Selfless American Teaches Children in Rural Gansu Province for 17 Years

中国慈善家

中文 English

Editor’s Note

This article was originally published by China Philanthropist on the 28th of April 2017. It is about an American teacher named David Deems who has spent the last 17 years living in Dongxiang Autonomous County, in Northwestern China’s Gansu Province. The area is home to the Dongxiang people, a small Muslim ethnic group of Mongolian origin and one of China’s 55 recognized ethnic minorities. In this area where few outsiders reside, David has dedicated himself to assisting the development of the local schools through fundraising, teaching, and even going door to door to get families to send their children back to school. His fundraising efforts have raised large amounts of money, while he has continued to subsist on a monthly wage of just a few hundred Yuan as an educational consultant. His selfless and uninterested dedication to his cause have earned him the sincere admiration of the local people.

 

His name is David Deems, but he gave himself the Chinese name of Ding Dawei. He was born into a middle-class family in the US and when he began university he specifically chose to learn Chinese. That’s when his affinity for China started.

In 1989, David began studying Chinese at Peking University, during which time his love for China increased.

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When he returned home, he finished his graduate studies in Classical literature, after which he decided to become a teacher. After careful consideration, he decided to return to China. While in Beijing, David learned that what China needed most was education, so he decided he could use his own knowledge to teach children in remote areas of China. While on vacation in Hong Kong in 1994, he met a teacher named Mary who introduced him to a private school in Zhuhai, where he became an English teacher.

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David was shocked when he arrived at the school in Zhuhai. He complained to school officials after they provided him an apartment furnished with an air conditioning unit and a refrigerator. What shocked him was that his living conditions were far better than those of the other teachers.

He stormed into the headmaster’s office and demanded to live in the teacher’s dormitory. “I don’t need that nice of a place all to myself. I don’t cook, I don’t need a refrigerator, I just want to live with the other teachers.” The headmaster had a hard time comprehending, but in the end respected David’s wishes and moved him to an 8-person dormitory. David was still unsatisfied though, demanding that the headmaster lower his wage.

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After teaching at the private school in Zhuhai for a while, David felt that he was “wasting his time” because the students’ conditions were already pretty good. He needed to go somewhere a little more remote where he could teach students who needed more help.

After doing some research, he decided to head to northwest China. Several twists and turns later, he arrived at Northwest Minzu University with his CV in hand. “Hello, my name is David Deems. I previously taught elementary students in Zhuhai, but now I’ve come here to teach at a university.” After viewing David’s CV, the teacher was surprised to see that in the “Activities I enjoy” slot, David wrote “helping others.”

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After a year and a half at the university, David was still living in the university office because of problems with official procedures. The tight room proved to be uncomfortable for David’s 1.93 meter frame. Aside from this, the school was unable to provide any wages to him. He didn’t find this to be a big deal though. Instead, he kept finding new jobs to keep him busy.

But when the school started giving David his wages, he had another issue with the school. The school had chosen to give him 1200 yuan per month, but he insisted on only receiving 900 yuan. The school was insistent on giving David at least 1000 yuan, but he thought a four-digit salary was much too high. After compromises on both sides, David’s wage was set at 950 yuan.

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While at Northwest Minzu University, David started an “English Corner”, where he connected students with foreigners to enable cross-cultural exchange. David’s humor, sincerity and amicability soon gained him the respect of the school. Afterwards, while teaching at the university, David continued searching for more hard-pressed areas where he could teach.

He eventually found out about the Dongxiang Autonomous County, an arid area nestled between the mountains of Gansu province, where the living conditions are known to be extremely destitute. Out of the 56 ethnic groups in China, the local Dongxiang have the lowest levels of education, the highest levels of illiteracy and the second-lowest rate of students finishing 9th grade in China. David thought this was perfect and decided to go to Dongxiang!

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Upon arrival in Dongxiang, the locals were not entirely friendly to David. In addition, the remoteness of Dongxiang made him a little uncomfortable at first. The county of 500,000 was so remote that no one spoke standard Mandarin; people from outside couldn’t even understand the Dongxiang accent. This undoubtedly made working extremely difficult, but David still decided to stay.

David was hired by the education department as an educational adviser, but formal hiring procedures lasted more than a year, during which time the promised 500 yuan wage never arrived. David could only rely on the money he had saved up from before.

He doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink and his lifestyle is very simple. One article of clothing lasts him seven or eight years and when his shoes are well worn out, he still uses them. When faced with economic issues, David maintains his good-natured spirit.

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What David was most grateful for was that the locals had started to get more friendly with him. In order to make ends meet, he was forced to rely on wages from being a substitute teacher. In these two busy years, David was able to help seven schools in Dongxiang turn over a new chapter by helping 200 students enrol in classes, particularly girls who never enrolled in school. Many children’s lives changed because of this: they learned what a basketball was and received new class material. They expressed sincere respect and adoration towards David.

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After eight years, David had collected donations for eleven schools in Dongxiang in addition to successfully inviting some excellent teachers to teach there. As an educational advisor, his main job was to walk down mountain roads every week to all the schools in the district, where he would do a check-up on the students, facilities and general situation of all the schools.

When he encountered situations where students weren’t coming to school, David would personally contact the teacher and parents and convince them to let the child attend classes. Whenever he arrived at a school, he would ask “What does the school need me to look into? What does the school need me to do? Do the teachers need help with anything?”

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Once, one of the schools in the district that David oversaw had to close for various reasons. David ran around collecting donations for it, eventually enabling the school to resume classes.

He brought teachers from door to door asking the parents to let their children come back to school, somehow doubling the school’s enrolment. The school’s basketball hoop, water well and ping-pong table were all set up thanks to David’s hard work.

This is what the teachers at the school said: “We express sincere gratitude to him. Even though this is still a simple and crude school, the students’ lives and fortunes changed because of him. After this, children can go to middle school and high school. If it weren’t for this elementary school, everything else would be out of the question.”

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Aside from fixing up the school, he also brought local teachers on educational trips to Beijing and Zhuhai. Living in a closed-off place like Dongxiang, these teachers hadn’t ever seen anything as grandiose as Tiananmen Square or the ocean. Some hadn’t even seen a local passenger train.

When the local teachers were standing in front of Tiananmen Square and the Bird’s Nest, they were absolutely speechless. David hoped that this experience would expand their horizons and that they would tell the students at the school about what they saw. Only this way could the students ever hope to get out of Dongxiang.

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David does not like to be bothered by the media, but if it is for fundraising, he is willing to put his name out there. After a while he established an account called “Ding Donations”. From the beginning he sought donations from all over, attracting many peoples’ interest in his project. Over the course of eight years, he raised one million yuan, every single yuan of which was spent on Dongxiang’s schools.

But of course many people started saying things like “who knows where all that money went”, and “why would an American with such good intentions come to a place like Dongxiang?”. When faced with questions like this, David would say with a smile: “It’s a little hard to understand, isn’t it? Actually my thought process is very simple, which is: why not put more educational resources to use where they are needed the most?”

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During a ten year span, David recorded every dime that he raised in a ledger. Where it came from, where it was spent; he wrote it all down clearly. Once there was an elementary student that donated one yuan. At first David didn’t know what to do with it, but then he bought a 20 cent envelope and an 80 cent stamp and sent a thank you letter to the child. He even recorded this small donation in his ledger.

Every time he took teachers out for field trips, he recorded every dime spent. In order to allow more teachers to attend these field trips, he made travel arrangements on a strict budget. Between 2000 and 2008, he used 6 ledgers to record all of the donations and expenses, even copying it all on a second set of ledgers.

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Always keeping himself busy, David was thirty years old when he finally met his true love, an American named Stacy. By chance, David was studying at Qinghai University when he ran into Stacey, who at the time was a teacher at Qinghai Minzu University. He fell in love with Stacy at first sight and repeatedly found opportunities to get close to her. In 2005, the couple went back to America to get married. Afterwards, Stacy accompanied David to Dongxiang, where the couple busied themselves with work.

Stacy and David’s interests are similar and they both lead simple lives. The two live together in a house without electricity and dress the same as the people in Dongxiang. When they got married, they simply bought each other handmade rings. In addition, their combined monthly wage amounted to only 1200 yuan. Every week, Stacy went with David to visit all the schools in Dongxiang.

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As far as David’s life choices, his parents expressed understanding. His whole family works in education, but he was the first to decide to teach in a rural setting. “I’m not a reincarnation of Lei Feng, I’m just a regular teacher and this is the place where I was meant to come. The kids here were meant to learn.”

During the National Day break in 2003 David’s family came to Dongxiang to see him, during which time David took his 66 year-old father and two 70 year-old uncles around Dongxiang, where they helped him construct a brick enclosure wall for one of the schools. Right before David’s father left to return home, he left all his spare money with David.

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As far as China’s education goes, David has always been trying to find a balance.

“American education is different- we don’t make students recite things, but rather we make students understand more in depth concepts. For example, when reading a textbook, we hope a student can use their own words to summarize the concept or use the concept to analyze an issue. We’re more interested in nurturing individuality and encouraging them to consider real-world issues. Education and upbringing are two different aspects, but China is perhaps more concerned with tests and grades. These two aspects are both very important, one contributes to society and the other to the individual. A person who understands things and concepts can make contributions to society. Our priority is to instruct students on how to understand society.”

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All these years, David has hung a Chinese flag on the wall in his small room. He hangs the flag there to remind himself that “this is China, not America, I am in Dongxiang and however they want to develop their education or plan their future, I should respect them.”

Many teachers have asked David in private question like “What kind of repayment do you want to get from this?” David always responds with: “I don’t need repayment, I just want the kids to receive the education they deserve. If we can do this, I’ll be content enough.”

When faced with praise and attention from others, David always humbly responds that “I am no specialist or scholar, I’m just an ordinary teacher. My house wasn’t built by me and the classes aren’t taught by me. I actually haven’t done anything, I’m just an intermediary. The real heroes are the teachers that stay behind and the people who don’t know anything about Dongxiang but still donate money.”

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David’s spirit is really this pure. He doesn’t think about his own gains or losses, but instead busies himself with Chinese education. He can see beyond his own poor living circumstances to help reconstruct the schoolhouses for the children.

Everyone should learn from and respect this noble and pure soul. When we see a story like David’s, we should consider the following: when we are all rushing around in pursuit of money and we find we are eternally unsatisfied with material possessions, our souls will inevitably need something more. How do we define the value of our lives? Is it a scheme to gain fame and profit or is it to leave behind something brilliant and splendid?

After an interview with David on “Speak Frankly”, Cui Yongyuan said that “Today we met with David Deems. Many people think he is very special. But in fact, his simplicity and dedication to a cause should be everyone’s natural instinct or fundamental character. I hope that in the future when we talk about David, it will be like talking about the people all around us. This would make me very happy.”

That interview was in May 2000. Time has flown by since then, and today extraordinary people still talk about David Deems. Do we still think he is a special person?

Seventeen years ago, Cui Yongyuan truly hoped that everyone had David’s character.  But in today’s profit-obsessed society, this kind of person is still of a different breed. How much farther will we have to go before regular people are like David Deems?

每月500元工资,美国人为中国教育坚守17年,筹款百万修建11所小学,他却说伟大的是那些人

最美的心

他的名字叫David Deems,

给自己起的中文名叫丁大卫。

他出生在美国一个中产家庭,

读大学时,特意选择了中文,

因此对中国产生了强烈向往。

1989年,大卫到北京大学进修汉语。

在北京学习的那段日子,

他对中国有了更特别的感情。

回国念完古典文学硕士后,

大卫选择了这一生的方向,

那就是成为一名老师。

仔细斟酌后,个性独立的他,

决定远渡重洋来到中国教书。

因为当时的他认识到,

教书,就去最需要教育的地方,

根据在北京念书时的印象,

他觉得可以用自己的知识,

给中国偏远山区的孩子当老师。

正巧,1994年在香港度假时,

他认识了一个叫马丽的老师,

在她介绍下来到珠海一所私立学校,

成为了一名英语外教。

一进那所学校,

大卫就把校长震住了,

对校方提供的居所极为不满。

学校给他提供个人公寓,

里面配备了空调、冰箱,

远远好过其他老师的待遇。

他直接闯进校长办公室,

强烈要求住进教师宿舍。

“我一个人不需要住这么好

我也不做菜,不需要冰箱,

就想跟老师们一起块儿住。”

校长感到非常不理解,

最终还是尊重了他的意愿,

将他安排到七八个人同住的宿舍里。

不过大卫还是觉得“不满足”,

又主动要求降薪。

在珠海执教一段时间后,

大卫觉得自己在“浪费时间”。

因为这里毕竟是私立学校,

相对来说,孩子们条件都不错,

他需要去更艰苦一点的地方,

给更有需求的人提供教学。

经过一番详细调查之后,

他将目光投向中国的西北,

几经辗转,带着简历,

来到了西北民族学院。

“你好,我叫丁大卫,

以前在珠海教小学生,

现在想过来当大学老师。”

看到大卫的简历,老师有点懵,

在“喜欢从事的活动”这一栏,

大卫工工整整地写着:

为人民服务。

一年半的时间里,

因为要办理相关手续,

学校只能安排他住在办公室里,

对于1米93的大卫来说,

逼仄的空间,起居很不舒服。

此外,学校无法给他发工资,

但对这一切他都觉得无所谓,

一直积极开展各种教学工作。

等到学校给他定工资时,

他又跟校方发生了“矛盾”:

学校定的工资是1200元人民币,

他主动要求降到900元,

学校一再坚持,决定给他1000元,

可他还是觉得4位数太高,

最后经过双方“妥协”,

工资定在了950元。

在西北民族学院,

他办火了一个英语角,

主动帮忙联系外国人,

帮大家提供更多交流机会。

大卫风趣、幽默,真诚、友善,

很快就受到全校师生的欢迎。

然而一边在学院里教书,

大卫还在继续考察别的地区,

想知道有没有更艰苦的地方。

最后,他找到了东乡自治县,

一个地处山区、十年九旱的地方,

百姓的生存环境十分恶劣,

在全国56个民族中,

东乡族的教育普及程度最低,

文盲率高居榜首,

九年义务教育人口比率倒数第一。

大卫当即决定,去东乡!

刚到东乡时,

当地人对他并不亲近。

东乡的闭塞也让大卫很苦恼,

这个有着50万人口的自治县,

封闭到大家根本不会说普通话,

外面的人也听不懂他们的方言。

这无疑将给工作带来巨大阻力,

但大卫还是选择了留下来。

在成为教育局聘请的教育顾问后,

相关手续一办又是一年多时间,

承诺的500元工资发不出来,

大卫只能靠自己的积蓄生活。

他不抽烟、不喝酒,

生活极其简朴,

一件衣服可以穿七八年,

鞋子破了也不放在心上。

面对经济压力和艰苦的环境,

大卫始终坚持自己的内心。

最让他感到欣慰的,

是当地人开始亲近自己。

为了维持生计,他不得不,

在西北民院和东乡间两头跑,

靠着零散的代课工资省吃俭用。

在这两年忙碌的时间里,

大卫通过自己的努力,

翻新了东乡的7所小学,

让200多名学生入校接受教育,

尤其是当地从不读书的女童,

第一次走进学堂,拿到课本。

多少孩子的生活因此改变,

知道了什么叫做篮球,

也拿到了崭新的学习用品。

尤其是对这个高个子外教,

充满了喜爱和尊敬。

8年的时间里,

大卫为东乡自治县,

筹款修建了11所小学,

请到了许多优秀的老师。

身为教育顾问,他的主要工作,

就是每星期走几十里的山路,

到每所学校查看学生入读情况,

看学生们还需要什么,

学校的教育设施还有什么欠缺。

遇到有的孩子没有来上课,

大卫会想方设法联系老师,

或亲自去说服家长,让孩子念书。

每到一所学校,他问得最多的就是: “学校还有什么需要我关注的?”

“学生还有什么需要我做的?”

“老师还有什么我能帮忙的?”

东乡的尹家小学,

因为种种原因一度废弃。

是大卫四处奔走筹集资金,

最后终于让学校重新开课。

他带着老师们挨家挨户,

把当初的孩子们找了回来,

之后的入读学生增加了一倍。

篮球架、水井、兵乓球台,

所有设施都是大卫的功劳。

学校里的老师都说:

“真的非常感谢他,

虽然这是一所简陋的小学,

但这里的孩子一生的命运,

可能就是从这里得到改变。

孩子以后可以读初中、高中,

如果没有这所小学,

一切都无从谈起。”

除了修建学校,

他还带着当地的老师们,

去北京、珠海学习优秀经验。

生活在封闭东乡里的老师,

别说什么天安门、大海,

甚至连绿皮火车都没见过。

当他们站在天安门、鸟巢前,

那种激动的心情难以言喻。

大卫希望他们丰富自己的视野,

然后把这份宝贵的经验,

告诉学校里的孩子们,

只有这样,孩子们才能努力,

将来某一天走出东乡。

大卫不喜欢被打扰,

但为了筹集教育资金,

他接受让媒体曝光自己。

他建立了一个专门的账户,

收款人的名字叫“丁捐助”。

从一开始四处寻求资助,

到后来很多人主动捐助,

8年时间,他筹集百万元,

每一分都花在了东乡教育上。

然而很多国人却质疑他: “那么多钱,谁知道怎么花的。”

“他一个美国人,条件那么好,

来这么艰苦的环境到底想干什么?”

面对质疑,大卫一笑了之:

“确实有点难以理解,对吧?

但我的想法其实很简单,

就是应该让更多的教育资源,

用到更需要教育的地方。”

十多年来,

收到的每一笔钱,

大卫全都记录在册,

从哪儿来的,花在哪儿,

一分一厘都清清楚楚。

曾有个小学生捐了1块钱,

他实在不知道该怎么处理,

就买了2毛钱信封、8毛钱邮票,

写了一封感谢信给那个孩子。

连这一点,账本也记得很清楚。

每一次带老师出去学习,

大卫都尽量合理安排每一笔费用。

为了让更多的老师走出东乡,

极力将每个名额的费用压到最低,

以至于不得不转好几次车。

2000-2008年,账簿记了6本,

每一本还抄写了备份。

一直忙于工作,

大卫30多岁才遇到真爱。

女孩Stacy同样是一位美国人。

一次偶然机会,大卫到青海学习,

遇到在青海民族学院执教的Stacy。

大卫对Stacy一见钟情,

三番两次找机会接近对方。

2005年,两人回到美国结婚,

随后,Stacy跟随大卫一起回东乡,

一起为东乡的教育奔忙。

Stacy和大卫志趣相投,生活朴素,

两人住的是没有电器的小屋子,

穿着打扮都和东乡老百姓一样,

结婚时只买了一颗手工戒指,

两人工资加起来才1200元。

每个星期,Stacy就跟着大卫,

奔走于东乡各学校间。

对于大卫的选择,

他的父母都表示理解。

大卫一家人都从事教育,

但只有他选择了到乡村。

“我不是什么活雷锋,

我就是一个普通老师,

这是我应该来的地方,

应该让这里的孩子有书读。”

2003年的国庆节期间,

大卫的父亲曾到东乡看他,

结果大卫拉着66岁的父亲,

和另外两个70多岁的老汉,

搬了整整三天的砖,

为一所学校修建了围墙。

临走的时候,大卫的父亲,

留下了身上的钱。

对于中国的教育,

大卫一直在寻求平衡点。

“美国的教育是不一样的,

我们不会让孩子去背东西,

更注重的是理解层面的,

比如学习了一篇课文的道理,

用自己的方式把道理写出来,

或者让他用道理分析一个问题。

我们更看重培养个人素质,

培养他们如何对社会负责。

教书、育人,这是两个方面,

中国可能更注重考试、分数。

这两个方面都很重要,

一个是对社会,一个是对个人。

一个人懂事、懂道理,为社会做事,

重视一个人对社会的理解,

这是我们放在第一的。”

这么多年来,

在小卧室的墙上,

大卫一直挂着一面中国红旗。

他之所以要挂这面红旗,

是想提醒自己:“这是在中国,

不是在美国,我是在东乡,

他们想如何发展教育,

如何规划自己的未来,

我应该最大程度上支持他们。”

很多老师私下里问大卫,

“你想得到的回报是什么?”

大卫说:“我个人不需要回报,

只希望孩子们接受应有的教育,

做这样的事,我本身就快乐。”

面对外界的赞誉和褒扬,

长期以来不辞劳苦的大卫说: “我不是什么专家、学者,

只是一个普普通通的老师,

课不是我讲的,房子不是我修的,

我什么也没做,只是个桥梁,

伟大的是那些留守的老师,

是那些对东乡并不了解,

就愿意捐款的人。”

大卫的心灵是如此纯净,

他并不计较个人的得失,

一心为中国教育奔走。

自己过着无比清贫的生活,

为孩子们修起一座座校舍。

这样一个高尚、纯粹的灵魂,

值得每一个人学习和尊敬。

看到大卫,我们也该反思:

当大家对金钱趋之若鹜时,

对物质的欲望永不满足时,

我们的心灵究竟需要什么,

人生的价值又如何安放?

它是在追名逐利中成泡影,

还是留下璀璨的闪光?

《实话实说》的访谈中,

崔永元采访完大卫之后说:

“我们今天谈丁大卫,

很多人是觉得他很特别,

其实他的朴素,对事业的执着,

都应该是每个人身上的本性,

或者说是基本的品格。

我希望再过一段时间,

我们重新谈起丁大卫的时候,

就像谈身边每个普通人。

那时候我们会更高兴。”

那期节目,是2000年5月,

时光荏苒,岁月穿梭,

如今非凡君再谈丁大卫,

我们还觉得他特别吗?

17年前,崔永元真心希望,

每个人都能拥有那样的品质,

17年后的今天,实利成癖的时代,

这样的人,仿佛还是个异类。

到底还要走多长的路,

“丁大卫”才能变成普通人?

Translated by Cameron Carlson

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