Education is the solution to poverty. This is the belief of the Vancouver Sowers Society of Education. On August 17, 2003, VSSE members went for a walk. The goal of these determined walkers was to raise funds for education in China.
That same year, VSSE member Michael Li joined Sowers Action Hong Kong volunteers on the same mission. The charity walk, a five-day trek from Hong Kong to Guangzhou, was part of their continuing campaign to raise money and awareness for education in Mainland China. Over the years, Sowers Action has provided financial assistance totaling more than $20 million. The organization has subsidized school fees for students in rural areas and rebuilt over 400 damaged schools.
Affiliated with Sowers Action, the VSSE is a registered non-profit organization, and the first branch outside Hong Kong. Established in Vancouver, B.C., in 2002, the society has participated in numerous events to promote activities and raise funds for the Hong Kong branch. Initiated by Ben Choi, president of the VSSE, the group counted 15 members in 2003. While VSSE is financially and administratively independent from the Sowers Action in Hong Kong, both organizations share the same beliefs and objectives.
“It is not unusual to see rural village schools that are without electricity, water, toilets, or playgrounds.”
Poverty in China is a major obstacle to education. Educational development has become a challenge in remote and poor areas, as well as in provinces occupied mainly by minorities. Recent statistics reveal that one out of every ten children has never enrolled in primary school. These studies, conducted in nine of the poorer provinces in China, also show that up to 35 per cent of children cannot finish their education, creating obstacles to work opportunities. Moreover, illiteracy is a reality for many rural parents, so children cannot learn at home. The National Bureau of Statistics reported in The China Daily that in 2001, approximately 70 per cent of the country’s total labour force were rural labourers, and only 12.2 per cent had a senior middle school education or higher.
In the mid-nineties, the Chinese authorities undertook a poverty reduction program to raise per capita income to the equivalent of $91 (based on 1990 prices). More recently, the Hope Project, an educational fund-raising initiative, was implemented to help even the poorest children receive an education.
The Chinese government has used more than $1.6 billion to support education and learning conditions in deprived areas. Over the years, government spending has increased and the enrolment ratio of school-age children is higher than ever. However, the gap between urban and rural education is widening. Some organizations, such as Sowers, believe the government’s efforts are insufficient, and have taken their own initiatives to encourage education in rural China.
Sowers Action remains one of the most active supporters of the fundamental right to education. Implementing safer building methods, improving the quality of teaching and providing financial assistance to low-income families constitute the main activities of both the Hong Kong and Vancouver branches.
The rising cost of education is too often a major obstacle in sending children to school. Vanessa Cheung, vice-president and treasurer of the VSSE, says that a year’s tuition for a secondary student in the Butuo County costs $75. This is a high price in a poor family’s budget, especially since the average wage in China is about $30 per month. Sowers Action tries to provide the minimum funds for educating children in poverty zones, so that all children may receive schooling.
Providing For A Sound Education
Updated books and reference materials, and well-trained teachers are necessary to improve learning conditions. Rural communities are suffering from a shortage of teachers because of insufficient salaries. As a consequence, many schools are closing. In response to this, Hong Kong Sowers, which has started to cooperate with the Hope Project, regularly trains teachers, or sends experienced instructors into deprived areas. Thanks to the efforts of Sowers and the Hope Project, more than 400 teachers have been trained.
Sowers Action also takes part in the reconstruction and renovation of schools. The VSSE recently decided to raise funds to rebuild a school in the Yunnan Province. Like many other schools, the institution was originally constructed in a rudimentary way, and no longer meets the educational system requirements.
It is not unusual to see rural village schools that are without electricity, water, toilets, or playgrounds. In other places, classrooms are in abandoned houses, or outdoors. The VSSE believes that these unsafe conditions are unacceptable and has taken the initiative to rebuild or renovate schools, provide new equipment and, by doing so, contribute to a better and safer learning environment.
The members of the VSSE and the Hong Kong branch believe increasing literacy and giving Chinese children access to an education can only benefit the country. They strongly believe that China’s economic future lies in quality educational resources.
For more information on the VSSE, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org