Pathways of Hope in China

Lobsang and I rose early the next day and enjoyed a quick breakfast of tsampa--a Tibetan staple that can be consumed for any meal. This is a very easy dish to make as it requires only three ingredients (four, if you want to add hardened, crumbled, yak cheese). You begin by pouring a handful of barley flour in the the bottom of a bowl. Pour water on top of this and add a dollop of yak butter, and you have an extremely filling breakfast that will line your gut for a very long time. In order to consume this dish, you must drink a bit of the butter water off the top, and then use your fingers to mold a barley cake by folding the water into the four. If you are skilled like Lobsang, your barley log will be formed in no time and no ingredients will cake your fingers. If you are like me, you'll manage to form a mess as watered barley will be all over your bowl, under your fingernails, and plastered on your pants. If you are like Lobsang's parents, you'll simply raise the bowl to your face and use your tongue to scoop up all ingredients and form tiny barley bites right in your mouth. If you want to see what the barley cake breakfast table looks like, please take a gander at Gunther Moons' picture on Flickr. I must admit, I like tsampa--it is a practical food that immediately erases hunger and keeps you filled until the midday meal.

After breakfast Sherab Dawa, Lobsang, and I walked down the dusty road to catch a mini-van taxi to Yushu to visit Parthang Elementary School.
Sherab Dawa--our contact and liaison in Qinghai
It is very important that I introduce Sherab Dawa, Lodsang's older brother. He--a twenty-nine year old Tibetan--is the main benefactor of the school. He is a singer who travels around China performing in schools and raising awareness for Parthang Elementary School in Yushu. He has dedicated a large portion of his life and livelihood to financially helping this school, which caters to orphans and impoverished, nomadic children. Last year when the earthquake ravaged Yushu, he raised over 30,000 RMB, which he transformed into clothing, food, fuel, and medicine and donated it to the school and citizens of Yushu. He is a testament to what one individual who is imbued with the spirit of altruism and a love for humanity can do for others who are desperate.

The entrance to the school
After picking up Thuta, we made our way to Parthang Elementary School in order to conduct the necessary research the fact-finding mission entails. The school is nestled between large mountain ranges approximately 15-20 km outside of Yushu, in the middle of nowhere, minutes from the airport. 

Lobsang, the school director, Thuta
This school caters to children in grades 1 to 6 and has approximately 90 children. The children range from ages 7 to 18. The reason for the large range of ages is due to the fact that the majority of children come from nomadic families. Because these families move each season, many times their children are denied education because none is available. When they arrive at this school, a fifteen year old child's literacy might be the same as a seven year old's. In order to cater to all levels, the school has three classes of approximately thirty students that are differentiated  according to ability.

There are three teachers and one director. The director and his wife (one of the teachers) have been at the school since it was opened 19 years ago. They live in a tent beside the other teachers, which is a stone's throw from the tents that house the children's beds and classrooms.

Each teacher is provided a tent, stove, and bed for accommodation.
Unusable school buildings. The tent is the school canteen

I was initially mistaken, the school was not destroyed by the earthquake, but the building's foundations and structural components were extremely weakened by the earthquake, which has rendered them unsafe and completely unusable. They currently store extra desks. The kitchen and library are still located inside the buildings, but they use these with extreme caution. Because the buildings can no longer be used as dorms and classrooms, children and teachers learn, sleep, and eat in tents.

The dilapidated buildings that can no longer be used for classrooms and dorms. (4 buildings in all)
The director has been told that there are tentative plans to rebuild in one year, but he understands how tentative plans in China work--often times they do not. So they have done their very best to provide good learning environments inside the tents. There are nine tents in all; three are used for classrooms and six are used for dorms. There are usually 11 to 20 children per tent-dorm. The tents are 5.6mx3.6m.
These tents are used for dorms and classrooms
Inside of a tent. During school days, this holds 30 kids per class and 11-20 per dorm. It also has a wood stove to provide warmth.
The canteen
The school has a cook that prepares all of the food for the children. The children who room on the premises are fed three meals a day. The children who continue to live with their nomadic families are fed two meals a day. A tent is used for the canteen, but it is not large enough to hold all of the children, so they usually pile onto the grass to consume their meals.

Storage for basic kitchen utensils
I must admit that I was taken aback by the squalor of the kitchen and canteen. However, I do recognize that the school is operating on extremely primitive, old kitchen equipment. Luckily, due to the high elevation and extreme temperatures, rodents and insects are not a big problem. Once the biggest issues are addressed, I do believe it would be wise to tackle these parts of the school.

Where the food is prepared
Stored desks and chairs
The school does provide desks and chairs for the students to use in the class-tents; however, these are about as old as the school and are falling apart. This is not the most important thing to be addressed; however, the school will eventually need to replace this wooden furniture with something more suitable and conducive to learning. 

Hopefully once a new building is constructed, we can help the school secure decent desks and chairs for the classrooms. Again, most third-world and developing countries' schools have these types of furnishings. I have seen schools in rural parts of China, Uganda, and now Tibet, and they generally have the same issues. Those being lack of financial support, poor facilities, and few trained teachers. This school is very special though as its greatest difficulties evolve around money. Its teachers are outstanding, highly qualified, and extremely dedicated to children whom most have forgotten.

A class-tent chair
The latrine: Left side is for boys; right side, for girls.
Now let's address a big problem: the latrines. This small building is set far away in the corner of the school's grounds. I was pleasantly surprised by how clean the latrines were. Let me explain a Tibetan latrine. They are usually concrete buildings with at least three holes which you squat over. Sometimes there are partitions between each hole that provide a little privacy; however, like most, the school's latrines do not provide this. Unlike most latrines I have used in Tibet, these were not over-flowing with sewage as someone must clean out the waste from under the latrines either weekly or monthly. 

The biggest problem is that the children are allotted ten minute bathroom breaks between classes. With over ninety children and three toilet-holes per latrine, the latrines simply cannot accommodate such a demand. Each year the school collects more and more children, but its amenities do not grow, which presents big problems. The school could truly use another latrine as its student population grows.

The basketball court
As of right now the school does not have a playground, a basketball court, a badminton net, toys, jump ropes, or balls. It has nothing that signifies that young children--vibrant with energy--attend this school. Fortunately, basketbal hoops have been donated and a small charity is building a playground in one of the corners. However, as of right now, the pictures to the left and the ones located below are the the current playground and toys accessible to children.

A broken riding device for toddlers.
A ping-pong table but no paddles or balls.
To be fair, these are not the worst facilities I have seen, but they are terribly inadequate  considering the climate and weather of Yushu. The tents blaze in the summer heat and lose warmth during the winter's treachery. You will soon find though that it is not the facilities that are causing the greatest problems, but the lack of food, money, and medical care available to the students.
After a 32 hour hard-seat train ride, I was happy to arrive in Xinning, the capital of Qinghai. (Dear volunteers, do not worry. We will ensure you have a hard-sleeper or plane ticket to Qinghai). I must admit that enduring such a train ride was an important learning experience. This is the second one I have done in China, and to be honest, I am glad to have once again had a very humbling experience. Please remember that I was lucky to have a seat for 32 hours. So many old people, mothers with babies, fathers with pain from hard toil and labor had to endure that ride on the floor, next to the squalor of the bathrooms and the phlegm and food that lines the aisles. 

Once in Xinning, we had a hard time finding a hotel. Because of the heat in Guangdong, Beijing, and Shanghai, so many flock to Qinghai for a cool, summer holiday, which means it is the high season--high prices, little accommodation, and even fewer bus and train tickets. 

We spent two days in Qinghai trying to secure a bus ticket to Yushu. This was good as it allowed me to acclimatize before we ascended to an even higher elevation, and allowed my body to re-coup from the train ride.

(Dear Volunteers, if you travel with me, we follow the same course of action to ensure your safety and well-being)

The most harrowing part of the journey was the 15 hour bus ride to Yushu. My body did not respond well to the increase in elevation. I spent five hours in turmoil in the wee hours in the morning, writhing in pain and vomit on the floor of the bus. But I must admit, that these were the moments that showed me how wonderful Lobsang and Thuta are. They spent every waking moment trying to give me coke and water, massaging my temples and patting my hair when my head was in a plastic bag, and even asking the driver to stop the bus to allow me some fresh air.

(Dear Volunteers, Pathways of Hope will not make you endure this bus ride unless you, like me, choose to do it.)

We arrived in a small village, twenty minutes outside Yushu at 6 in the morning. Thuta's brother picked us up and we went to Lobsang's home. 

Watching the family reunite after a year brought tears to me eyes. Lobsang's family offered the warmest greetings and treated me as one of their own. I felt loved and I felt at home.

We spent the day resting. I spent most of the day sleeping. 

In the evening a couple of hours before sunset, Lobsang, his sister, niece, and I climbed the large, green hill behind his house to enjoy the sun's warmth. It wasn't long before children flocked to us--interested by my blond hair and foreign face. They all performed b-boy stunts on a 45 degree hill. 

Lobsang's little brother (there are six children in the family)
Solitude. 08/02/2011
I want to extend a great thanks to everyone for your patience. I know you, like me, assumed I would update this blog daily; however, I was unaware I would be stepping into a world almost completely devoid of internet. Having travelled to remote parts of Tibet, I must admit this was stupid on my part. Those who live in comfort often fail to remember or even realize that a great part of the world still operates on the candle and utilizes nature (its rivers, trees, and animals) for all of its necessities. 

Before I begin explaining what I discovered on this fact-finding mission, I would like to clarify and analyze one word: poverty.

Most of you are accustomed to the things we believe are necessary for daily life: electricity, running water, flushing toilets, daily baths, computers, telephones, microwaves, heating and air-con, washing machines, etc. This is understandable--we grew up with these things and we came to believe we need them. 

If you were to be stripped of these items, made to live in tent, drag water from a well, endure the pain of winter's winds and summer's stagnate heat, use a common latrine, use electricity only when your solar powered generator provided enough energy, and shower in the river only when the sun's warmth provides enough warmth in the summertime, you would most likely believe you had been relegated to an impoverished life. 

But this is where I ask you to be careful.

Since the earthquake last year, many people in Yushu live in what I would describe as tent-towns, or for you Americans, Hoovervilles. Most people have enough to eat (a daily diet of yak meat, samba, and noodles), but they live as I described above. Their homes were destroyed along with everything they ever worked for, and it is a very slow, dusty, and painful process to clear and rebuild a town that caved in upon itself. 
Although I witnessed forms of financial poverty, I never once saw spiritual poverty. 

When all was lost--lives, homes, and normalcy--these Tibetans found strength in the one thing that cannot be stripped from a human--spirituality. I have found in my travels to Tibet, Burma, and Yushu, Qinghai a spiritual and religious wealth that I have not witnessed in more prosperous areas of the world. (Please note that I am not suggesting that this does not exist in affluent societies, but I have not witnessed or felt it on such a tremendous scale).

For people who have so little, they are astonishingly generous, happy, and warm. And these things bled into me--and filled me with a form of solitude and introspection that I have lost through my hectic, urban life in Shanghai.

I realized that there are many forms of poverty: financial, intellectual, spiritual, emotional, etc. Despite their great hardships, Yushu Tibetans have not lost the very thing that keeps their community solid, beautiful, and at peace. 

I have so much to learn from these people I came to respect and genuinely love.

During my free time in Yushu, I read One Hundred Years of Solitude. I was struck by how the financial poverty of Petra Cotes and Aureliano Segundo transformed into a rich emotional opulence:

Both looked back then on the wild revelry, the gaudy wealth, and the unbridled fornication as an annoyance and they lamented that it had cost them so much of their lives to find the paradise of shared solitude. Madly in love after so many years of sterile complicity, they enjoyed the miracle of loving each other as much at the table as in bed, and they grew to be so happy that even when they were two worn-out old people they kept on blooming like little children and playing together like dogs.

Petra and Aureliano were very much alive in that community. I saw them every day.

For the first time in a long time, I found the solitude necessary to truly witness what I lack in my own life. I truly believe that working in Yushu will benefit me far more than I can give to those who don't possess the material possessions and wealth that trap so many.

I hope you'll join me. I can guarantee that you will benefit as much as those we aim to help.
Hello everyone and thank you very much for reading.  This is Leslie-Ann's husband Gary with a short update.  Leslie-Ann and I have been texting and she asked me to relay that she had safely arrived in Yushu and that she is staying with a family whose only source of electricity is a solar-powered generator, so of course she can't make updates to the blog until she comes back (a few days from now).  I would love to say more based on what I've talked with her about, but I will let her pass on everything when she gets back.  Check back after August 4th or 5th or so!  I know she has a lot to write about.  Thanks for your support!
Tomorrow I embark on a 32 hour train ride from Shanghai to Xining. From the capital of Qinghai, I will then take a 15 hour bus ride to Yushu--a small city that was devastated by a 6.9 magnitude earthquake about a year ago. This area is home to the Kham--a Tibetan minority--and is situated in one of the Tibetan Autonomous regions. 
I will be travelling with two Tibetans (Thuta and Lobsang) whom you will get to know quite well on this blog. They currently manage Dawa, an incredible Tibetan restaurant located inside the Shanghai Stadium. Shada met these two men a year ago and discovered that their uncle helps raise funds for an extremely poor, non-profit school run for orphans and impoverished children. This school was ravaged by the earthquake and is currently in dire need of assistance. It is tucked away from the public eye and very few people care about it since it caters only to children of poverty and poor circumstances. 

My goal is to see this school, meet its teachers and students, and see how Pathways of Hope can help it. It will be an extremely large project, so I am hoping those of you in Shanghai who support us are willing to jump on board. 

Please stay posted for most details. I will hopefully be posting in about two to three days.

    Leslie-Ann Frohnaple

    I proudly work with Pathways of Hope to bring hope into the lives of women and children in China. I am currently developing projects in a school in Qinghai and liaising with other organizations on other possible projects. If you are interested in helping women and children in China, please contact me at


    August 2011
    July 2011