“There is so much more to life than what
they are experiencing”
they are experiencing”
Before there were roads, it was almost impossible to reach Guo Gan Mountain. The condition today is considerably better, but the villages are still hidden in the mountains. You would be able to see the neverending ranges of mountains as you stand at the edge of my quarters, where miles and miles of greenery surround you.
Sometimes, the beauty would strike you with awe. Other times, there is a feeling of isolation from the outside world.
In the one week or so that I spent here, living together with the teachers and children, I have been taught and humbled in every way possible. Every morning I would be awakened by the the sounds of children reciting sentences after their teachers. A quick wash up (where the ice-cold waters never fail to sting), and I would be off for a little video and photo capturing adventure.
In documenting their daily lives, I often catch little sparks of enthusiasm in their eyes when they read. And when I point my camera towards them, the sheepish smiles they offer in return is a kind of innocence that remains untarnished by time and circumstances.
Most of the teachers here are not local; some hail from cities, while others come from nearby towns and villages.
Whilst on a casual stroll to one of the schools, I had a conversation with Brother Ma, one of the longest-serving teachers up here. Having been here since the first school was founded, he was thankful that the conditions have improved so much since. Before the roads were cleared, the paths to these villages were filled with cow dung. The villagers had no access to clean water before Pastor Li and his team came. Since 2009, the team had built toilets, new classrooms, a church, and hostels for teachers, children and guests to stay in.
Families are still finding it hard to understand the importance of education
The teachers, however, are having a difficult time getting students to school. While the school has been a blessing to many, families are still finding it hard to understand the importance of education. Often,students who have reached the ages of 15 or older are forced to stop attending classes on a regular basis, because at that age, “they should be working and supporting the family”. With the new sugar processing plant, almost every household is devoted to sugar cane planting. These students are expected to help their families in planting and harvesting sugar canes.
Can we blame the parents? I’m afraid not. We can only persuade them by bringing awareness to the importance of education. Until an understanding is reached, I believe the cycle will most likely continue.
That is why the building and commencement of the high school in September 2014 is of utmost importance. It would give older students a chance to further their studies, and with a high school in place, students will be better equipped should an opportunity to enroll into a college or university arise.
However, the current staff is barely coping with the teaching and construction works. There are a few specific needs in place. Manpower, Ps. Li mentions, is always a big concern. Not many are willing to spend their time in a place as isolated as this. I have seen teachers juggling between two classes simply because there were not enough teachers to go around. As frustrating as the job must be, I have never seen the teachers losing their patience with the children.
Sister Tong, a Primary 4 teacher, hopes that her students would one day be able to get some extracurricular books to aid their learning. The children depend very much on textbooks, but not everyone has access to them. In fact, in my time there, I have only seen teachers with textbooks, while the students copied notes.
During our trip, we conducted hygiene classes, which I believe is one of the main advances we must pursue. Toilets, for example, are a staple need for us in urban Kuala Lumpur, but for the community in Guo Gan, they are a luxury. Through financial help from HSGGM, toilets have been built here. They are the preliminary facilities needed in Guo Gan, and they allow the teachers to teach children the importance of hygiene.
As I sit here, writing this; a few questions play in my mind: can the teachers remain here forever?
No, there is more work to be done.
Can the children remain hidden in the mountains? No, there is more to life than what they are currently experiencing. Yet there remains many more children out there, just like them, in need of help and the opportunity to have an education.
While we have the strength and the luxury God has given us, I believe we should – we must – make good use of it and do something more.
Change must begin with us.
#Read this article in Chinese
#Read the full Re-Imagine 2014 Magazine
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