▲ 大營盤的舊貌。 The original Dayingpan school.
▲ 蛻變中的大營盤。 The transformed Dayingpan campus.
▲ 2002年大營盤已開辦營養午餐至今已十年。We have been offering campus-wide free lunch since 2002.
▲ 今日大營盤已成九年一貫制的希望學園。As of 2011, Dayingpan is an officially administered school offering classes from grades 1 through 9.
▲ 坐擁綠色山林的校園。A view of the environmentally friendly Dayingpan campus from afar
▲ 夕陽中的校園美景。The sun sets on Dayingpan campus.
Love, has no fear; Love, can wash away stigma
From Chang Ping-i/Director
Translated by Teddy Liu and Howard Shih
My name is Chang Ping-i and I was a correspondence columnist for Taiwan’s China Times newspaper for twelve years. While on a special assignment in 1999, I had the privilege of visiting several leprosy villages in the remote areas of southwest China, resulting in an unforgettable experience that changed my life forever. Apart from the despair of witnessing the destitute living standards of villagers completely isolated from civilization, I was stunned and heartbroken by the abandonment of their innocent and leprosy-free children who were condemned to lives without hope.
These children had been hidden from society and forgotten by the rest of the world since birth. Despite being perfectly healthy, they remain trapped in a vicious cycle of discrimination and poverty that offered no future. With the government refusing to grant them legal identification, the children were forced to stay in the villages with their parents and unable to seek even a basic education.
Today, leprosy is a very curable and controllable disease, and the terms “leprosarium” and “leprosy isolation” will soon vanish into the pages of history. While the older generation of leprosy sufferers will eventually fade away, their healthy descendants continue to be burdened by the stigma of the disease. Most are illiterate, with many taking wrong turns in life and eventually turning to drugs or even drug trafficking and robbery. I sincerely believe this vicious cycle can only be broken through proper education, the key to defeating the stigma of leprosy and returning the children to society where they belong.
In the winter of 2000 I visited the only school for children of leprosy sufferers among the 19 leper villages and 19 counties of Liangshan prefecture in China’s Sichuan province. The so-called “educational depot” in Yuexi county was essentially a dilapidated two-room house manned by a single substitute teacher who once earned his living as a fruit grower. The school had not produced a single graduate in its 12 years of existence. Realizing the children from these leprosy villages desperately needed a path of hope, I decided to launch a domestic and international rescue campaign, transforming Dayingpan primary school into the first complete primary school program (grades 1-6) in Liangshan, and developing it into a base model for other education depots around the province and country to learn and copy from.
In 2003, I set up the Wings of Hope Association, a registered NGO in Taiwan, dedicating our efforts to helping the children of China’s leprosy villages return to society. On March 2005, following years of efforts, Dapingpan primary school finally became recognized as an official rural school of the province. In July the same year, the school’s first batch of students graduated from the program and, to everyone’s surprise, won the second place award for Outstanding Achievement among third-class primary schools in Yuexi County.
After working closely with the local government for a year, this first batch of graduates were finally allowed to enroll into a “nearby” secondary school that required a three-and-a-half hour commute to and from Dayingpan campus every day. Notwithstanding their daily struggles, Dayingpan graduates performed well academically, taking the top three positions in their class in the very first year.
In recent years, through the joint efforts of international charities and media organizations on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, leprosy villages in Liangshan have gradually stepped out of the shadows and have been transformed into officially administered villagers, giving residents recognized legal status for the first time in their lives. Following our successful pilot program at Dayingpan campus, 16 other villages in Liangshan also have established their own educational depots, offering hope to more and more children across the region.
In 2006, the Chinese government launched an educational campaign targeted at secondary schools, infusing tremendous energy into secondary education programs in rural townships. However, many of the leprosy villages deep inside the mountains were still too remote. Even though the government sponsored programs were tuition-free, the cost of room and board for the children alone still proved to be too financially draining for most families. In any case, few secondary schools were willing to welcome these children out of fear of complaints from the parents of other students.
Accordingly, we shifted our efforts into constructing a new secondary school for the children of leprosy villages in Liangshan, but limited resources and other obstacles forced us to put the initiative on hold. It was not until 2008, when the Sichuan Poverty Alleviation Bureau offered a grant of 2.6 million yuan (US$400,000), that we were able to begin building a secondary school on the existing premises of Dayingpan campus. Two years later, in 2010, a middle school building as well as new student and the faculty dormitories were finally completed, steering our grand plan of growing Dayingpan into an “Academy of Hope” back on track.
In 2011, with the support of the Liangshan Department of Education, Dayingpan campus launched a “Leave no child behind” recruitment campaign targeting every leprosy village in Liangshan. In March and July that year, our volunteers and I traveled more than 500 miles to successfully recruit 69 children (between the ages of 7 and 16) to come to Dayingpan campus and become members of our growing family.
With the addition of five new secondary school teachers, Dayingpan middle school officially commenced in the second half of 2011 with 48 students, finally becoming a normal elementary-middle school with classes from grades 1 through 9. In the meantime, I continued my crusade, working closely with cross-strait humanitarian organizations, actively assisting in the management of the school and, of course, trying to secure funding support (including scholarships) for the living costs of students who have come from all parts of Liangshan prefecture. Our goal is to offer a growing group of middle school students the opportunity to receive a quality on-campus education and introduce our first batch of outstanding middle school graduates within three years, and in turn establishing Dayingpan middle school as a trusted brand.
Dayingpan campus currently has more than 500 elementary and middle school students from 11 townships across Liangshan, 23 teachers, multimedia classrooms and facilities, two student libraries, and an environmentally friendly campus with its own water tank and solar powering. It is our sincere wish that Dayingpan campus can become a model of hope for the entire Liangshan prefecture, Sichuan province or even all of China.
With the advancements in modern medicine, technology, and of course, education, people no longer need to treat leprosy with fear and rejection, which is why it is so disheartening to see children from leprosy villages continue to be subjected to lingering prejudices and suspicion. Watching these lovely students grow and develop at Dayingpan campus over the last 12 years has taught me that there is undoubtedly a bright future awaiting these children as long as we give them an opportunity. I firmly believe that as long as giving these bright young children a proper education with plenty of love, they all can live normal lives and become pillars of society.
Love, has no fear; Love, can wash away stigma. Give your love to those in need and infuse their lives with hope. It is only through hope that people can develop true dignity!
The dream of one person is just a dream, but the dream of many has the power to become reality.