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Jasmine Dispatch

Rural Women Know It All
July 29, 2000


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A meeting of migrant rural women in Beijing and a round of applause for these extraordinary people
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At age 14, what were your major concerns in life? Whether to buy Nintendo or Sega? Too much homework? Parents not understanding? When I think back to my teenage years (which was just a few years ago, actually -- OK, more than a few, but I'm not that old!) I remember how good it felt to be young, without a real responsibility in the world. Then things happened in my family that made me have to grow up in what seemed like overnight. Everyone faces challenges in life, including me, but not even my hardest struggle compares to the challenges overcome by the inspirational young women I met through the Rural Women Knowing All Magazine (RWKA) and School.

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Hiking through the mountainous terrain of the Sichuan province of Western China with a large bamboo basket piled high with grass hoisted on her head was a young girl aged 14. This task was performed alongside her mother, who walked carefully in front on the steep path, carrying two heavy baskets balanced on either end of a bamboo shoulder pole. The baskets were filled with wood she just chopped for kindling. The terrain of the Sichuan province is known for its rugged, dangerously high mountains. During the Communists' Long March only a couple of generations ago, thousand of peasants who had joined the people's army lost their lives trying to cross this region. Today the Yi people, an ethnic minority in China call Sichuan home.

These poor farmers cultivate what they can of the countryside and spend long days in the fields. Their only food is what they grow, as they cannot afford to buy food for an entire family with an income of 1000 yuan a year. (That's a whopping $125!) They build their homes of mud brick, cook with the firewood they chop in the mountains and battle extreme poverty everyday of their lives.

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Xie Lihua on a panel with First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton during 'A Dialogue With Chinese Women'
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The story of these people, and people like them all over the country, was brought to light and specifically addressed when Xie Lihua founded Rural Women Knowing All Magazine in 1993.

"In China, there are 15 magazines for women, but not a single one dedicated to the rural woman," explained Xie, "RWKA is the first and only one of its kind."

In seven short years, RWKA has grown under Xie's dynamic leadership, circulating to over 60,000 women a month all over the country, and now branching off to sponsor numerous projects for rural women. The three main projects are the Migrant Women's Club, the Technical School, and the micro-credit loans program.

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With the magazine in hand, this lady explains how RWKA has helped her go from rural life to big city know-how
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The participants of the Beijing Migrant Women's Club were the first of many women I would meet as I explored the far-reaching corners of lives touched by the magazine's efforts. To a round of applause, Yang-Yang and I entered into a room of smiling women greeting and thanking us for joining and sharing with them. Most had never traveled outside of their villages before making the huge decision to move to Beijing and were very excited to hear about labor conditions for women in the countries we'd visited. Growing numbers of women migrate to the cities with hopes finding work, a place to stay, and a happier life. After hearing their stories, I wanted to applaud them. Courageous and diligent, these women gather to support one another as each one dares to leave the country, often inspired by the magazine.

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Yi ethnic dance performance wowed the crowd!
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My next destination was the technical school. I expected to see women the same age as the women at the meeting in Beijing, but was surprised to find that the "women" helped by the technical school were as young as 14 years old. Many were Yi minorities who had been selected by the school to come to Beijing on scholarship to receive training and an opportunity to break the cycle of poverty in their families and in their villages.

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On a green plot of land far on the outskirts of Beijing, in small brick buildings surrounded by tall sunflowers and herbal plants and trees popular in Chinese medicine, young girls are loved, supported, educated and inspired. The campus felt more like home than a school. For the girls chosen to attend, it is a dream come true. I arrived just in time for the next session's opening ceremonies. Since most of the girls from this session were Yi minorities, they gathered in traditional dress to perform folk songs and dance for journalists, the organizations that donated scholarship money for their group, and businesses that had come to recruit some of the girls who had just completed their training in Domestic Service.

I went in hoping to find one girl who would tell me her story. What I found was thirty or so stories that were identically painful to hear. Each girl had dropped out of school because her family could no longer afford it. She then worked with the family doing hard farm labor. They would work like this until they were married at age 17, when they are faced with the challenge of supporting their own families. But now each of those faces stared at me with hopeful eyes that were opening to a new reality, a whole new world.

Seed Question: Seed Answer:

Your Turn!!!

Why would dropping out of school be a problem for these poor, young women? Is education really that important for them?

Share your thoughts
and see what others wrote!


This group was here to study computers, for example.

"I thought a computer was a huge machine," one girl told me as she made huge circles with her arms, "and I never thought I could learn it," she continued.

But now after only a week in her program, she is more excited than ever about her progress (and very much excited that computers aren't as big and scary as she'd originally imagined).

Another seventeen-year-old explained how she'd dropped out of school, but her older brother was able to finish and graduated at the top of his class. Her hope was to find a job after she finished the program and earn enough money to help him further his education.

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Do you remember the first time you ever saw a computer? For them the moment was unforgettable!
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At such a young age, these young ladies were facing a real world and the harsh realities that come with it. Their determination to succeed was mind-blowing and truly inspirational. After their three-month program, if they are recruited by one of the partnering businesses, they will enter the work force. If not, they will return to their village, new women who now know they are not limited to a life of poverty, but of empowerment and success.

The school's headmistress, Wen Hueping, explained that, just like the Odyssey, they educate students on human rights and social activism. We each play a part in making a difference, from the hillsides of Sichuan, to your city or town. Here in China, one woman's vision has unified numerous others who have worked to help change the lives of over 660 girls and their families.

"Amongst those girls are the future leaders of Sichuan and China... educators, agricultural scientists, and social activists with visionary plans for growth," she smiled as she looked into a classroom of young girls typing away. These girls had never even seen a computer, and had certainly never imagined that they would have the opportunity to learn how to use one. "I have every confidence that they can make it happen," Wen Hueping finished.

What are your visions for a better future in your home and your country? How will you make those dreams a reality? What better time to start than now? With even the smallest opportunity, these girls, your peers, are determined to make a difference. You can too!

Jasmine

p.s. - Please e-mail me at ...jasminehamlett@bigfoot.com
 

Abeja - I Thought the Bad Guys Always Wore Black
Jasmine - Playing the Game, The Communists Score!
Yang-Yang - The Many Loved and Hated Faces of Mao
Kavitha - Inside the Secret World: China's Forbidden City

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