Bayan Tala Diary
After consecutive 20-hour rough journey, I arrived finally at Bayan Tala Middle School (Bayan Tala means fertile land in Mongolian). Immediately vast and rugged grassland attracted me, but I felt a chill by full of yellowish dryness and whistling icy wind. Students just finished class. All students live very far from the school, the farthest more that 20 km away. Most students have to walk back and forth between school and home since they cannot afford the living costs although it's only less than ?2 Yuan a day for a boarder. The school has 416 students including 9 classes of Han (Nationality), 3 classes of Mongolian (Nationality), only 61 students board at school. Ten kilograms of soybeans each student is their food in the whole term, neither vegetables nor meat. School chefs have to make bean-curd and beans sprouts from soybeans or cook soybean soup for change of taste.
In the evening I chatted with Principal Caojiang Fu and Teacher Yuwen Gao and learnt the program progress. Speaking of construction and management of the program, they thought and felt a lot.
The town government, the school and local villagers understood and were affected by the program construction in completely different ways when the program started in 1999. The town government came to their senses from their success of program application. They were gradually that they could not easily spend the fund from the international organizations since they had to follow the PF's program proposal, program operation plan, and strict financial supervision and work standardizations. Comparison with the appropriation from local government, an input of ?11000Yuan was not that much but it required the program income and its distribution must solve practical problems of needy students. Therefore, main leaders of Sumu government (Sumu means town in Mongolian.) were afraid that it might result in unfavorable influence on themselves if they could not managed the program well when the program fund had entered into the accounts. At a critical moment, the PF volunteer and the vice director of Sumu government, Mr. Xiaoming Xu, who was in charge of local education then, bravely accepted the fund and started the program.
Local villagers didn't understand and were surprised at “non-profit” investment of international organizations because it was too curious and new for them such a concept of “non-profit program”. At the school, teachers and students were full of expectation and enthusiasm but lack of experience in program operation and management. It would take them some time to understand the PF's ideology. Based on this kind of circumstances the program started. Mentioned the program fiasco in 2000, Principal Fu and Teacher Gao were still distressed. It nearly passed the spring ploughing season when the program was finally confirmed. The school hastily bought tree seeds for 20-mu sapling nursery. According to the original plan they would grow green beans on 20-mu dry land allocated by the town government. In the process of growing green beans, the secretary of Sumu government came to check the program site and suggested to grow Chinese cabbage instead seeing that the green bean production was low but the production and price of Chinese cabbage were high. Again hastily the school grew Chinese cabbage on 20-mu dry land. In the end, bad tree seeds resulted in low rate of sapling production on 25-mu sapling nursery. Water- leak and fertilizer-erosion happened on 20-mu sandy dry land, what's more, plants diseases and insect pests were rampant at that year. They could not rescue those Chinese cabbage became rotten although they sprayed insecticides for 7 or 8 times. The program made a loss of nearly ?30000Yuan at that year.
“People would pay huge cost for they don't act based on natural laws. There was a period when we were afraid of seeing the PF staff and didn't dare to answer the PF's phones as if we made lots of mistakes thereafter. I reprimanded myself and felt pain because such a good program failed at my hand, sigh… Brother, you never know, I felt distressed as if I went to make self-criticism when I attended the tuition aid seminar in Beijing In Aug. 2000.”
“I was born here, studied at Bayan Tala Middle School before, came back to teach after my graduation and became the principal of the school. I had a kind of special feeling on this school and always set my mind on doing some practical things for it but the 2000 program failure brought serious frustration of my confidence.”
This was my first time to hear that a principal, the executive of the program talked about the true feeling in his heart as if I could feel his state of mind in guilty, contradiction and no alternative. I think there must lots of principals and the program executives who met the same problems and had the same state of mind. They never talk about just because it's too difficult for them to mention.
I remember one of my colleagues said to me “What is terrified is not the failure of the program but the swindle and false report. It make you unable to see clearly the truth and lose the possibility of solving problems.” I shared this with them and hope that our cooperation based on honesty and trust from beginning to end.
The program failure made all teachers and students bursting with energy. They don't believe they don't know how to use money and make money. In 2001, they planted 600000 apricot saplings on the school sapling nursery meanwhile planting Chinese ephedrine (Mahuang) among 700 mu of apricot forestland, grew Chinese sorghums (Gaoliang) on 20-mu dry land. Chinese ephedrine seeds (Mahuangzi) gained more than ?70000Yuan proceeds with a net profit of ?50000Yuan at the year. The survival rate of apricot saplings reached 95% and would generate at least ?30000Yuan at a price of ?0.06Yuan each sapling. Chinese sorghums on 20-mu dry land would produce 5903.3 kg of Chinese sorghums with an income of ?4488Yuan. The total income approached ?100000Yuan in 2001.
Now 161 students in Grade 1 were exempted from all tuition fees for one year, other 245 students in Grade 2 and 3 for one term.
Nowadays Sumu government, teachers and students and villagers nearby all benefited from the program development. The PF's ideology is deeply influencing on people nearby. Developing the program on their own had become one of their beliefs, “we will no longer need the PF's aid one day, and we can support ourselves on our own.”
The sun rose on the horizon at 6 o'clock, rays of morning reddened the land. It became suddenly overcast and covered with a haze nearly to 7 o'clock.
“Is it raining?” I asked, Principal Fu said “it would be good if it rains. It hasn't been raining for almost one year. There will be sand dirt this afternoon.”
“What!” I was startled. I was full of sand dust on my clothing, trousansers, shoes and cap although it was just two days from Beijing to here. My hair became yellow whenever back from outside. I don't know what I will become after a gust of sand dirt.
There had piled a thick layer of sand (6 or 7 centimeter in thickness) when we went to classroom to shot how students are given a class. A class of students was clearing up, several boys were pushing sand aside with wood mop, and teachers and girls were moving sand to jumping pit. An air of upcoming sand dirt was enveloping the whole schoolyard. Pasted mural paintings on classroom walls with a landscape of babbling streams and green mountains but sand were flying in the sky here. The world in mural paintings was just dreamland to those children grown up in the sand and wind. We went to the apricot field before the sand dirt falls. The field was more than 20 km away from the school. I saw that grassland plants were destroyed badly on the way, sand piled up on the road. It would take quite a time if the motorcycle sank into a sand pit.
Caves dug by hares everywhere, sand land and even stones somewhere exposed after the lawn was destroyed. The gully formed in 1998 flood still exists clearly. On higher mountain, there are lots of sand piles by wind force.
The motor driver is Brother Dalai (Mongolian), the school PE teacher. He told me, twenty years ago there was Xigou river in the west of the school in depth of more than one meter, with green grass on its two banks and limpid waters. Now it is either drought or flood every year because plants are damaged badly. The riverbed is 150 meters in width but the river water became a brook after the flood in 1998.
Arrived at the apricot field on the southern mountain I stood in front of 700-mu shining apricot trees as if I found the oasis in a desert. Comparison with the dryly-yellow color consisted of grass and sand, at least the black apricot trees bring us an indication that there still exists a plenty of indomitable lives here.
Think of expressions “the sky is gray, the field is vast; cattle and sheep seen in low grass blown by the wind”, former splendid civilizations has disappeared one by one in the depth of deserts because of mankind's greediness and endless demand. We don't know how long the apricot forest will exist in the desert if we don't have scientific and practical management measures.