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  Close attention from far away  



Yin Cuilian feels forever grateful to a person in Germany, thousands of miles away from her hometown in East China's Shandong Province.

"She helped me when I was at my lowest moment," Yin said.

"I might have remained illiterate without the help of Gisela Mahlmann," said the 21-year-old woman who is now studying computers at Linyi Normal College in Shandong.

Yin still remembers when she was forced to drop out of school 10 years ago because her family could not afford her schooling as her father suffered from mental problems.

Fortunately she became one of the first kids to receive help from Gisela Mahlmann and her Hopebaden-Baden, a German foundation helping Chinese children from poverty-stricken families go back to school.

Since 1996, the foundation has helped more than 1,000 people in Shandong and Qinghai provinces. In Shandong alone, it has helped 680 children in three poverty-stricken areas such as Yinan, Linqu and Rizhao. This year another 40 children from Shandong will be sponsored.

Meanwhile in Zeku County, Qinghai Province, the foundation donated six tent schools and four brick-built schools, which helped about 500 children there.

During the past 10 years the foundation has donated about 1.47 million yuan (US$183,750).

"Through this charity work I gain insight into the lives of many people in China and of the development of China," wrote Mahlmann in her email to China Daily.

Early help

As early as 1990 Mahlmann and her family began to help Chinese children. Having been a TV correspondent based in Beijing from 1988-1994 for ZDF (Second German Television - a publicly controlled non-commercial channel and the second largest in Germany), she became familiar with the Hope Project which aims to help school dropouts. Her family decided to pay the school fees for four kids in four different provinces.

In 1996 when she prepared a TV-documentary for ZDF about the "forgotten face of China," she remembered her "kids."

"I decided to visit our daughter Li Dianxin in Zhuanbu, Yinan County in Shandong," she wrote in her email.

Before going there, she collected money from friends. "Because I feel it is unbearable to go and film poverty without giving any help," she said.

In Zhuanbu she met other families, who could not afford to send all their kids to school. With the money she had collected before going to Shandong she helped about 12 families.

The same summer she went to Qinghai, where she knew the nomads had no schools. She visited the first tent school, donated by UNESCO. "I was convinced that tent schools were the right answer to the education problem there, because sending their children to boarding schools is a contradiction to the nomadic way of life. My dream was to collect enough money to donate to one tent school," Mahlmann wrote in her email.

After her documentary was shown on German TV, many people wrote to her and also wanted to help.

"I decided that I would keep on informing people about the 'two faces of China' and try to help," she said.

In November 1996 Gisela Mahlmann founded with 14 friends Hopebaden-Baden. "The only purpose is to inform others about the need for education help and to collect money," said Mahlmann.

Whenever she was asked to give a lecture on China - any topic from culture to economics and current affairs, Mahlmann asked to use the last three minutes to introduce her foundation.

"I did not take any payment for my lectures, but asked that people donate money instead," she said.

Mahlmann still remembers one of her good friends having her 50th birthday party. The friend asked on the invitations to donate to Hopebaden-Baden instead of bringing presents. On such an occasion a whole tent school was donated with about 120,000 yuan (US$15,000).

The foundation finances 70 per cent of the school fees and book fees for one student for at least three years.

The other 30 per cent would come from the local government, the school and the individual.

"Most of beneficiaries are either orphans or single-parent children, or one of their parents suffers from disease", said Sun Li, an official from Donggang District of Rizhao City, Shandong, who has been helping Mahlmann. "The foundation usually gives financial aid until the child finishes his or her high school," Sun said.

The sponsors usually receive a report regularly describing what the student is planning and what the teachers think about further education.

Continued aid

Since her family went back to Germany in March 1994, Mahlmann has kept in contact with China. She has visited China every three years with her sons, who are now all students. She also goes to China every year to produce documentaries. She has also led special tourist groups, "To show them the 'two faces of China', - the old and new, the rich and poor," she wrote in her email.

Last summer she took a group of people to inaugurate a school in Zeku, Qinghai. "They were deeply impressed by the friendliness of the nomads and by the beauty of the landscape," she said.

Mahlmann has visited her children six times during the past 10 years, according to Gai Tojibo, deputy director of the county and the amount of donations has reached 964,300 yuan (US$120,537.5).

There are now 20 students having received higher education from universities.

Ten Tibetans came back to Zeku last year and work as a nurse, bank accountant, computer technicians and animal doctors.

"I was happy to see these young people return to Zeku," said Mahlmann.

"They are now helping their home region develop. It is good to see that they felt responsible for giving something back," she said.

"I am convinced that education is the key to a better world, to overcome poverty and dependency."

If anyone wants to donate:


Bank: VR-Bank in Mittelbaden

IBAN: DE45665623000 003725104






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