Tents for school, instant noodles for breakfast

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 April, 2011, 12:00am


The headmaster of Batang Primary School finally heaved a sigh of relief after procuring 15 new tents from Yushu authorities for his students over the weekend.

Heavy wind the week before had torn apart some of the old tents and blown others over. 'Our students study and live in these tents, and they are everything to our school,' said Yonghong, the 38-year-old headmaster, who has been with the school since it opened 18 years ago.

It is located about 20 kilometres outside Jiegu town, the seat of Yushu prefecture, in the middle of a desertified grassland, and is one of the few boarding schools providing education to children of herding families. Unlike most schools in Jiegu where students have had pre-fabricated houses as classrooms since last summer and are expected to move into brand new buildings this summer, Batang School was not considered hard-hit and has not been included in the reconstruction plan, said Yonghong, who, like many ethnic Tibetans, uses only one name.

That's why students were still studying in tents pitched on the school's playground, while the buildings have been standing locked as a precaution against injuries from the damaged interiors.

'Most of our students come from poor families, and since our school could only afford offering them one hot meal a day now, they are all eating instant noodles for breakfast and dinner,' Yonghong said, shaking his head. 'And this is the age when they are supposed to be growing.'

Batang had 126 students, but 40 of them have left the school since last year's earthquake, most because their families moved elsewhere and others who just dropped out. Whether self-initiated or with the government's help, 8,700 students in Yushu relocated to schools in Xining, Qinghai's capital, or other provinces.

On Saturday boxes of soft toys and sports equipment arrived from the Gesanghua Foundation, and Yonghong was busy handing out the gifts to queued-up students with one arm over his eyes to show no favouritism.

Suonan Songbao, 14, who was handed a fluffy and colourful caterpillar, didn't quite smile even when his friends tugged excitedly at his toy.

He remembers the day of the quake and how he cried and hurried home that afternoon to check if his family was all right. The youngest of eight siblings, Suonan said he did not want to become a herder or make his livelihood from digging 'caterpillar fungus'. 'I hope I can be good enough to go to high school and university one day,' he said. 'I want to become a teacher.'

Actually, Yonghong said, the school didn't need new school buildings, just new roofs. But it also needs tables and chairs for lessons, stationery, exercise books to go with the basic teaching materials provided by the government and, if possible, a refrigerator.

'If we could have a refrigerator, then we could buy food when we have money and store it in the school,' he said, 'so the students don't have to eat noodles every day.'