The Eileen Smith Liu Pan Shan Book Project recently donated its 5000th book. Five thousand books may not seem like a lot until you consider where they have gone.
Book no. 124 is where it all began. I’d been given an award that came with ¥6000. Over the following months, my Ningxia University graduate students and I discussed how the money could be used to further education in our area. Many of them were from southern Ningxia which is known all over the country as one of China’s poorest regions. We finally settled on donating pleasure reading books to a school.
On a cold and unusually rainy Saturday in the fall of 2009, we delivered 124 books to the primary school pictured above. The children were a little overwhelmed by the foreigners, but they loved the books. And when I sent pictures like this one back to friends and family, they liked the idea so much that they began sending me money to buy more books. And so, the Eileen Smith Liu Pan Shan Book Project was born.
Eileen Smith was my mother. I named the project for her because she loved children, China, books, and her Master. She’s (right) on her second trip to China here.
Since our first delivery, we’ve come to see school children in China as slaves to the education system, and ones in impoverished areas as especially vulnerable. In order to fill gaps, we donate books to their schools (17 different ones so far). On delivery trips, we also read to them, do activities in their classrooms, and offer hugs. Keep scrolling to see more.
Hopefully book 1741 warmed up some hearts at least. The farther you are from that coal-burning stove…And were all those children getting enough to eat?
Book no. 2139, or more likely Spring’s warmth and a new free lunch program, brought smiles to a few faces.
Book no. 2813 delivered three years ago, still in circulation, in the hands of a reader. We love dog-eared pages! (She’s the 4th member of Auntie Christine’s Book Club. See below.)
On the edge of the Gobi Desert, water is precious, often carried on shoulders from a community well. Sometimes, when a well dries up, an entire community is moved to a different location with better access to water. Book no. 3113–water in a place that is barren both literally and figuratively? We hope!
After reading book no. 3433, 爱心树 (The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein), this is what the children did when asked if they’d like to hug the teacher like the boy in the story hugged the tree.
Even middle schoolers like having a book read to them…
And this is what reading books aloud to children in barren places does for the reader.
It wasn’t just that the cupboard was bare. There was no cupboard. Book no. 3635; bookshelf no. 1.
Book no. 3737: The size of the thank you (homegrown potatoes), and the backbreaking work it took to harvest them by hand, far outweigh the books donated (and grandma!).
Book 4092 and 4142. Because of financial or family situations, these 7 students are the only ones left at their 2 schools. Their classmates have all moved to bigger schools and better locations. 50 books and 7 hugs. Abandoned but not forgotten.
Book no. 5000, the unofficial handover. Most of these children are 留守儿童 “left-behind children” who live with grandparents because their parents are migrant workers. In a setting where reciting, memorizing, and copying a model are the usual ways of learning, our books and book activities give them a breath of fresh air.
Book no. 5000, the official handover. We chose I am Malala to represent our 5000th book. It tells the story of a girl who fights (literally for her life) to stay in school. We hope it will encourage children in difficult circumstances, especially girls in a society that 重男轻女 values boys over girls.
We’ve reached our 5000th book, but we’re not done. In fact, we delivered our 5657th two weeks ago. In addition, we’ve also just started a Auntie Christine’s Book Club. We’ve chosen four students in particularly difficult circumstances and have invited them to join a summer book club. Listen in below as Auntie E explains what’s involved. (Or if you can’t understand Chinese, try reading the caption.)
Books 5642-5662, Auntie Christine’s Book Club. Inside each backpack are: 1) 5 books to read over summer vacation, 2) a “form” to “fill out” after each book, 3) a box of crayons for filling out the forms, 4) and envelopes with stamps for mailing the forms back to us. Which of the 3 seems to like her/his books the most?
What’s your perspective?
We welcome your comments on any of the ideas in this post or in answer to the questions below.
- When you want to encourage children in difficult circumstances, what books do you read to them?
- When children need an advocate, how do you tear down walls for them?
- What does education as justice mean to you?
So good to be reminded of those early details. I now realise that it started just a few months after my time with you in 2009. Yeah!!! I’m painting myself into a tiny corner of the picture.
The question is, of course, when are you coming back? I wish I could say to help with a book delivery, but since too many foreigners attract too much attention, I’ll just ask when you’re coming back for a visit. 🙂
I can’t help but think of how totally delighted your dear mother would be if she could have seen this day. You are such a blessing to so many and I continue to keep you in my thoughts always.
Thank you for your encouraging words, Doneta. 🙂 My mom, I’m certain, would have been delighted by this project. I think she would have been embarrassed to have it named for her, though. 😉