Story of Cun-fen


Reflecting on Culture

Discussing environmental problems of the village with villagers.


Since 2004, PCD has been working with the Yunnan Minority Basic Education Project (YMBEP), of Save the Children UK, on community participatory education projects in the 3 counties of Ning’er, Shuangjiang and Weishan. The objectives are to (1) build a learning platform on sustainable livelihood between schools and communities so as to enhance rural communities’ awareness and capacity in self-learning, and (2) to promote the idea that school education must be relevant to the life of children in rural villages to encourage their love for their home villages and for nature. Main activities of the project include rural family education and development of the school curriculum. To-date, over 30 trainers, 200 community family educators and 5,000 villagers from the 3 counties have taken part in the activities. The most important deliverable of the programme is to develop a group of community facilitators with the awareness and heart for public welfare. The main character in this story, Cun-fen, is one example.

The petite woman in the photo is Cun-fen, the main character of this article. She is an ordinary villager of Xiao Zhangjia Village which is a part of Yonghe Zhong Village in Weishan County, Yunnan. Though she is thin and does not look very strong, she has led and organised villagers in the construction of the road to the village. Even though Cun-fen is not a village cadre, villagers want to know her opinions on village affairs, be they big or small. She did not take part in the village head election of her own accord, but was instead elected as head of her village. Cun-fen is so highly regarded that none would imagine that 3 years ago, she was a shy rural housewife who did not dare to look at a visitor, to the extent that she did not even know what a visitor would look like even after they had left her home.

In February 2004, Cun-fen took part in the first exchange on rural family education organized by this project in Weishan. The objective of the exchange was to build a platform for exchange and communication among villagers. Recollecting her participation in the activity, Cun-fen sighed, “actually I had not wanted to go, but the school master of my child’s school personally came to my house on a motorcycle to involve me. My husband too tried hard to persuade me. I could not refuse them so I went half-heartedly. What I didn’t expect was when the meeting started, the teacher invited parents to describe our problems and frustrations and talk about who should be responsible in resolving our concerns. I then could not help but participate in the activities with my whole heart. I never dreamt that I would still get the chance to learn so much new knowledge! Since then, I have developed a strong interest in the programme. Even when I was not invited to take part, I would still come shamelessly…”

Based on villagers’ views expressed during exchange activities and other interactions with villagers, the project designed a series of family education training activities for trainers and active villagers. The themes of the training included learning to become a qualified parent, knowing your children and how to interact effectively with them and other people. The purpose of the training was to help villagers understand that children’s education was everyone’s responsibility, and everyone had a role to play in providing a good environment for children’s development.

Sharing experiences on family education at the Yunnan Province Family Education Seminar.

These activities not only helped Cun-fen to develop herself, but they also improved her relationship with her mother-in-law, her husband and her children. More importantly, her concern for public welfare had grown stronger and she became involved in all kinds of village issues. She took the initiative to transmit knowledge on family education together with other active villagers, mediated disputes between neighbours and strived to stop physical punishment of children. As a result of everyone’s effort and contribution, the atmosphere in the village is more harmonious than before.

The project has also carried out training programmes. In November 2006, skills training for community facilitators and programmes on monitoring and assessing projects were conducted. In the training sessions, villagers discussed and developed indicators for monitoring and assessment which were relevant to the local context. They emphasized that the key to a successful project was in the active participation of the local people. This was reflected in the way Cun-fen later organised villagers to build roads in the village.

The main road to Xiao Zhangjia Village, where Cun-fen lives, was a small ditch in the fields. No bicycle or vehicle could function using the ditch. When farming and harvesting, farmers had to carry the loads on their backs. There had been discussion about building roads in the village a few years ago, but the plan was shelved due to lack of funds. Later, villagers learnt that the government could provide RMB 20,000 for road construction, but villagers had to make provisions for the shortfall. On hearing this, most villagers shook their heads and said, “who would be willing to pay from their own purse these days?” Even the village cadres said, “forget it. No more road construction.” But Cun-fen had different thoughts. She made use of the SWOT Analysis, a tool which she had learnt in the training course to analyse problems and situations. The road must be built, she thought. It could be done if everyone contributed. Shrugging off a few people’s disinterest, she organized a construction team consisting of 8 people and began to raise funds for the construction work. At first, everyone was pessimistic. Cun-fen was not a village cadre, and she was a woman. They thought she could not possibly do it. But when villagers saw that she was able to organise the work and deal with matters effectively, their attitude began to change. Even village cadres, who had persuaded her to give up the idea, started to give her a lot of support. “Now the road you see was built by us” said Cun-fen proudly.

Initially an ordinary village woman who preferred to leave education in the hands of the school, Cun-fen has grown into an influential village leader who has helped others become better parents. There are many women who have shared similar experiences to Cun-fen in villages where the project is carried out. The project is encouraging more village women to join the community development force and become more self-confident, aware and concerned with the community.