I have fallen ill.
On the second last day of the five-day trip to China, I came down with sore throat and fever.. and now i'm suffering with a hoarse voice and lots of phlegm.
While physically I'm not well, my spirit is still high from the trip - an eye-opener and a meaningful one. In fact, I can't find words to describe the feelings.. I just know that the people I met and the places that I've been, they would certainly be etched in my mind for a very very long time..
I had tried to imagine the poverty level of the place we were going to visit. eading about it, looking at pictures are one thing, but being there and seeing it with your own eyes is another.
Things we take for granted - food, water, shelter, clothings, basic hygeine - are scarse there. In Liu De Village - the part of Yongsheng that Malaysian sponsors help out - the situation was really bad after an earthquake in 1996. And now after many years of re-development effort by World Vision, it has improved though people are still poor, and live with bare minimal essentials..
The school of Zhang Jian, my sponsored child, is a half-boarding school but it does not have any shower facilities. Just a few taps outdoor for the students to wash their faces. Smelly and faeces-filled toilets, basically holes on grounds are located at the other end. Zhang Jian, whose house in one-and-a-half-hour walk away from his school, returns home every weekend for his bath.
The students live in domitaries with very run-down double-decker beds and flimsy mattresses. Two students have to share a single bed. Sometimes as many as 30 plus students fit into a crowded room that is easily a breeding ground for diseases. Their meals are a big bowl of rice with some vege - they get a bit of mince pork once a week.
When I commented on their conditions, I was also told that these children are the luckier ones. At least they are in school and have the basic amenities..It is sadly true.. There are others living in extreme poverty. And I can't help but think of our children who have more than what they need. What a stark contrast!
Unforgettable time with Zhang Jian
The highlight of the trip of course was meeting my sponsored child and that happened on the third day of the trip when our group visited his school.
Hundreds of students lined the steps up the hill where the school was, chanting `huan yin! huan yin! re liet huan yin! (welcome! welcome! extremely welcome!) and clapped in rhythm. Then half-way, I spotted Zhang Jian and there we had our quick introduction and acquiantance. I was exhilirated! For the other sponsor could not recognise her `child'.
Later, I found him again when the students invited us to do a group dance together. So we joined hand and danced to a folk song sang repeatedly and gaily by the student.
His father came too but he was nice to let his son spent more time alone with me. As I have guessed, Zhang Jian was a little shy - he didn't talk much but always answer my questions promptly. But he was such a sweet and well-behaved child, and I'm quite amazed the way he carefully opened the wrappers of my presents and after admiring the gift, put them back again properly...He is very well-mannered too, addressing every adult he came across either `auntie' or `uncle'.
He also had a gift for me - a poem with a picture that he drew. I brought for him some photographs of myself and my family - including the two Js. And yes, he likes dogs too! :) Then I asked him to take me around the school - to see his dorm (he lives there as his home is quite far away), his classroom and the school compound. And I have a better understanding of his life..
Towards the end when we were about to leave, he asked me: `Ah Yi (auntie) can you not stay a bit longer?' I told him I would love to but I couldn't as we travelled in a group. He accompanied me down the hill step all the way to where our Jeeps were parked, and stayed with me till I left....
And then he said to me in a soft and firm voice: "Ah Yi, you don't worry, I promise that I will be hardworking and do well in my studies."
Tears welded in my eyes and I had to look away. He is such a good boy, and I feel so fortunate to be able to sponsor him all these years.. Though it was only the first time we ever met, I can feel the bond between us..
I felt sad to part for I don' know when or if ever I would see him again.. World Vision's project on the village is concluding in 2008 and my sponsorship for him would also end.. but I pray that I could keep in touch with him and perhaps see him again..
Before we left Yongsheng, I went and bought him more things - for I only got him stationeries from KL. I bought him a school bag, a shirt, a watch as I saw he had an old and broken one, some simple toys (which was a real bargain bought in Yongsheng)... and wrote him a card.
I know he will write back to me..
(More stories on the trip: to be continued...)
To view photos on the trip - click on Flickr flashcard on right