Okay! So after the first couple weeks of traveling around and trying to find connections and then making the connection in Shanghai and volunteering and coordinating for five weeks in the schools and community centers, I finally got to leave Shanghai again!
I had been working on making connections in more rural areas as I wanted to understand the urbanization and migrant issue in a deeper sense. Also, I wanted to learn more about schools in rural areas and what opportunities for education were like. So I visited Shanxi province through an organization in the country that is working on the development of rural education. Their projects were very interesting and I visited both larger towns and different size villages. The smallest village I visited which was practically just one dirt road had experienced a lot of out- migration, there were very few people around and many houses were locked up. There were mainly just old people living there. I had heard about how many villages were full of only old people and young kids. Here were even very few kids. The village only had one school which only went up until 6th grade. After that, the children leave to go to school in larger towns and villages and they normally board there.
I spoke with an old man sitting in the center of the town and asked him about all the changes the town had experienced. Earlier walking through the town, we had passed a beautiful but decaying old building that was a stage used for theater performances but now housed vegetables and hay. My guide explained to me that the the theater was often used ten years ago but not anymore. This old man explained to me about the changes in the last ten years. He explained how a new road was built ten years ago and now it was much easier for people to leave. Also, the new road connected other surrounding villages to the larger villages and towns. In the past the village I was in, he explained had been the main village for these villages to come to, to buy things and it was much more bustling he explained. But now they are connected much more easily larger towns as well and so no one comes here anymore. I had seen when I arrived these locked up old stores he spoke of, many of them had a concrete slab on the wall next to them which still had different prices written on them. When I asked what he felt about it. He said he felt very sad. This village made me think a lot about my time in Mustang,Nepal, I think mainly because of the connection of the effect of a new road. Many young people there I had met had also left to attend schools in other nearby villages and then later cities.
I ate lunch there in the village leaders home! It was delicious! He made noodles himself and brought vegetables from his garden which was gorgeous and overlooked the yellow river. He was alone as his wife had gone out to work for a few months and all of his children lived away as well. After lunch most people napped and my guide and I explored a bit and then I also took a nap in a bed in the local primary school- because even smaller villages which have no primary school have students which come to and board here in even this small village. When I woke up a few hours later we ate again- this time watermelon!
We left back to the larger town in Shanxi in the evening, stopping several times along the way in different towns and villages. Our driver was the headmaster at a middle school in a nearby village so we stopped there for a little while as well. Then the car had some trouble so we stopped again. Eventually we made it back. I was only able to stay in Shanxi a few days, but I learned a lot from the organization and all of the different schools in the different size towns and villages about the opportunities in these different places for different levels of education and the way students move to larger towns to attend school. From the people I spoke in the smaller villages, I gathered that most kids would most likely not attend high school . Many people from Shanxi that I spoke to explained that many kids end up migrating after middle school to cities like Taiyuan and Beijing.
After Shanxi, I visited Beijing for a couple of days. There I met with two organizations who run and work in community centers in the city. I attended an english class at one of the community centers and also asked them about the way refrom was happening in Beijing in terms of public primary and middle school becoming legal for migrant children. They said that yes this reform was happening and was good but there still weren’t enough schools. Many children still go to private migrant schools because of this. Yet at one of the centers, they explained that about 70 private migrant schools have been shut down in the city in the last couple of years and the area they are located there is only one left but only about half the kids they work with at their center were able to enroll in public schools. So a large part of the issue is still not enough schools. I also asked about high school. There is still no real opportunity for most students to go to high school easily and many do not end up going. If they do I was told they go back home or may enter into vocational high school in Beijing. This is one difference I think between the two cities maybe. I didn’t here anything about vocational high school in Shanghai yet in Beijing there seems to be a large effort to make this kind of high school education available to migrant children. Although, one worker at one of the centers told me these schools aren’t very good. Another interesting thing about my trip to Beijing was that in the english class I attended all but one student was from Jianxi province and was just visiting their parents for the summer in the city. I found this so interesting because after a quick stop back in Shanghai my next destination will be an organization I was able to get in touch with that works in Jianxi and has done many programs with “left behind children” as they are often referred to, such as the ones in this english class.
So, I arrived back to Shanghai yesterday and stayed with my friend Lisa who was also volunteering with me in the schools and is going to be my translator for the next couple of weeks in Jianxi. It has been nice to be staying in a home finally as hostels and guesthouses can become tiring. So, in a few hours we will leave on the overnight train to Ji’an from there we will take a bus a few hours to a smaller village where this organization works! I found out about the organization while meeting with a friend of mine in those first few weeks in Hong Kong. She had studied abroad with me in Nepal last year and after continued to China where she interned with the organization. I later found out after contacting them once back in Shanghai, that the founder, Jian Yi, has also been an India China institute fellow in the past ! ( Small World!)
Their projects works in an area which has experienced a lot of out migration to all of the coastal cities, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing. They have worked in the past with different “happy room” projects for left behind children and also with a very interesting architecture project involving migration. They have a project which addresses how remittance money is used to build new homes and they have an inciative to help design the homes for free if the home owner agrees to have a part of the house designed to incorporate and maintain a social space like a courtyard that connects to and that can be used by the local community. Therefore, I am hoping to spend at least ten or eleven days in the village they are located now for their summer project, learning in greater depth about some of the impacts of migration on the home community. I will be especially interested to learn more about the schools and where the students in the community attend school and to what age . I know that we will actually be sleeping and staying in school during our time there, with the others from their project, so this is fitting! So I think this time will be interesting and very helpful part of my research. I will then travel back to Shanghai for a few days with Lisa through Anhui province, where most of the people I met in Shanghai were from and try to stop in some towns along our route and speak to who I can but this may be difficult even though Lisa will be able to translate, I think it is a bit important to have connections in different places first, but we will see how the our first randomly chosen stop goes and go from there. I will then come back to Shanghai on about the 17th and I leave China on the morning of the 21st. So I plan to spend the last few days visiting some of the centers I was working in, working on recording my budget and receipts a bit more, and saying goodbye to everyone here!