The Prettiest Student Village Officer

Puban Village, Gangkou Town

When villagers in Puban are asked about Zhangli, they invariably refer to her as the “Prettiest Student Villager Officer (最美丽的村官)”. Zhangli was a fresh graduate and young mother of a little girl when she decided to apply to work in a rural village as a Student Village Officer (大学生村官). Driven by her passion for helping others, she applied to and passed the Chongqing Municipal Committee’s selection exams with flying colours, and was subsequently assigned to Puban village in Gangkou town, Wulong county. As a Student Village Officer, she would take up residence at Puban village, supporting and implementing the Chinese government’s poverty alleviation policies at the grassroots level, and work to improve the well-being of the villagers.

Shortly after she arrived at Puban village in 2010, she was approached by a villager who was in dire straits from the death of more than 200 mountain goats that his entire household had depended upon for their livelihood. Together with some of the village leaders, they investigated the case and found that the goats had died due to the spread of disease in the dirty pens, which could not be cleaned regularly due to the lack of clean water. Subsequent visits, interviews and chats with other households in the village also unearthed similar issues. The root cause of their struggles with improving their means of livelihood was invariably linked to the lack of clean water.

Student Village Officer (SVO) Zhang Li

Zhang Li with some of the “left-behind” children in Puban village

Thus when Zhangli found out about Lien AID’s Village Water Management programme, she submitted a project proposal for Puban village. However, as a certain amount of co-funding from local governments and villagers was required, Zhangli initially faced a shortfall of funds for the project. She refused to give up however, as she knew that a piped water system would enable the villagers to have a better quality of life. Whenever Zhangli talked to the “left-behind” children in the village, she would be reminded of her daughter, whom she had left behind to take up the post at Puban village. She was determined to make the project a success so that they would have a better life with clean tap water.

Zhangli, the village head and Lien AID at a site visit to the completed project

Zhangli, the village head and Lien AID at a site visit to the completed project

With the support of Lien AID, the local governments, and the villagers, she worked tirelessly to raise the necessary funds and made sure the project stayed on tract, and was able to successfully coordinate and supervise the construction of the rural piped water system in Puban village. Although she often had no time during the weekends to visit her daughter and husband, who were living in another town, she found satisfaction in the fact that the villagers and the children no longer had to fetch water or depend on unreliable water sources.

“While implementing the clean water project, I gained not just technical knowledge in rural water facility construction but also learned how to resolve issues and manage stakeholders. The learning curve was steep but it was a great experience which allowed me to grow from a young graduate into a mature grassroots worker.”

In 2013, after the completion of the project, she was feted as one of the inspiring figures of Wulong county in the television programme “Ten Figures Inspiring Wulong” (感动武隆十大人物). Even though she is no longer working as a Student Village Officer at Puban village, she continues to serve the rural communities through her capacity as the chairwoman of the Women’s Federation of Gangkou town in Wulong county. And the villagers still remember her as the “Prettiest Student Villager Officer (最美丽的村官)”.

You can learn more about our work in China here

Field Notes for April and May, 2015.


In April, as part of the final stage of the pre-project development process, Lien AID held a series of meetings with the respective local commune councils and village leaders from each of the identified communes. These communes were selected from our previous needs assessment and situational analysis process and we wanted their reaffirmation of commitment to the projects. We took the opportunity to explain in further detail the ownership and management approach of our Community Water Enterprise programme in Cambodia and respond to their questions and concerns.

Subsequently, the agreements for 11 new projects that will be delivered under our Community Water Enterprise programme in Cambodia (2015), was officially signed in May. Among these, 2 each are in the Banteay Meanchey, Kampong Chhnang and Pursat provinces, with the remaining 5 communes (projects) in Takeo province.

CWE project kick off in Takeo province2

CWE project kick off in Takeo province, Cambodia.


Among the 35 water project proposals received for the 7th intake of our Student Village Officer training workshop conducted in March, we went on to assess on-site situations for 12 of those in April, with another 17 completed in May. Together with the Student Village Officers and village officials for each of the respective projects, we assessed village conditions and water situations through observations and interviews with the villagers.

Over a span of 10 days in April, we covered 7 villages in the counties of Malipo, Shidian and Lianghe in Yunnan Province as well as 5 villages in Chishui county, Guizhou. Our local partners and stakeholders – Guizhou-Chishui Council for the Promotion of Construction in the Old Revolutionary Areas; Yunnan-Malipo Foreign Aid Office; Yunnan-Shidian Poverty Relief Office; Yunnan-Lianghe County Government were also involved, facilitating meetings and discussions.

In May, we had a much tougher schedule, travelling to the counties of Wushan and Wuxi of Chongqing Municipality, the counties of Meitan and Luoyang in Guizhou, Sangzhi county of Hunan, and surveying 17 villages in 22 days. Our local partners involved in these projects are the Chongqing Poverty Relief Office; Guizhou-Zunyi Council for the Promotion of Construction in the Old Revolutionary Areas; Hunan-Sangzhi Poverty Relief Office.

Such on-site assessments are critical to our programmes as they enable us to better evaluate the suitability of the proposals through a first-hand understanding of the situation and sentiments on ground, while acting as a data validation exercise as well.

Project inpection in Jiexi village, China.

Project inpection in Jiexi village, China.

Needs assessment in Tieguang Village, China.

Needs assessment in Tieguang Village, China.


Our Digital Strategist Jeremiah Rogers gave a lunchtime presentation about marketing for A River’s Tail at the United Nations in Bangkok. You can read his writeup here and also find a link to the full presentation.


Opinion : Finding right local champions key to maximum impact

Currently, there are still poverty-stricken communities in China that are in dire need of resources, many of whom live in mountainous and isolated communities.

Each year, we receive numerous genuine appeals for help from local communities which we put through a stringent process when identifying poor rural communities in need of water and sanitation improvements in China.

We realize that an important step lies in finding the right local champions to ensure these projects achieve maximum impact for our beneficiaries. We do this through our Village Water Management (VWM) programme, where we work directly with residents of the villages itself to help oversee the progress of these projects.

The rigorous selection process for Student Village Officers (大学生村官) for our projects involves an independent panel including water and sanitation experts from China and Singapore, which also evaluates the feasibility of water and sanitation proposals. As part of a needs assessment process, our staff visit shortlisted project sites and speak directly with benefiting communities to establish their needs and ensure project sustainability.

Through our work on the ground with our chosen NGO partner, China Association for Poverty Alleviation and Development (CAPAD), and direct interaction with the Student Village Officers and beneficiaries, we are able to see first hand, how all our resources are allocated, and how it creates value for our stakeholders.


To date, our VWM programme has been well supported by CAPAD and Chinese authorities. We look forward to working with them again this month, when we conduct a training session for more than 20 selected Student Village Officers in Guizhou Province.

To find out more, take a look at our Village Water Management Programme.

Meet China’s Water Gladiators

We’ve always made it a point to listen to the local community. We pay attention to their personal stories of hardship, like their experiences of going on long backbreaking treks to collect a single bucket of water from the nearest water source. We then include the local community’s voices to inform our decisions from the design to the completion of an initiative, to ensure that their water and sanitation concerns are addressed in the most effective and sustainable manner.

This November, friends of Lien AID were given the opportunity to meet and listen to four Student Village Officers (SVOs) who had traveled from their rural provinces of Chongqing, Gansu and Guizhou to Singapore to better understand water policies, governance and management to apply in their projects to achieve sustainable impact. SVOs are young graduates deployed by the Chinese government for a period of up to 3 years in rural villages in order to improve administration in these communities. We empower and groom selected SVOs to effective implement water projects at their respective villages. These SVOs champion these projects, and working together with the local communities, ensure the sustainability of the infrastructure.


Enabling local champions to tackle water woes at poor rural villages in China

“Most of the villagers have been manually transporting water for their entire lives. Some of them walk up to 5 kilometers per trip to collect water. To them, to be able to obtain water by just turning on the tap is a miracle. With access to a regular and permanent water source, the lives of these villagers will turn for the better.” -Student Village Officer, Chongqing Municipality

Lien AID continues with a revolutionary collaboration with the China Association of Poverty Alleviation and Development (CAPAD) in combating water woes in rural China. This is an ambitious program that is pioneering a holistic and comprehensive approach to identify and empower local champions in implementing appropriate water intervention projects in poor rural villages.

As part of a three-days training, Lien AID, CAPAD and the Chongqing Poverty Alleviation and Development co-organized a seminar for close to 50 Student Village Officers (SVOs) / 大学生村官 selected from the southwestern region of Chongqing, Guizhou, Yunnan and Hubei provinces. The training sessions were tailored to train the SVOs in project management, as well as create a platform for exposure of water issues for the SVOs; after which a ‘call for proposals’ will determine projects to be seeded for implementation subsequently.

Attendees included representatives from Lien AID; CAPAD; Chongqing Poverty Alleviation and Development; Nanyang Environment and Water Research Institute (NEWRI), Nanyang Technological University; experts from the China Center Control for Disease and Prevention; as well as the SVOs.

“Educating the SVOs is a vital step in ensuring proper implementation and follow-through of projects. Passion alone will not solve the problem; knowledge plays a huge role in contributing to a sustainable project with long-term benefits for the communities. We are hopeful that with commitment and support from the SVOs, local governments and communities, combined with proper know-how, we will witness a phenomenal change amongst the rural communities in time to come.” -Huang Zhu Shao, Vice Director (CAPAD)

This multi-year program aims to reach out to 100 poverty-stricken villages from 2012 to 2016, benefiting an estimated 100,000 beneficiaries (poor villagers); and will enhance the water and sanitation knowledge of 100 SVOs.

Projects selection will focus on Provinces with a large number of poverty-stricken villages such as Gansu, Ningxia, Inner Mongolia, Chongqing, Guizhou, Yunnan, Shannxi, Shanxi and Sichuan.

Thirteen projects have been completed in Inner Mongolia, Gansu, Ningxia, Chongqing and Guizhou, with 9 others slated to be completed by end 2013. The program aims to select and implement up to 25 water projects at poverty-stricken villages annually, over the subsequent years.

To find out more about our work in China, take a look at Where We Work – China.

Four rural villages in Chongqing Province have new lease of life

In the dead of winter or the height of summer, people from the rural villages of Chongqing Province walk long distances, traverse risky terrain and brave the natural elements everyday to collect and carry home fresh water on their backs. During the annual drought season, these difficulties are made worse with the number of fresh water sources dwindling and consequent distances necessary to travel increasing.

For these villagers, collecting water was a dangerous yet necessary task. Zhang Qiong, a 35-year-old housewife from Shi An Village knows this all too well. When Ms. Zhang was 12, her father died when collecting water for the family. “My father was carrying the buckets when he fell in and drowned. He may have slipped or fainted because of the summer heat.”

Through a collaboration between Lien AID and the China Association of Poverty Alleviation and Development (CAPAD), communities living in four rural villages including Shi An now benefit from an improved access to safe water. A total of eight water storage tanks were built, with one village also equipped with a filtration tank and five decompression tanks for further water treatment. Water distribution systems were also erected, with all homes now able to receive piped water. Good hygiene practices were also shared with these communities.

Strong community involvement and commitment is fundamental in ensuring the sustainability of the water project. For Shi An Village, 27-year-old Zhong Enkui played a key role in bringing improved access to safe water for the community. He is a college graduate who is working as a Student Village Officer (“SVO”) at Shi An focusing on improving the livelihood of these villagers. He attended the SVO training programme run by CAPAD, which focuses on how to alleviate poverty through activities linked to economic development.

As part of the training programme, Lien AID provided lessons on water and sanitation project management to the SVOs. It then gets trainees to suggest projects. Suitable ones are carried out, with Lien AID providing part of the funding. “I knew the problems in Shi An village, but I did not know of the possible solutions. The training sessions gave me new ideas.” Additionally, the Chinese authorities and villagers also provided some funds needed for the project.

With the completion of the projects at these four villages, an estimated 4,582 villagers are now able to access clean water from their homes and Lien AID continues to train SVOs and initiate new projects at poverty-stricken villages in China.

“Water is essential to life. Without clean drinking water, one can’t survive, let alone work,” said Ms. Zhang. “So if you don’t even have water, what’s there to talk about for economic progress and development?”

To find out more about our programme in China, take a look at our Village Water Management Programme.

Eight local champions selected in efforts to pipe clean water into homes in rural China

In rural China, hours spent trekking to the nearest water source only yields villagers as much water as he can carry home. During the annual drought, this worsens as villagers are forced to ration whatever little water they manage to collect from increasingly parched water sources.

In its second instalment, a revolutionary collaboration between Lien AID and the China Association of Poverty Alleviation and Development (CAPAD) continues to combat water woes in rural China, selecting an additional 8 Student Village Officers (SVOs) /大学生村官 to implement appropriate water projects in their poverty-stricken villages. The program ensures the sustainability of these projects through its holistic approach of identifying, equipping and empowering local champions with knowledge and skills to tackle the water and sanitation crisis in rural China.

The 8 Student Village Officers (SVOs)/ 大学生村官 will receive training and guidance, empowering them to carry out water projects that aim to store and pipe clean water into homes in their villages across the Chongqing and Guizhou Provinces.

A sustained water supply will boost agricultural and poultry-rearing activities, potentially increasing incomes of beneficiaries in these villages. Water storage facilities also ensure that these communities are well-equipped to ride out the annual drought when it hits. Health and hygiene training to raise awareness of the importance of drinking clean water, water conservation, protection of water sources and the environment will also be carried out, in an effort to catalyze behavioural change.

The projects are currently underway, and are scheduled to complete by end July 2013. The improved access to clean water will benefit an estimated 9, 164 villagers.

CAPAD is an NGO registered with the Ministry of Civil Affairs, and is endorsed by the State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development. One of its key programs is “Supporting the development of SVOs at poverty stricken villages or “支持贫困村大学生村官成长工程“. The program started in 2010/11, and conducts training on poverty alleviation for SVOs who have been assigned to work in poverty stricken villages across China.

Lien AID and the China Association of Poverty Alleviation and Development in Collaboration to Empower Local Champions in Improving Water Conditions at Poor Rural Villages

‘With water, I see hope for my village. The township and county governments are very supportive of plans for the village to embark in greenhouse farming and cultivation of herbs for sales.’Student Village Officer from Gansu Province.

Lien AID continues with a revolutionary collaboration with the China Association of Poverty Alleviation and Development (CAPAD) in combating water woes in rural China. This is an ambitious programme that is pioneering a holistic and comprehensive approach to identify and empower local champions in implementing appropriate water intervention projects in poor rural villages.

On 28 November 2012, as part of a two week training, organized by CAPAD for over 500 selected Student Village Officers (SVOs)/ 大学生村官 from 14 provinces, Lien AID held a water forum aimed at creating exposure of water issues for the SVOs, wherein projects will be seeded for implementation.

Attendees included representatives from Lien AID; CAPAD; Nanyang Environment and Water Research Institute, Nanyang Technological University; experts from the China Center Control for Disease and Prevention; experts in the water and sanitation fields; as well as the SVOs.

CAPAD is a premier government-linked NGO which aims to educate and facilitate SVOs based in poverty stricken villages to conduct effective poverty alleviation activities.  Every year, more than 1,000 SVOs across China are selected by the respective provincial poverty alleviation departments to attend the prestigious training sessions.

To find out more about our work in China, take a look at Where We Work – China.