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Thursday, January 16, 2003 - 19:30

Bringing Education to the Yunnan Minorities

Hilary Wheadon

British Embassy Residence

There are 24 minorities living in Yunnan, 22 of which live in Lincang Prefecture in the southwest of Yunnan, on the border with Myanmar. Most of them live in remote mountainous regions with little or no contact with the outside world. Many of the villages have no roads to connect them with the nearest towns, and the villagers have to walk many kilometers over rough ground to go to school or to take their goods to market. The educational facilities in many of the villages are very poor, many schools being run down or unsafe. Although China has a law, which says that children must attend school for at least four years in some places there is no possible means of enforcing the law, as the schools cannot provide places for the children. Even where there are schools, some of the parents in the poorest villages do not allow their children to attend, as they are needed to work in the fields and look after the animals.

Hilary Wheadon, who has lived and taught in China for 9 years, founded "Schools for Yunnan" in 1999 to help the poor villages in Lincang Prefecture to obtain better education facilities. Together with Feng Chenhua, who is responsible for the protection of the Bulang minority culture and traditions, she has been instrumental in building four schools, extensively repairing four more, and rebuilding or repairing dormitories in six villages. Local officials are supportive of their work. The next project is to build a new primary school in Bang Xie village, to educate grades 1-6, with dormitories for those from more distant villages. As well as bringing education to the children of the minorities in Yunnan, they have also held training sessions for women to help them continue the traditions of handicrafts unique to the minority cultures.