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Going to school an uphill battle

BEIJING • Every two weeks, 15 children use a rickety chain of wooden ladders - made from vine and tree branches - to scale an 800m cliff to get home from boarding school.

The children, aged six to 15, belong to 72 families in Atuler village in Zhaojue county, in the Liangshan Yi autonomous prefecture in Sichuan province.

Since the Beijing News daily published the report earlier this week, photos of the children making the perilous journey have caught the nation's attention, prompting the local government to despatch a 50-member team to the village. Officials have promised to replace the ladders with a makeshift steel ladder as soon as possible.

Mr Chen Jigu, one of the villagers, said the ladders are as old as the centuries-old village.

Most of the families live in houses made of mud, thatch and wood. The villagers said their ancestors chose to live on the top of the cliff to keep away from war and tribal conflicts.

Once a week, the villagers use the ladders and go to the nearest market, located several kilometres away, to buy necessities and sell agricultural products, mainly pepper and walnut.

They do not venture out during bad weather.

It takes about two hours for the children, led by an adult, to climb up the cliff, and 11/2 hours to get down.

A villager who is too sick to climb down the mountain on his own is strapped onto the back of another person, and then taken down the cliff with the help of two other people.

Geologist Yang Yong said the only permanent solution would be to relocate the entire village, but that means villagers would lose their own land and source of income, the Beijing News reported.

There are also suggestions to turn the area into a tourist attraction.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 28, 2016, with the headline 'Going to school an uphill battle'. Print Edition | Subscribe