Building a School in China

If you wanted to build a new school in China – where and how would you start? What do you think would be the most difficult part? Well my company Mission Grounds Gourmet Coffee, just graded the lot and the school construction will be the easiest part. We should have the school done in about 100 days – now that the Monsoon season is over. Again the actual construction is the easiest part.

The most difficult aspects of building a school are many: – 1. How to get the money from the USA to the remote village where you are building; 2. Getting the Chinese government’s approval 3. Choosing the right village 4. Convincing the villagers you are completely nuts and getting them to help. And it doesn’t help you don’t speak any Chinese and you truly are at the mercy of the translator. And you hope the translator is liked by both the village and the government.

Let’s start with the money. The average Chinese school will cost you around $20,000 to build for the material; another $15,000 in labor if you can’t rally the village into providing the labor for free. So how do you get $20,000 from Atlanta Georgia to the remote Village of DS (to protect the innocent) in the remote village of the Yunnan province? DS is an 8 hour bus ride plus a 4 hour llama ride up the steepest mountains from the nearest banks in Beijing. It’s more money that you can legally carry if you wanted to fly there and drop it off. I won’t disclose the how to this because I hop to do it again in the spring when we start another school. All I can say is there are some Chinese ladies I trust a whole lot who are sleeping tonight with $20,000 buried or hidden somewhere in their house – the mud shacks with dirt floors. She is holding $10,000 when they will make about $200 for the year. At least I know they love their children of the village more than they love money. At least that’s my prayer every night.

The Chinese government is very proud and admits PROUDLY they don’t need any help from anybody – especially from outsiders and especially from Americans. Unfortunately they are ignoring the remote villages to the West and focusing on trying to keep the infrastructure up to meet the explosive growth of the East. Throw the money back where it is coming from.  Our big goal was to get their blessing to not only approve us but to accept the new school into their system; to then provide the books and supplies; to pay the teachers and keep up the maintains. We even hoped they might find some money to help. And we didn’t mention God one time – though HE was there everywhere.

So we decided to build our schools in the poorest villages of Western China. We decided on the Yunnan Province because it is still a Third world country still living like its 1000 AD. No civilization here – no modern infrastructure. No money and no school. No jobs. The average wage is about $20 per month and most people are dirt farmers. The goal each day is to survive – find enough food to make it till tomorrow. Girls go to school – are you kidding? No in this part of China the one child run is in effect – families dump their girls in hope of having boys. So in these villages you find a pack of homeless girls who live on the streets together – like a pack of wolves. Feeding on the trash – begging all day for handouts. They work to survive and school is not an option.

So we identified 10 villages – all without schools. In August I asked my good friend, also a Chinese pastor, if he would help me contact a government official we could trust to build a school in one of this needy village. A few weeks later the meeting was set and we drove 3 hours to meet Mr. Z, the director of the Community and Religious Affairs in another county.

During our lunch Mr. Z explained to me that he was very happy to hear of my intentions. He asked questions about my previous experience and then proceeded to tell me that he had many places that were in need. I then asked him to tell me about a few villages in need so we could begin our project.

In the next few sentences Mr. Z told me about his home village and how very poor they were and that they had no existing school but the children were meeting in the teacher’s mud brick home. He also said, “I am not forcing you to go to my village but only letting you know of the need. If you prefer to go to another village I know plenty of other places!” I replied, “Mr. Z, I would be honored to build a school in your home village, please take me there so we can look around and meet your people.”

After visiting the village Mr. Z and I drew up a contract basically agreeing that the Chinese government would contribute part of the cost (about half) and that I would have the privilege of returning to the village to continue building relationship through activities and training at the school.

And that the school would be recognized by the Chinese Government; and adopted into their system and most importantly supplied with books and teachers by the Chinese government. The Contract was signed at a big party in the village where the government took all the credit. We then enlisted many villagers who donated their time to build the school.

I made visits during the construction of the school to be sure things were going as planned. During one of these visits the village leaders hosted an outdoor banquet where I sat with all the village leaders and communist party members who celebrated our new joint venture. The school was completed in about 150 days. It was a 2 story building and will host children from many villages. In China the children travel on Sundays for many hours to the school. They then live in the school all week and once or twice a month will return home. They have a teacher during the day and a house mom to take care of the children at night. They sleep on the floor and the house mom feeds them dinner; sleeps with them at night and fixes them breakfast. She also makes sure they do their "home" work and acts as a tutor…

Here’s the really neat part. (Shhhh! And please don’t tell the Chinese government.) The homeless girls – the ones abandoned by their families by the one child rule – go to school. As part of my deal with the villagers – I made a secret agreement to build them a school but they had to agree to let the "worthless" girls go to school. And live in the school. And eat dinner and breakfast. And get a bath. And have a house mom to look after them. Some might say we are building orphanages – but that would be wrong and against the Chinese governments rules. And they certainly wouldn’t support an orphanage. Or even help. But building a school – that’s cool for them. And let them have all the credit. You should have seen the celebration they threw for our new orphanage I mean their new school. Seems like everybodies a winner in this deal. And all for just $10,000.

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