Lan Cun School is a public school. Every morning, more than 600 students, ages 5 to 12, ford rivers, climb over mountains, and hike dirt paths--often during torrential rainstorms--to get from home to school. Some walk up to three hours each day, and it is often the poorest students who live farthest away.
Students start classes at 7:00 in the morning and then break midday for three hours. Before the cafeteria was built with the funds raised by the Lan Cun Education Project, there was no space or adult available to monitor the students during the lunch hours and everyone had to leave school premises during this time.
Until 2011, this caused problems for about 150 students who lived more than 2 km away from school. Many of them walked home and did not return for the second half of the day. Teachers told us that by the time classes resumed in the afternoon at 2:00, as many as half of the seats were empty. Some children went hungry during lunchtime, and this greatly affected their ability to concentrate and learn. Recent studies in rural China show that lack of food is impairing development in young children, and in turn contributing to the ever-widening gap between the haves and have nots.
The new cafeteria has solved many of the problems, and a subsidized hot lunch program funded initially by the Project and carried on by the community, is helping children whose families could not otherwise afford to feed them.
The school and its students still face many challenges. Lan Cun Primary School depends largely on public funds derived from the local area, which being largely agrarian, cannot generate enough money to pay for even the barest necessities such as chalk. In 2012, the government decided to double the number of students it would serve. The school started on plans to expand the cafeteria in 2013 to accommodate and feed the additional 300 students.
Most of the students will not continue their educations beyond middle school. Teachers and families tell us that none of the girls in Lan Cun have stayed in school past age 14. The nearest high school is more than 20 miles (30 km) away from the village and costs about US$350 ($2200 RMB) per semester to attend--more than a year's salary for some families. When girls finish middle school, their parents choose to put them to work. In many cases, girls work to support their brothers through school.