COURTESY BOB JONES
Students at the Pingzhai Village School in southwestern China sent this picture to Manoa Elementary students, who wrote letters and sent books and pencils to the school.
Manoa kids share aloha
It's an enormous physical distance between Manoa Elementary School and the Pingzhai Village School, Zerong town, Xingyi district, Guizhou province, southwestern China.
And an even greater cultural divide.
Manoa has a median per-adult income of nearly $50,000 and a median home sale price of $880,000.
Pingzhai is as dirt-poor as it looks: stone dwellings in a mountainous region of tribal minorities struggling to move into China's mainstream. Mostly farmers and infrastructure laborers.
It's where I took a group of Hawaii people last year on an off-the-beaten-path tour. I wrote a story for the Star-Bulletin Travel section and a column for MidWeek and mentioned Pingzhai School, its primitive facilities, the lack of books, notebooks, pens and pencils. No computers, needless to say. I said it would be nice if some Hawaii school pitched in with a help project.
That's where Manoa Elementary enters this story, thanks mainly to one of my village visitors, retired Manoa schoolteacher Jean Nishimura.
She set in motion a kind of sister-school relationship that would be nice to have continue.
"I worked with Natalie Chung and her fourth-grade class, where I sometimes substitute," Nishimura said. "Phyllis Sano, who teaches at Puuhale Elementary, contributed discarded books from her school and also had her daughter's Mandarin teacher, Janet Jim, help me write and translate the letters. Phyllis has two adopted daughters, one from Hunan and the other from Hubei."
"Oh, Jean did all the work," counters teacher Chung. "The kids wrote letters, and we took pictures of their school life and Jean made it all into an album. We sent it with the kids' old books, crayons and pencils. Mostly first-reader books, because the China kids don't read any, or very little, English."
They never heard directly from the kids, but the Pingzhai principal, Mao Zheng Chuan, wrote this thank-you note and sent some photos:
"Our Zerong town is one of the poorest in Xingyi district. That is why our school doesn't have good facility. The tools the teachers use to teach are only chalk and blackboard. However, our teachers are very enthusiastic and passionate in teaching, therefore the quality of teaching is still pretty good. ... I hope you come and visit us. I wish you healthy, everything goes smoothly in your life and all your families are well."