Stories from the field- Williams

Des Barry and Helen Williams, respectively novelist and essayist and books editor and educator

Under the blue skies, pale grain stalks, close to harvest, sway in the light breeze. A group of men in dusty suit jackets and flat caps stand in front of heavy wooden gates. They’ve been standing here for hours, waiting to welcome us. We get out of the car and the village committee men drape white scarves around our necks. Each house in the village is surrounded by rammed-earth walls about four metres high. A mastiff with matted and dusty fur is chained up close to the wooden gates. Inside the walls is a flower garden and a plinth on which the family burns incense offerings. We’re ushered into a reception room. We sit at a table that runs down the centre of the tiled floor. The village committee has had a sheep killed to greet us with a feast. The village head holds up a tray on which is a bottle of barley liquor and three tiny cups. The cups may be tiny but there are eight members of the village committee who each want to offer us a drink.

Over the four years that we worked in Dongche, ASIA established a school for children of the village and a traditional Tibetan Medicine centre. The school integrated the children’s progress with the county education department. Our train-the-trainer initiatives offered the benefit of English mother-tongue trainers for three-month periods that were unavailable anywhere else in the prefecture. ASIA provided the programmes for English and Computing, traditional medical infrastructure and an extensive library in the Tibetan language.

All NGO workers need to ask, ‘Are we doing more harm than good here?’
In Qinghai, time and circumstances were such that we can state unequivocally that ASIA brought positive benefits to people all across the prefecture. The work leaves us with some indelible memories of the teachers, villagers and children.

Under the full moon in Dongche village, the high walls of the houses glow white. When the moon wanes to nothingness, and comes back as a sharp sliver, the Perseids glitter across the backdrop of the shimmering Milky Way.

Helen Williams and Des Barry

Stories from the field>>