How do you get to school? Do you roll out of bed and meet your mom and siblings in the living room? Do you ride in a car? Maybe you take a bus? Or walk uphill, barefoot, in the snow both ways?
Some children in a Chinese mountain village have it worse than that. They must descend a sheer cliff—by bamboo ladder. How far? A dizzying 2,625 feet. That’s about a half mile, straight down.
Pictures of the children climbing the ladder in Sichuan province brought attention to the great risk the children take. The ladder is the only access to the village of Atuler. There are 72 families living in the village. The 15 children between the ages of six and 15 climb down from their mountaintop to attend a boarding school below. Every two weeks, they return home—back up the ladder.
Their village is in the poor western section of China. The villagers subsist mainly by farming potatoes, walnuts, and chili peppers. They too use the ladder. They climb down to sell their produce. Customers know the farmers cannot easily climb back up the mountain with unsold goods, so they haggle over pricing. The small-scale growers rarely get fair payment for their produce.
The poverty in some parts of the western region stands in sharp contrast to the wealth in other areas of China. In the east, businesses and industries contribute to a prosperous, modern society. It’s almost as if China is divided into two separate worlds.
The Liangshan government oversees the county where the child-climbers live. It responded to the images of the children working their way along the cliffside, single file, with book bags strapped on. A group of about 50 officials visited the site. A representative says a set of steel stairs will be forthcoming. The stairs will be safer for getting up and down the mountain while the government considers even better, long-term solutions.