Education is often seen as dependent upon teachers, their methods and their materials. Simple tools help to a large extent — textbooks and classroom accouterments such as a simple blackboard and chalk can impart wisdom remembered for a lifetime. But there is something more fundamental to learning in the schoolrooms of rural China — basic health.
With this in mind, faculty and students from the University of North Texas (UNT) in the United States have been making the long trip to Yunnan each summer for the past three years. Their trip is part of a class entitled "Global Leadership Through Service", wherein the college students strive to impart positive social change as part of 'service learning' experiences.
This year, the group from UNT are visiting schools in the countryside in southern Yunnan after spending their first few days in China acclimating to the time and cultural differences in Kunming. From the Spring City, 16 undergraduates — eight from the United States and eight from Yunnan University of Finance and Economics — accompanied by two UNT professors will then spend two weeks in rural Yunnan.
First, the group will pay a visit to a private school in the northern Kunming neighborhood of Ciba (刺坝). The school, named Dexin Jiaoyu (德馨教育), provides free schooling for children of migrant parents who do not have official Kunming residential registration, or hukou (户口). Families without proper registration often have difficulties finding housing, healthcare or access to education once they move from their villages to the city.
Since 1999, Dexin Jiaoyu administrators have attempted to alleviate such concerns and have gone as far as adopting more than 30 orphaned children who otherwise would not have had access to proper schooling. Li Zhixiang (李志祥), a former Chinese national Sanda (散打) champion, founded Dexin Jiaoyu with children like these in mind and funds much of the school himself.
The goal of the UNT program is not only for the 16 undergraduates to experience life and culture in the Chinese countryside, but also to lend a hand where possible. In addition to conducting English classes and conversational language corners, the UNT students will distribute individual water filters to Dexin Jiaoyu, explain the necessity of drinking clean water and impart personal health skills to pupils at primary and secondary schools in largely impoverished areas.
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