by Stacey Choe
APC’s first study tour brought us to Yunnan, China and turned out to be a wonderful time for member bonding and exchange across the 4-day trip. The theme of the learning journey was on rural development and we wanted to see a varied cross-section of livelihood projects for the rural communities, and also to witness the pressing issues faced by these areas in China. Laurence, Stanley and I were joined by Mary-Ann Tsao and Peggy Moh, and led by our good friends at Lien Aid, including their CEO, Koh Lian Hock.
We were introduced to many government initiatives, including a (995) platform of volunteers that catered to the three “left-behind” groups in rural China – the children, elderly and women. We were able to witness the problem of rural-urban migration on the ground when we visited the mountainous villages. Most of the residents were elderly, weather-worn folks, who were already too frail to till the land for low-yield crops like maize that was common to the area. Due to the dispersed locations of the villages, the children had to board at their schools from the age of 6 years old, and only see their parents or grandparents on weekends when they head home. The remote areas lacked viable sources of livelihoods and we quickly realised that in order to address the socio-economic issues that abound, introducing good sources of income would be one of the first issues to tackle.
Our bus stuck in the mountains, and our futile non-attempt to help.
Other programmes we visited include a government supported initiative started by an enterprise that sought to alleviate poverty in the mountainous regions by loaning pigs and providing technical assistance on rearing them to farmers. Another successful project was the Heifer project that introduced cow rearing with a “mobile loan” that would be passed on to other communities. These projects made us realise that a vital component of such community empowerment programmes should include the alignment of values between the funder/project operator and the communities. Only when they understand what we are trying to achieve together with them, will the community be able to take ownership of the project and to make it their own for future growth and continuity.
“The daily wrap-up discussions were good. It helped me understand how other member (view) the projects and what their interests and concerns are. It is particular helpful for someone like me who have not met (the other members) before. …… Very interesting to see different district government’s innovation in solving problems. As one of our projects involve bringing water to the Yi community, it was very interesting to understand and visually see what that means when we visited the Lien projects.” Peggy Moh, APC member and trip participant.
What left us most impressed were the university graduates who returned to their hometowns and started agriculture and farming projects, which in turn benefited their communities. This was not only a show of how much education can improve the lives of those that benefited, but also raise the quality of lives for the rest of their community! In 2 separate projects, we met 2 entrepreneurs that graduated from the Yunnan Agriculture University – both were enthusiastic and passionate youths who were genuinely keen to help their communities. The first one had 150 hectares of land cultivating different varietals of mulberry and grapes, with the neighbouring households renting their land and hired to work on the farms. He expressed his excitement in working with his university professor in developing new products, including wine and they have already started selling existing products on online platforms. The second entrepreneur not only started a free-range chicken farming business, but also expanded his business to include 42 households in his community. He has great ambitions to expand his business to include a processing plant and to retail his goods to supermarket chains like Walmart.
With Stanley’s advice and stewardship, we are still in contact with these entrepreneurs to see if we can provide additional support to them to aid in their scaling up and to maximise the impact that they can have on their communities.
Most of all, we were very grateful for the warm welcome and relentless energy of our new friends at the Baoshan city government. The officials facilitated our visits, and most importantly, through the daily interactions, we were able to understand the intricate workings of the Chinese government and their approach to INGOs on the ground. The importance of the multi-sector collaboration in order to address social issues effectively was made plainly evident on our trip. The Lien Aid projects were a demonstrable example of using a nation-wide programme to tap into local resources for ground-up ideas and initiatives, and empowering them to implement.
The crisp and cool Yunnan weather was lovely and cultivated great bonds amongst our members as they exchanged their learnings, insights and past experiences with other projects. They have already asked when the next study tour will be; and offered ideas on themed trips. We are only too happy to organise a next trip that will benefit our community and look forward to ideas and suggestions! Ping firstname.lastname@example.org to propose our next destination or for any details of the trip or the projects!
Students in Baoshan enjoying books donated by APC member, Mary Ann Tsao