SHENZHEN, China — In 2005, Mo Fan, a free painter and volunteer, started the Maitian Project, a Chinese NGO aiming to improve the educational situation for impoverished children in mountainous areas.
“Maitian” means “cornfield” in Chinese. It symbolizes the hope and the harvest of improving children’s education in mountainous areas through the efforts of volunteers. In keeping with its goals, this project has been popular among the Chinese and gained much support.
Since it was established on June 16, 2005 in Shenzhen, the Maitian Project has been developed into eight programs to achieve its goal. These programs include collecting donated children’s books and setting up libraries, collecting impoverished students’ data and matching sponsors for them, holding photographic exhibitions, collecting worldwide donations for constructing classrooms in mountainous areas, establishing foundations to support medical aids for impecunious students there, collecting stationery and sports equipment for them, financially supporting teachers and increasing the communication between students in mountainous areas and students in cities.
To accomplish these programs, the organization gains financial support from worldwide donors, delegating the practical actions to Chinese volunteers, mainly consisting of college students. Volunteers are called “maike,” which originally means the casual laborers who help others with harvesting wheat. Like reapers doing favors for others, they travel to mountainous areas during weekends or vacations to deliver children’s books and stationery, collect data on impoverished students and volunteer as supporting teachers.
“My dream is to have my own dictionary,” said Chen Jing, a second-grade student in a primary school located in the Guangxi mountainous area. After learning of problems like the dictionary shortage, volunteers returned to the city and reported on the situation.
“Thanks to those children for giving us a chance to express love,” Mo Fan said. “Though what we do is small, as long as these small things can improve a poor child’s life, we still work hard on that!”
On October 1, 2010, the Maitian Project gained the support from the local government of Guangdong province and established the Maitian Education Foundation, which intends to improve the education in schools, families and communities for both rural and urban children.
During the past 10 years, the Maitian Project has established 68 volunteering teams in 17 main provinces and regions, such as Beijing, Shanghai and Zhejiang. It also has material supporting stations located in 13 poverty-stricken areas, such as Guangxi and Guizhou. Those material-supporting stations help more than 5,000 impoverished students and at least 300 rural teachers. Moreover, there are 14 schools and over 350 libraries established through the organization in Sichuan, Hunan, Anhui and Jiangxi provinces.
“Maitian (cornfield) is an artistic image, which is like a movie’s title,” Deng Minghao, the manager of the Guangdong Maitian Education Foundation, said. “Well, it is a movie, which records the growth of both volunteers and the children in poor mountainous areas.”