2007 Love-in-Action Foundation Exposure Tour: Sichuan

Just about 100 km from Xichang lies Butuo County, one of the poorest regions of China. Here, some 140,000 people live in this county, most of them in abject poverty.
In September, seven people took part in an exposure tour to Love-in-Action project sites in Butuo and other places in Sichuan. They visited a clinic and a mobile medical team in Chengdu, a project for orphans in Butuo County.


(left: the dangerous mud hut) (right: the eternal only food: potato)
The exposure tour helped them to learn more about the Love-in-Action Foundation, its development projects and its local partners. Below, we publish some reflections written by one of the participants after the trip.
Butuo is a county in Southwestern Sichuan, some 110 km from Xichang, the capital of the Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture. Its remote location is one of several factors which have contributed to the high number of drug addicts and HIV/AIDS patients in this region. This, in turn, has led to a high number of orphaned children. We had a good time together in our tour group and enjoyed the beautiful landscape of Butuo County, yet at the same time, it was worrying to see how bad the situation of people (especially the orphans) is.
Orphans
Most Butuo orphans grow up in very bad conditions. Some live with their grandparents, old people who are often not able to look after the children very well. Others live with foster parents, many of whom treat the orphans and their own children very differently. Most of the orphans we saw wore ragged, dirty clothes and were malnourished. Many people here live in close contact with their animals, there is a strong putrid smell in the air and hygiene is all but absent. A lot of orphans have enormous psychological problems and are quite withdrawn. Their eyes are dull, their faces without expression.

(above: inside of the house)
Few good things can be said about the orphans’ learning environment. We visited several schools and found that teachers are faced with grave problems. Often there are children of four grades in one class with only one teacher. Teachers earn as little as 300 yuan a month and their professional level is anything but high. The school buildings are primitive. Some students bring their little brothers or sisters to school, sometimes no older than 2 months, carrying them on their backs.

Recommendations for poverty relief
After spending no more than a few days in Butuo, our understanding of the situation is certainly limited. Still, here are some suggestions:
Education:
Schools need better buildings and equipment and, above all, more teachers. More students should have the chance to go to schools closer to their homes. Teachers from bigger cities should be encouraged to offer training to teachers in the countryside so these can raise their professional level and use better teaching methods.
Economic development:
The government should take the initiative to encourage the cultivation of crops which are suitable for the local conditions (e.g. fuzi, a medicinal herb which is grown in some villages in this region) as well as the processing of agricultural produce in order to increase the value added locally. Also, the production and marketing of ethnic minority handicrafts should be organized.
Obviously I had heard and read about the poverty in the western parts of China before I went on this trip, but seeing the reality with my own eyes came as a great shock. On the other hand, I also realized that the people who live here are not much different from Eastern Chinese people like me.Although Love-in-Action’s development work will still face many problems, I am confident that there is hope for the people of Butuo.

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