Day 113; Nov. 8th; Wuzhou, Guangxi – Hezhou, Guangxi; 24,378km-24,558km
This visit to the partner school of Free Lunch for Children (Chinese name: 免费午餐) was a big one for us mainly because it was our first official school visit of the trip. It was going to be nice for us to see where our support was going and to see what kind of impact it would have on the kids.
We left early, around 8:30 and went about 30km down a national road before turning off into the mountains. Many of the schools the charity supports are in very remote and hard to reach places, seeing as they are the ones most in need, and the Longping school was no exception.
It was actually a nice side benefit of the trip that we were able to have this sort of off the grid ride. Most of the time we don’t have the time or resources to go exploring off on the more remote roads, many of which don’t even show up on our GPS maps. Now we were going down roads that in some places were only wide enough for one truck as they twisted around the mountains. We only passed by a few small villages built onto the steep inclines we were driving through. For the most part, the road was nicely paved and made for some great riding but the last 15 or so kilometers were some of the worst we’d had in weeks.
Rural Roads To A Rural School
It made for some slow going navigating the inclines and declines while at the same time keeping upright when going over some very large rocks and potholes. The can that was leading the way let us to ahead to avoid kicking up sand in our faces since we were going faster anyway. We stopped whenever there was an intersection to avoid getting lost. One of these was the turn off to the village where the school was but unfortunately not even our guides knew it and so we went far longer than we were supposed to. With no signal, not even the van could call ahead to let us know to turn back. Eventually we had stopped at an intersection found by asking some locals for directions that we had to turn back and got a message from Jianing that they would send someone to meet us halfway.
A very smiley young worker met us on the road and told us to follow him. It took us nearly 20 minutes before we were back at the intersection where we were handed off to a local from the village on a scooter that led us the rest of the way. With everyone finally gathered, if was time to start the event.
The Main Event
The main purpose of the event was a group of philanthropists that had given to support the school for over a year were presenting some toys for the kids and a Free Lunch for Children plaque. Class was let out and there were some speeches of thanks. The kids sat very patiently especially considering that they probably had no idea what the whole thing was about and just wanted to eat and play. Then afterwards there was lunch and recess where I played basketball with some of the kids and Amy entertained them by showing them how our digital camera worked.
It was also a very instructive experience about the operations of the program and the school. The kids were all a local minority which meant that Mandarin was not their first language, though the older ones had no problem speaking it and so could communicate with us. The lunch they served was very good, a couple dishes doubled up for all the visitors but still apparently pretty standard fair for program schools which included a meat and potatoes soup, vegetable dish, meat dish, and rice. The most fascinating thing we learned is that because for many families in these areas it is hard to provide full meals for their children, opening a partnership with the Free Lunch for Children program has the added benefit of increasing attendance drastically at the school. This is because parents will send their kids to school not necessarily for the education but to get the only proper meal they’ll have all day! Of course the hope is that some of the classroom lessons will rub off as well.
Couldn’t stay all day at the school though so as the kids wrapped up recess, we packed up to get back on the road. There was still another 80km to go, continuing through the mountains towards the closest city, Hezhou. The roads were mostly very nice and paved though with another 20km stretch of dirt and gravel to get through. We made it just before dark to the dusty and crowded outskirts of the city.
If you would like to learn more about Free Lunch for Children and help us reach our goal of raising enough money to support two schools for a full school year, head on over to our Donate Page. We’ve got a video there about our partnership and the charity, as well as more information on our fundraising initiatives. Please share the page (and any of our posts) with friends and family who you think might be interested in chipping in!