Over the past six years, we've done motorcycle trips across western Sichuan, in Xinjiang's Altai Mountains, to the Dulong River Valley, around the Cangshan Mountain Range and throughout Yunnan; but this ride was different—and not just because of the government entourage.
Of our 19 employees at Salvador's Coffee House, 18 come from Lincang. Our goal in establishing Village Progress was to work directly with the families of our employees to address issues that they see as problematic in their villages.
Low income, rising health care costs and a marginally adequate education system are common issues in China's countryside as more emphasis has been placed on developing cities. In Lincang, a region that is very dependent upon a fluctuating tea market, these issues are very apparent.
A media crew joined us in Yunxian along with two Kunming artists and a professional survivalist—a student of Tom Brown Jr. A two-hour ride to the Lancang River Valley brought us to Bangdong Village, home of Pingdi, one of our managers. There we met with her family to test out a super-efficient wood-burning stove donated to us by Stovetec.
An environmentally friendlier stove, courtesy of StovetecIn Yunnan's countryside, most cooking is done on wood-fired hearths that are usually located indoors with little ventilation. The smoke that this produces is recognized as a cause of many common medical ailments among villagers.
Stovetec's stoves require only half as much wood as typical cooking hearths and produce only about one-third of the emissions. Pingdi's mother immediately put the stove to work, later telling us that it cooked well and was easy to use.
Students at Bangdong Primary SchoolA 45-minute hike up from the village brought us to Bangdong's elementary school. Over 100 children between the ages of seven and 14 excitedly welcomed us. The Kunming artists split up into two different classrooms and guided the children on some simple art projects. Another classroom was filled with wide-eyed students when the survivalist demonstrated his fire-making skills and discussed the importance of clean water and protecting the natural environment.
The school was very receptive to future project ideas and we are now working with the principal to build a library and learning center with used books collected from Kunming students.
The following day we rode another two hours to the city of Lincang where government officials from the health department awaited us. We had met with them a month earlier to seek their involvement in a project to teach over 500 village doctors about high blood pressure diagnosis and treatment.
China California Heart Watch is an organization founded by Dr Robert Detrano that holds cardiology clinics throughout Yunnan's countryside for village doctors. Village doctors, much like thebarefoot doctors of Mao's era, receive only minimal training but serve as the first line of defense against illness and injury in their villages.
Village doctors receiving training in high blood pressure diagnosis and treatmentDr Detrano offered to hold two-day clinics in Lincang City, Yunxian and Cangyuan if we could get financial support from the Lincang government. Upon hearing the idea, Lincang's financial and health departments offered to cover all of the costs in addition to organizing transportation, room and board for all the village doctors. Dr Detrano called upon six medical instructors from Singapore, northeast China and Yunnan who volunteered their time to teach the courses.
We were skeptical that the turnout would be as high as the health department predicted, but when we showed up for the first day's lecture, all the seats were filled and many had to stand for the opening lessons. The clinics were taught with a combination of lectures, participatory group exercises and role-playing assignments.
The training focuses on treatment steps for high blood pressure and equipping village doctors with techniques for working with patients who are reluctant to cut back on salt, oil, cigarettes and alcohol. As non-medically trained foreigners, our job was to entertain with games like Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes when lectures had students nodding off.
For six days, we rode our motorcycles, often getting pounded by driving rain, to the clinics in Yunxian and Cangyuan. From there we followed small roads up along the Burma border, everything still soaking wet from riding through storms, and arrived at the small town of Mankaba.
The city of CangyuanAfter unpacking our bikes, we shot pool with some local kids who proudly blasted Eminem and Green Day from their mobile phones. In soggy shoes and mildewed jeans, we toasted to the end of our ride with a couple bottles of warm Lancang Jiang beer. An orange sunset reached across the sky and the clouds looked particularly nice over Burma.
Photos and Video: Kris Ariel