Written by Karen Wang
Translated by Feishan Wang

Why ACEF was established:
Charity, the act of giving, is a part of everyday lives for many Australians. This is also true of many new and old Chinese migrants who have now called Australia home. In January 2014, AUSTRALIAN CHINA EDUCATION FOUNDATION (ACEF) was established as a not-forprofit organisation.

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ACEF’s motto is “Education — A Journey Starts with Love”.

ACEF aims to:
1. provide direct financial assistance to children in poverty-stricken areas of China in completing their education up to year 12 through one-to-one sponsorship

2. promote educational capacity building in these areas through activities such as building classrooms and providing library resources.

ACEF is governed by an executive committee, comprised of President Karen Wang, vice-president Yan Chen, Fei Shan Wang, Yong Fu Wang, Jiu Liu, Michelle Zheng, Dan Han. There are currently two honorary members who are Taojin NIE – the founder and the past president, and Mrs Barbara Ding.

ACEF raises funds for designated projects. The Executive Committee is responsible for making strategic decisions on what charitable projects to develop, and for selecting, monitoring and assessing the programs. ACEF does not engage in ad hoc fund raising activities that are not related to a pre-defined project.

ACEF conducts its activities in an open and transparent manner. All the donations will be directly collected and distributed for the designated purposes approved by the Committee, for children, teachers and schools in poverty-stricken areas of China. The costs of ACEF’s business activities including administration, marketing, transportation and accommodation will be covered by our membership fees and collected separately in a transparent manner. On the 8th of June 2014, ACEF was successfully endorsed as a Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR).

Three projects totalling $245375 donations raised. ACEF has since developed three designated sponsorship programs. The first, ‘One-to-One Child Sponsorship, Xiushui, Jiangxi’ was initiated in May 2015. This program operates on the basis of ‘one dollar a day, for 365 dollars a year’ and will sponsor a child up to 18 years old or when the child completes schooling. Over the last three years until March 2016, ACEF has raised a total of A$ 148,920 and provided direct financial support for more than 130 sponsored children. In addition, in July 2015, ACEF, through collaboration with Beijing Normal University, organised six teachers to provide short-term support to these schools and students in Xiushui. Since March 2015, ACEF’s second program has been to rally fund-raising support for the Leukaemia Foundation through participating in the “the World Greatest Shave”, with FCG Property Group. Together our efforts raised A$ 40,614, which placed us as the top fund raiser in Victoria and the sixth across Australia for this valuable course.This has made a significant impression on the wider Australian community.

ACEF’s third program commenced in August 2015, and aimed to provide nutritional meals for school kids in poverty-stricken areas. This was achieved through collaboration with the “Free Lunch China”– a well-established non-government charity in China. We successfully raised a net total of A$ 51728 for this purpose.

Since November 2015, through careful selection of schools in consultation with Free Lunch China, ACEF has endorsed that the Dong Gou primary school, Long Tan villiage in Wu Shan County of TianshuiCity in Gansu Province will be the designated school that receives our donation under the auspices of ‘Free Lunch Cchina’. The project expenditure will be published through its website for this school in a transparent way for public scrutiny.

“A dollar a day, for 365 dollars a year”, the one-on-one donation program for Xiushui, is ACEF’s first donation program. The program has been successfully carried out for three years since 2014. Some of our sponsors desired to go to Xiushui themselves, to deliver the donations and to check on those kids. On 30th March, 2016, organised by ACEF, a group of 20 people (15 adults and 5 children), on behalf of all the sponsors, flew all the way from Melbourne, Australia, to Xiushui, Jiangxi, China, to meet the sponsored children and to deliver the donations face-to-face.

ACEF’s China Affairs Vice President Mr Yongfu Wang, together with Ms Ava Long, Managing Director of Venus Holiday, worked tirelessly in preparatione for this trip. Our Finance Vice -President Mr Jun Liu, Ms Dan Han and Ms Tao Shen managed to collect the funds from over 100 donors in only half a month. Before this trip, there had been much discussion about what kinds of resources we should bring to those kids. Cindy Huang, Managing Director of Australian Natures Milk, volunteered to offer and post 300 cans of All Milk and TrueInfant milk powders. These two companies have been involved in charitable events more than once. Our Honorary President Ms Barbara Xiaoqi Ding and her husband flew to China ahead of the group and bought 150 calligraphy sets for the children. Ms Lin donated 3,000 packs of Band-Aids, and Mr Victor Li, Director of AITI, volunteered to carry them to China. Ms Jin Zhang bought150 goat milk soaps and carried all of them to China herself; moreover, she also carried vision correction devices donated by Mr Zongyu Xu to those kids with vision problems. Besides arranging the whole trip, Ms Ava Long also bought 160 bars of Nestlé chocolates for the children. Mr Xiaoming Luo and other people togetherhelped to carry the 32kg chocolates to China.

Xiushui’s two kind souls – Taojin Nie and Bangquan Xie

Xiushui is located in a mountainous area in China. The valley terrace only accounts for around 1% of the whole area. It has always been one of the poor counties identified by the Chinese government. Before arriving there we imagined Xiushui as a very remote and isolated place. However, to our surprise, we saw spacious and newly built roads, lined on both sides vegetation growing vibrantly in the spring, it was picturesque.

The reason why ACEF chose 139 students from here as our funding targets was because that our Honorary President, Mr Taojin Nie had been building primary schools in this area since 2003. Until 2014, he had in total built 6 schools; while his friend also donated to build 3 schools in Xiushui. The students we are helping now are all from those 9 schools. Mr Bangquan Xie, who is the local person in charge of our program, told us that while it used to take 8 hours to travel from Xiushui to Nanchang, it now only takes 2 to 3 hours to travel to Nanchang or Changsha, due to the newly-built roads, and that they can now take the express train to Shenzhen from Changsha within only 3 hours. We were impressed by the fast development there, and looking forward to seeing Xiushui improving economically in the near future.

Xiushui used to be much more isolated due to limited transportation infrastructure and challenging mountainous landforms. However, in recent years, the Chinese government has invested heavily in road building, while at the same time subsidized the relocation of villagers out of the isolated mountainous
areas. There used to be over 700 schools in Xiushui, where each teacher had to look after many students from
different ages. Some teachers had to teach a few different subjects at the same time. When Mr Nie was planning to build his first school in 2003, he realizsed many of the existing school buildings were actually residential buildings. He heard that once a building collapsed and killed six students. After several years’ development, those 700 schools have been consolidated into around 400 regular schools. We saw most school buildings are now three-story. In 2014, Mr Nie built No.6 Jinrong Primary School costing between 600,000 to 700,000 RMB. We can tell from the photos that the current school facilities are almost as modern as to those schools in the city – in that they have libraries, playgrounds, canteens, and even audio-visual classrooms, which is much better than we assumed. Mr Bangquan Xie, a retired school principle, has overseen all of the construction works.

Moreover, Mr Xie has also been volunteering to identify the 139 children and verify information about their family background to ensure that these children have a genuine case for sponsorship. He has worked with these families and has specific knowledge about the welfare of these children and even some of their school headmasters and teachers. Mr Xie had helped a great deal for this trip.

During this trip, Mr Xie volunteered to drive sponsors around to visit their sponsored children’s family, despite some could be as far as 80km away.

For many students, the long distance between home and school is also a deterrent to continuing their education. Some schools provide boarding to students, even at the primary school level. We were also very happy to know that most families here take their children’s education seriously. A few years ago, when students had to carry their own desks to schools, we were told that there would be rows of parents and children carrying their desks on the way to schools when every semester started – a scene no longer seen at the new schools built with proper facilities. While all these are promising signs of change, life in Xiushui is still harsh, especially for the sponsored children and their families. Below are stories from the three families we had come across.

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Illness and absence of parental care in a family are two key factors.

We observed most of the students coming to schools with school bags, books and clothes, and these schools have improved facilities. We observed the 137 students sponsored by the ACEF have endured particular hardships. Typically, they are from one of the three types of families: orphans or with a single parent; family members suffering from long-term sickness,and those ‘left-over’ children who are cared for by  their grandparents as their parents have left them. During this visit, we have come across a few of these typical cases. Ligeng Luo is a ten-year old boy and is about one head shorter when standing next to my 10 year old son. His mother lost her arms during a fire accident when she was just a teenager. Ligeng’s grandma also is disabled. While Ligeng’s father labours hard in the field, his income is meagre. At their home, we noted the family had few belongings around the house, except for the three-rows of Awards of Merit from their school displayed on the empty wall for his sister Qian Luo and himself. Ligeng showed a resolution that was more mature for his age. In addition to our ACEF sponsored amount, I was moved to give him an extra 500 RMB. His grandma cried when she thanked us, sincerely asking us to stay back for lunch. I still have a vivid memory of this family after leaving the village. I felt there is hope and a future for this family.

It was sad to come across a family of two brothers called Nianzhu Shu and Renhua Shu. They came to the fund distribution ceremony and sat at the very back. However, our team member Mrs Ling found Nianzhu clapped his hands enthusiastically at each announcement. After chatting with Nianzhu, we found that his father has been paralysed for many years. Unable to cope with the situation, his mother left them when he was only 2 years old and when his brother Renhua was only 3. Nianzhu has a twin brother who was later given away to another family. As the family lives 80 km away from the school, it has only become possible for the brothers to attend the school thanks to the support of the younger siblings of his father. The whole family’s sole income is the government subsidy of 5000 RMB a year for a family at poverty level. After learning this, Mrs Ling was unable to sleep well that night. The next day, despite her own health problems, she asked Mrs Xie to go and visit Nianzhu’s family home 80 km away from the school. We were very saddened to see his father’s leg had deteriorated so much that the flesh was almost rotten. He has refused to amputate his leg on medical advice for the slim hope that the legs will become better. However his sickness has impacted the children. We note that there was hardly any smile from Nianzhu’s older brother. Mrs Ling donated 5000 RMB to this family at our departure. Mrs ShanShan Huang, the Australian sponsor for Nianzhu,after hearing about this family’s hardship, pledged to donate an additional A$ 1000 a year to help alleviate the situation. A package of clothes was also sent to the family. Mrs Huang has also established contact with the teacher for the brothers and hopes to provide more regular support and encouragement to the children. Of the original 139 students sponsored by the ACEF, we have only contacted 137 from this field visit. This is because two have ceased their schooling. One of these two was the girl Yao Yao who was visited by our reporter and photographer Shan Shan last year.

Yao Yao lost her father due to a work accident when she was young, and soon after this, her grandpa also passed away. Her mother finally left the family. Yao Yao onlyhas her grandma and an uncle who is also  suffering from a long-term sickness. Although her house was nearby on the roadside, it was broken and dark; there were no tables or chairs. The blanket on the broken bed was full of holes. There was no cover. Last year when Shan Shan took a photo of the family, he only realised later that there was a dead mouse on the bed.

Last year, Yao Yao’s grandma borrowed a notebook to write an acknowledgement letter to the sponsor. However, Yao Yao remained quiet and emotionless. According to the ACEF’s sponsorship agreement, the sponsorship is terminated when the sponsored child stopped attending school. However, our hearts went out to Yao Yao after learning she has stopped attending the school. We went to her house, and as soon as we stepped in, we noted that there were two portraits, one for her dead father and one for her dead grandpa. There was almost no sign of life in the house. We can feel that how much sadness Yao Yao has to endure daily under this depressing environment. We were told that Yao Yao has gone to Wenzhou to look for work at the tender age of 14 years old. We left some gifts we brought and an additional 2000 RMB. We left Yao Yao’s house with a heavy heart and a deep concern for her future welfare.

It is urgent that the Chinese government must develop a medical safety net to provide a viable solution to families such as these. Otherwise children from these families suffer a disproportional share of disadvantage and lack of parental care.

“Better to get a job than to continue schooling for the under-achievers” 

10The official statistics from the Chinese government states that the drop-out rate is 3 percent up to the middle school level. Since 2000, the government promoted a universal compulsory education scheme for all children up to year nine (including 6 years of primary school and 3 years at the middle school level) which resulted in an increase in the primary school education coverage to 85 per cent.

From September 2011, a national-wide audit of this universal education program includes a benchmark that 95 per cent of all primary school children will progress to the middle school level with the drop-out rate below 2 per cent at this transition period. However, the reality is less optimistic. Research indicated that in some poor areas, for every 100 primary school children, 31 would stop attending by middle school (a drop-out rate of 31 per cent); after middle school, there will be a further 23 children dropping out, and 46 of them will continue on to technical colleges, from which only 37 of the 100 children graduated in the end.

In addition to suffering disproportional impact from poverty, the other main reasons are loss of interest in study and loss of hope in their future. Some school teachers will encourage under-achievers from dropping out so that their teaching performance appears better than in reality. As the Chinese countryside becomes increasingly urbanised, teens of 14 – 15 years old find the lure of casual labour in the city earning income quickly much more enticing than continuing their study on to high school, which is an expensive alternative for many poor families. Often an unskilled labourer working in the city can earn a monthly income that is equivalent to a year’s income at the countryside. Some of these factors directly contributed to the drop out rates of up to 50 per cent for a middle school education. This is worrying as Professor Scott Rozelle of Stanford University, an expert scholar on the economics of poverty puts it, these children from struggling socio-economic areas will face even more challenges as they step into the future. The absence of skills and education for these children will become a stumbling block to the sustained economic development in China and will cause great social instability.

The most important thing is to care for them as individuals

The biggest impression from this field trip is that these children need urgent care. Many of these children were not responsive and reserved when meeting their sponsors. It seems that there was no easy way to communicate with these children, who have been left behind by their parents and shut out from a normal childhood environment.

Many of them appear to have closed up their internal emotions. I spoke with one of the middle school students who is boarding at the school. She said that apart from one-hour lunch break, her life is filled with study, revision and homework. On the weekend, when she goes home, she can hardly communicate with her father who says very little. Her mother has already left her and re-married in another city. She said her wish was to visit the big city and take a ride on a big playground there! This made me think of Yao Yao, if she could end up finding a proper job, she might fare better than staying back in her country home. I can only hope she is getting on better with her life.

Education – a journey starts with love. Many of us who made this visit realised that it is not easy to change the circumstances for these children. Some of us established WeChat connections with our sponsored children.

However after initial greetings, the response from these children became a simple “yes” or “no” response. It will take more consistent effort to connect with them and to convey our care to them. It is a long journey. However, we have made a good start.