There's no bus, so these kids climb down a 2,600-foot ladder to school.

The small Chinese village of Atule'er sits upon a mountaintop a half-mile high.

It takes eight hours by car to reach the 200-year-old town from the provincial capital of Sichuan.

Of course, there aren't any actual paved roads in that remote rural area. But the 400 people who live there still try to make the most of the fertile soil, the scenic views among the clouds, and the half-mile climb down a sheer cliff mountainside that the school-age villagers must traverse to get to school.


All photos from Chinatopix via The Associated Press.

The perilous trek to the local Le’er Primary School, which serves the entire Zhaojue County, is the stuff of video game nightmares.

It puts every cliched older-relative anecdote about walking uphill both ways in the rain to shame. And it's the frightening reality of life in an isolated region with a literacy rate of 60%.

To aid in their descent, the children must rely on a haphazard system of 17 wicker ladders and, more recently, an adult chaperone-cum-belayer who secures them all with a rope harness around their waists. At least eight people have fallen to their deaths there, although they haven't seen that kind of tragedy since 2009.

Taking a break.

Children need their exercise, of course. But this is something else entirely.

Unfortunately, the costs of adding in the necessary infrastructure to these kinds of villages is far more than most governments are willing to spend. For example, a proper road into Atule'er would cost an estimated $8 million dollars, or $20,000 per person who lives there. So the government decided it was easier to just give $150,000 worth of sheep and let them fend for themselves.

If there's any silver lining in this hazardous trip, it's that the children remain at their boarding school for two weeks at a time before returning home for a five-day weekend — so at least they're not embarking on a twice-daily risk. That counts for something, right?

Atule'er is hardly the only place in China, or the world, where children face this kind of treacherous journey.

But their story was enough to catch some viral attention in spring 2016 that helped turn their circumstances around.

CNN, The Guardian, and many other publications reported on the kids' treacherous school journey in 2016, and this brief spike in awareness put some public pressure on the Chinese government. Eventually, official representatives were sent to the village to look into solutions.

In May 2016, they announced a plan to install a new steel ladder-staircase with railings down the side of the mountain. And in August of that same year, they actually delivered, with completion of the $150,000 project scheduled for completion in November.

Under construction.

This solution is far from perfect, but it's much better than what the people of Atule'er were forced to endure.

Most importantly, it means that they won't have to risk their lives for education anymore either.

The effects of poverty on remote rural regions is a serious problem across the globe. All too often, people in places like Atule'er are left to fend for themselves, which just perpetuates the cycle. Education is the easiest path to new opportunities, which can lead entire communities toward progress and prosperity.

Is that worth risking your life for? Absolutely. But no one should be forced to make that kind of choice.

Photo: Canva

We're nearly a year into the pandemic, and what a year it has been. We've gone through the struggles of shutdowns, the trauma of mass death, the seemingly fleeting "We're all in this together" phase, the mind-boggling denial and deluge of misinformation, the constantly frustrating uncertainty, and the ongoing question of when we're going to get to resume some sense of normalcy.

It's been a lot. It's been emotionally and mentally exhausting. And at this point, many of us have hit a wall of pandemic fatigue that's hard to describe. We're just done with all of it, but we know we still have to keep going.

Poet Donna Ashworth has put this "done" feeling into words that are resonating with so many of us. While it seems like we should want to talk to people we love more than ever right now, we've sort of lost the will to socialize pandemically. We're tired of Zoom calls. Getting together masked and socially distanced is doable—we've been doing it—but it sucks. In the wintry north (and recently south) the weather is too crappy to get together outside. So many of us have just gone quiet.

If that sounds like you, you're not alone. As Ashworth wrote:

Keep Reading Show less
Courtesy of Creative Commons
True

After years of service as a military nurse in the naval Marine Corps, Los Angeles, California-resident Rhonda Jackson became one of the 37,000 retired veterans in the U.S. who are currently experiencing homelessness — roughly eight percent of the entire homeless population.

"I was living in a one-bedroom apartment with no heat for two years," Jackson said. "The Department of Veterans Affairs was doing everything they could to help but I was not in a good situation."

One day in 2019, Jackson felt a sudden sense of hope for a better living arrangement when she caught wind of the ongoing construction of Veteran's Village in Carson, California — a 51-unit affordable housing development with one, two and three-bedroom apartments and supportive services to residents through a partnership with U.S.VETS.

Her feelings of hope quickly blossomed into a vision for her future when she learned that Veteran's Village was taking applications for residents to move in later that year after construction was complete.

"I was entered into a lottery and I just said to myself, 'Okay, this is going to work out,'" Jackson said. "The next thing I knew, I had won the lottery — in more ways than one."

Keep Reading Show less

I saw this poster today and I was going to just let it go, but then I kept feeling tugged to say something.

Melanie Cholish/Facebook

While this poster is great to bring attention to the issue of child trafficking, it is a "shocking" picture of a young girl tied up. It has that dark gritty feeling. I picture her in a basement tied to a dripping pipe.

While that sounds awful, it's important to know that trafficking children in the US is not all of that. I can't say it never is—I don't know. What I do know is most young trafficked children aren't sitting in a basement tied up. They have families, and someone—usually in their family—is trafficking them.

Keep Reading Show less
via Walt Disney Television / Flickr and jilhervas / Flickr

There comes a moment in everyone's social media life when they get stressed because they've been followed by an authority figure. When your boss, mother, or priest starts following you, social media immediately becomes a lot less fun.

When that happens, it's time to stop posting photos of yourself partying it up with an adult beverage. You gotta hold back on some of your saltier takes, and you have to start minding your language. Also, you have to be very careful about the posts you're tagged in.

Model, TV personality, and author Chrissy Teigen has been suffering through a mega-dose of this form of social media stress since January 20 when President Joe Biden followed her on Twitter. His follow came after Teigen made the request.

Keep Reading Show less