Welcome to the 2010 Guerilla Girls Blog! We are the Guerilla Girls! We are 13 Hao Ran Foundation volunteers (all females!) and we will soon get to deploy our wings in different countries of the world to work with various non-governmental organizations and social movements as a way to reinforce social justice and solidarity. We wish to open communication and share our experience with the rest of the world, because we strongly believe that ‘ANOTHER WORLD IS POSSIBLE!’ Read More

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2011年10月25日 星期二

Sep report: Village work in north China: how to speak out their interests by our own language?

By Huei-Jen Lin

August in the north villages displayed a hot-day silence but cool-evening gossips. We came with some colleagues from Beijing office for the 10 days-survey and project-evaluations in the villages of Qing Long, Hebei Province. This was once a year that the project manager Prof. Tong usually organized a team to do pre-investigation for exploring the new places of project and also to evaluate the old places that Zigen had project-implementing. Through investigation, the outcome what we gained as what we anticipated, always locates a problem that the original idea of projects couldn’t be exhaustively practiced on the local or the project themselves couldn’t be operated sustainably. Since staying in villages, most of time I was confused about the practice of all these projects and was questioning that how many projects actually can have effects to the urgent problems that those villages are facing.

In the middle of August, I started to have a deeper sense of these questions when doing the projects implementing that I designed. Staying in Hua Guo Shan village till now almost two month, I was working on a project-group called “one village one school”, which means that by supporting the educational development of village and the school the both sides can therefore cooperate with each other. The specific projects for this year include “organizing a woman learning group” and “activating the adult school” in village; “lunch-sustenance in school”, “improving course-activities by combining with the reality of village life” and “digitization” (computers and a printer given). The scale of projects have been designed by the project coordinator of Qing Long office Mr. Li, so my job is to design the specific programs which can be possible to implement onto the local. At the aspect of process, to start is always the most difficult step. At another aspect of content, to organize is further difficult than just to fund the hardware equipments. I feel like I need longer time to realize the habitude of this village first but in fact get pressure to hurry the work under the time limitation of projects.
From the pre-investigation, negotiating with villagers, setting up the projects, projects design and contract draft, till the contract signed, funds arrived and then projects implemented, it’s always been a long and delicate process that includes the come-and-go negotiation between Zigen and villages, and the slight modification of set plan and contract afterwards. Unlike governmental projects, with huge funding and concrete targets of infrastructure constructing, are easier to be applied. In more private speaking, it’s even much easier if the village leaders have good relations with the local officers (including county, city and province level). Relatively speaking, Zigen’s projects are much uneasy and insist on more institutionalized process (though it’s not so easy under such a public-private complex environment). Comparing to the government, Zigen’s projects in a certain extent indeed contribute to some poor villages whose leaders can’t have good relations with the superiors and in which care more for the basic need of poor people. (Though Zigen sometimes did the similar projects with the governmental projects, the original and method are much different from each other. I’ve read the pass-application for governmental projects, which are usually rough and just for a surface.) However, in spite of saying so, Zigen’s projects in many occasions due to Zigen’s bureaucratic problem and the influence by the local power structure expose the above mentioned problems: twisted original idea of projects and unable to be sustainable. Zigen is conducted by Ministry of Civil Affairs and its finance is strictly mandated: the annual funding expense should be exceeded over than the one of previous year and has to follow the regulation of financial declaration. Thus, the projects of Zigen always have to be expanded or are invested with more funding, but the insufficient workers couldn’t practically handle all the big projects. Consequently, the projects are usually handled by the leaders of villages. The essence of projects couldn’t be truly exerted as the form they’ve been designed, in terms of the local power structure.
To give the funds and commodities is easy, but to keep things be used and worked sustainably is not so easy. To be charity is easy, but to give ability for well-development still has a long road to head.

Survey in villages—the truth under the nimbus of charity
“Oh, maybe three or four times” A girl crouching beside the mud wall answered me. This was the Hua-Shan village where Zigen had implemented the projects of water container and hot water drinking in school. They have a big problem of water using and drinking around this whole area (Cao Nian rural area), though ridiculously the dam just locates nearby and many habitants had therefore been moved out. My colleague asked this girl that whether she ever drink hot water in school. Where are about the electronic water pots which Zigen offered? “I don’t know” the girl secretly smiled.
This is a very small example that shows a project which Zigen worker wanted students can drink clean and hot water didn’t authentically reach to the people who indeed need. Even just a very simple thing, you will understand that the principal didn’t want to spend the electronic expense and the electronic water pots have usually been moved to teachers’ home. Then we would have to reflect ourselves whether the project design has problem or which joint had been practiced wrong. A notable phenomenon is that many local people don’t really perceive some of their circumstances or basic living as problematic whereas Zigen workers have concerned. Like in this case, they wouldn’t think far that let students drink hot water is necessary, since their children have drunk cold water for a long time. Though some of local people understand such a public good thing, they don’t easily think that it is them to do the good thing but rather rely on some other people or organizations with money and power should do it. Most people are still encompassed with the short-term profits and the relationships of power structure around their life, although some of them are principals, teachers and the village cadres. Moreover, for the leaders of villages, they think more that how those Zigen projects can also be parts of their political achievements. Thus, many ideas and ways of Zigen projects are easily twisted by the leaders based on their position and the standpoint of practical benefit. Under the bureaucratism of Chinese culture, I gradually understand what people more focus on relations and surface than the essential regulation and effect.
Zigen workers know these situations well, though they always get many praises and good news reported by the local leaders of villages. This is the shortage that there are no enough Zigen workers who can implement all projects directly by themselves, and they just could be the coordinator through negotiating the ideas and ways of designed projects with village- leaders. Therefore, still, Zigen workers have to report positive news of projects to their donor and at the same time reflect themselves about the flews of projects and try to avoid some ineffectual situation.

Difficulties on the projects implementing in Hua Guo Shan village— how to understand the local language
Almost two months I’ve stayed in a village called Hua Guo Shan village. A tourist place with great scenery of mountains and waterfalls attracts a certain amount of tourists passing by. Businesses of home-hostels, farmhouse-cuisine and sales of joss sticks, seasonal specialties like hazelnuts and walnuts have been gradually blooming in recent years. However many businesses are in subtle relation of competition with each other; the development of travel business and other agricultural products are still low. The gap between the rich and the poor is enlarging, due to the big travel business are mostly handled by the village cadre and some villagers with capitals. In general many villagers still live beyond their income, so it’s very common that men leave home as migrant workers working on the construction site or in the restaurants in cities. A village without men is common everywhere nowadays, so does this tourist village, Hua Guo Shan. Women who stay in the village work hard, including taking care of children, housework and farming, and small business for selling seasonal specialties during the travelling season. About 80% of children are without fathers at home and some of them stay with illiterate mothers bought from North Korea or Yun-nan province of China. That may be or only is the reason why women and school education are the preference of Zigen’s projects.
My first main task is to organize a woman cross-stitch learning group and also explore the chance of marketing on travel business in order to establish woman cooperation. Tactic goes from the combination of cultural industry and business, so that women can exalt their confidence on ability of craft and on economic independence and hence actively participate in the public business. The woman cross-stitch learning group is also the prelude of a woman school—women in village can initiatively gather to learn the related knowledge, concepts and practical skills, and to discuss the public affairs around their life. The progress as expected is still at very beginning, and meanwhile difficulties of complicated reaction flow under the silent village and the scattering of people which are the big challenge for me. The following tasks about the school course-improving and plan of lunch sustenance likewise face the similar challenge.

Scattered villagers and peasants’ sense of private interests

There are 11 pieces of natural villages at the administrative district, far from the top of deep mountains to the corner at the foot of mountains. The phenomenon of scattering and of peasants knowing their places by following the farming season is natural. Don’t know how the living style of those peasants here had been converted during the time of people’s commune in history of Mao’s period. Obviously not much remained, peasants limited by the locations and their own distributed lands after 30s’ economic reform only having their small concern on their own interests show reasonable results. However this custom may soon be defeated by the fast-changing structure of agricultural society in nowadays China. Brain drain and the influx of industry and business have gradually changed the way of village life. I’ve faced the difficulty of organizing women in the beginning, not only because of the scattered areas but also because women can’t see what the learning courses for if without talking interests or making money. It is a difficulty but also can become a means that attracts them to join the group by means of giving concrete benefits. However, this was useful for the beginning of organizing women into a group, but this might not be an efficient instrument for pushing ahead of learning process. From personal private interest to communal public good it needs transition. Without saying great so, even the request of learning from woman’s private room to the public space is hard to be achieved. Committed by double meanings of privately owned, village women even have to take more care of their own family thing and land under the labor structure change, without their men in village.

Training my language to speak out their interests
The basic aim for me and the Zigen coordinator of Qing Long Mr. Li is just to wish women or villagers or school teachers can actively gather within their groups and discuss or do some activities together. We believe that only the villagers get together, get powered through solidarity, and learn involving public affairs by democratic participation so the village can develop in progress. However this potential goal has to be packaged a layer and a layer by the language with the benefit or with chances to gain profit. As Mr. Li had reminded, we have to learn how to use their language to let them understand our purpose. What their language is much close to the reality and short-term benefit around their life.
Indeed, it’s not so easy. At least there are two barriers set in front of me. First, it’s not easy for me to understand their language both in phraseology and culturally. Villagers in north rural area of Qing Long speak Qing Long dialect though the language speaking is close to Mandarin. Some habits of cultural phrases are strange for me, but also fresh and interesting. I am interested in learning their cultural phrases but still hard to communicate while discussing things in deeper sense. The second is the most difficult one. I discovered that some things I said the villagers didn’t understand and some things I didn’t understand them are not just because of cultural habit but are about intellectual or non-intellectual. I somehow feel like there is a gap between me and them, and this is about the gap between peasants and intellectuals as Mao Ze Dong had emphasized. Since entering Zigen, I gradually realize how necessary that there must be an equal dialogue between the intellectuals and peasants, workers. Especially the intellectuals with more cultural capital have to go down to the village and to learn to know the peasants’ life. Many things about the villagers’ life along with the rhythm of farming are unfamiliar for me, though my grandparents are farmers too. The usages of cultural phases are deeply tied with the local life. Without getting along with their life for a long time, without involving their complicated relationship in village, it’s hard to understand their language and to say something concrete and real for them.
“How to speak out their interests by our own language” written in a book which is about how to activate the community recently become a theme going into my sense. Their interest is real, and our language combines our ideal and the understanding of others. The language use is quite delicate. It’s impossible to say their language but you can speak something that draws out their interests. I have tried to organize women into a group by means of searching, testing and drawing their interests in every stage. Meanwhile, reflect myself when some people don’t understand what I said. The process is still on. Don’t know how long it will keep, but just can head on by doing.

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