks cost 500 yuan a ton. Second, how do you transport coal up there without a road?" he said.
"But why isn't there a road?" I continued. Shau Jigme had a ready answer, as he has dealt with the problem for years.
"A part of the road has been built last year, and there is a project to finish it within three years."
Qinghai is huge, and many roads are yet to be completed. The road to Lancai School belongs to two counties, Tongren and Guide. Its accomplishment will benefit many.
People will be able to leave their mountains, to receive commercial goods from outside, and more children will be able to return home after school. Stoves will possibly be delivered to the school, too.
I suggested to the headmaster that they install electric heaters, which is a clean energy. That had been discussed, also. "Power costs 0.8 yuan per kwh, and the power plant would have to be remade completely."
How can children survive and learn in such cold temperatures?
"They just freeze," admitted Rinchen Shanggya, who also had undergone such a situation when he was a child, as well as many other Qinghai adults I met.
"The poor kids' cheeks and hands are burned by the cold; their skin cracks and takes on a terrible dark hue. They don't even have warm clothes to wear, such as good shoes and gloves," Rinchen Shanggya explained.
"And they don't eat enough," added Shau Jigme. Some children simply can't attend school in winter.
That evening I could not sleep. I knew why I had come to Tongren, and I swore to myself that I would help Lancai School.
I can't do everything, but there is one thing I can do: raise funds to send a set of warm underwear to each of the 270 children; collect woolen clothing and coats for the students from families who have grown-up children; find a shoe factory willing to sell at a special price - or even donate - 270 pairs of shoes; find ladies with time on their hands to knit mittens and gloves, socks, hats, and sweaters with the wool I will buy; and even more.
I swear that not one yuan gathered from this campaign will be misused. The total amount will be used to provide clothing for the children. No administrative fees will be taken from this effort. Instead, I personally will assume the expenses of the mailing and transportation of the goods.
I made a promise to myself and also to Tongren Lancai School, and I will keep it.
I believe several good-hearted readers will contact me for donations of materials and money.
The Beijing Olympics have just ended. We are still wrapped in the glory of China. In our "one dream" we have become "one world".
Winter is coming soon to Qinghai, and this campaign begins now!
Your help can be offered by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
In this campaign, I solicited the help of Project Hope as an organization advisor, which granted me an authorization certificate to conduct this campaign. Donors can also sponsor a child in primary school through Project Hope and ask specifically for a child from Tongren Lancai School in Qinghai.
Who gives also receives, and Heaven will bless your goodwill.
(China Daily September 23, 2008)