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Education is probably one of the most crucial areas of development for the Mosuo. At present, the barriers they face are tremendous.

First, many teachers have minimal qualifications -- some are local volunteers who themselves never completed high school. Many schools are structures that are literally falling apart, with no electricity to provide light, and no heat in the winter. Schools may not have enough money to provide food for their students at lunch. Students may have to walk many kilometers over mountain paths to get to their schools.

Few Mosuo students will get to senior high school; almost none will make it to college or university. Female students are often pulled out of school earlier, in favor of males, simply because of the belief that males will have a better chance of finding a job, and therefore justify the cost of their education.

Despite government subsidies for primary school education, many families cannot afford even the most minimal costs for sending their children to school; or they may simply feel that it is more economically viable to keep their child working at home, than to pay for them to go to school.

So there are enormous barriers, and huge challenges. But there is more to it than that.

Besides the problems, there is also an incredibly strength and determination. Yes, many teachers are not very qualified...but they commit themselves to doing whatever they can to help these students, with little financial compensation for doing so. I've met teachers who have spent 20 years teaching in the same one or two room schools, committing their lives to helping their children, even when they've had opportunities to take jobs that would pay much better.

And for every family that keeps a child home to help the family make money, there is another family that makes phenomenal financial sacrifices to try to get their child an education, to give them a chance at a better life. Families where the rest of the family may sacrifice their comfort so that one child can go to high school.

We do not necessarily think that such formal education is necessary for everyone; there is a lot to be said for raising children to learn the traditional forms of farming, making clothing, etc.   And, in fact, some of our projects focus specifically on these areas. The important thing, in our opinion, is that the Mosuo should have the choice -- they should not be forced to do something simply because there was no other choice.

That is the core philosophy of our education programs -- not to enforce some outside standards on the Mosuo, but to give them a choice. For those who want to continue to pursue traditional practices, that's great -- it helps preserve the culture for another generation. For those who want to seek more education, to learn about other ways of thinking, other possibilities -- they also have that choice.

Our education projects have two main emphases: first, on teachers, to provide more training and resources for existing teachers, and to encourage the development of new teachers; and second on students, to provide more support and resources for them, to help guarantee them the best chance of getting a better education.

If you have questions about this, or would like to make suggestions, or would like to get directly involved (perhaps as a volunteer teacher), then please check out our discussion forum, also!


© 2006 Lugu Lake Mosuo Cultural Development Association

photos taken by Danny Gawlowski and Josie Liming