Teacher helps students shed mountainside poverty

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BEIJING, June 28 (Xinhua) — Although teacher Qiao Yongfeng is barely able to support his family with his slender income, the students who he has helped to seek higher education and escape poverty have sustained him.

The 42-year-old Qiao is a community-sponsored teacher in Kanzhipo village, located in Zhang county in northwest China’s Gansu province. Qiao began his efforts to relieve poverty through education about 16 years ago, a time when the local population was struggling to get by on average annual incomes of just 1,000 yuan (158.7 U.S. dollars) per capita.

Qiao and his colleague Hou Xinmin established literacy seminars in the village in 1995, hoping to help their fellow villagers learn to read and improve their livelihoods. Qiao noticed that children would often assemble in great number to watch the seminars through windows, prompting him to establish a school for the children.

One year later, an elementary school was opened in the village. It was perhaps one of the shabbiest schools in the world — a borrowed adobe house, with crude desks made out of wood and mud. White stones found on a nearby mountain were used in lieu of chalk, while a broken cowbell was used as the school’s bell.

Qiao and Hou decided that something ought to be done about the state of the school, electing to prepare construction materials themselves to renovate the premises. They used wood that was originally supposed to be used to build their own houses for the school, as well as asked the county government to donate some tile.

After many days and nights of hard work, a five-room, earth-and-wood schoolhouse was completed. The school is now one of the best in the county, with a 100 percent local enrollment rate.

More than 400 students have graduated from the school over the last 16 years, including six students who went on to enroll in universities outside of the povertized region.

Qiao’s status as a community-sponsored teacher means that his livelihood is not guaranteed by public funds, as are the livelihoods of state-sponsored teachers. Community-sponsored teachers like Qiao are usually found in middle and elementary schools in rural areas, where teaching equipment and facilities are often poor or non-existent.

However, government policies designed to strengthen education in rural areas have resulted in more donations, volunteers and equipment being sent to Qiao’s school, as well as other rural schools.

Qiao’s measly monthly salary of 40 U.S. dollars is often not enough to meet the needs of his family, which includes two children and an ill grandfather. However, Qiao believes that his sacrifice is worth it.

“I have no regrets about becoming a community-sponsored teacher. The identity is not important to me. I do it all for the children,” Qiao said.


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