Teachers Spread Love, Hope in Mountains

Author:Ji Zhe July 3, 2020
Fu Jia (R) has dinner with her students.

 

Waergang Primary School, in Niuchehe, a town in Taoyuan County, in Central China's Hunan Province, is the remotest, mountainous primary school in the county. All seven of the school's teachers are women. They are dedicated to spreading love, hope and knowledge among the students. The locals call the teachers "seven flowers blooming in mountains."

Fu Jia (R) teaches students how to play basketball.

 

'They Are So Nice to Us'

"I wish our teachers could keep teaching us until we graduate from university. They are so nice to us," one of the primary school's students told a CCTV (China Central Television) reporter during an interview in late December.

The children looked happy and joyful. However, a few years ago, the students were shy, and they didn't like communicating with other people. They owe their change to the seven dedicated teachers.

Of those teachers, the oldest is 52, and the youngest is 20. Four of the teachers were born after 1995. Three of the teachers began working at the school in the past four years.

Students in the fourth grade or higher are boarding students. The students regard the teachers as their mothers, and the students' parents are grateful the teachers are educating and caring for their children.

The lyrics of the theme song of a well-known Chinese cartoon, Calabash Brothers, state, "Seven flowers are on the same vine, and they never fear the wind and rain."

The teachers are just like the seven fearless flowers; they are committed to educating and taking care of the students, and they cook, collect and chop firewood, plant vegetables and wash the students' clothes.

On the mountains behind the school, there are always trees that have fallen to the ground, due to windy or snowy weather. These trees are the cheapest fuel for the school.

"All of us can use the electric saw skillfully. Our dining hall needs a lot of firewood. When the cook is busy and does not have time to collect firewood, we will help him collect and chop firewood," said 25-year-old Fu Jia, principal and one of the seven teachers.

Deng Yushuang, a native of Zhangjiajie, in Hunan Province, has learned, from Fu, how to bundle, carry firewood down the mountain. "When I was little, I often helped my grandparents with farm work. Now, I help collect firewood and water vegetables. I think I have regained some of my former life skills," Deng said.

Wang Chunmeng, born in 2000, is a native of Niuchehe Town. She is the Chinese-language teacher for Grade 2 students, and the mathematics teacher for Grade 4 students. She often organizes outdoor activities for the children, so the students can embrace nature and do physical exercises.

"One day, my students read an article about kites during my class. So, we flew a kite together on the playground after class. That helped them have a deeper understating of the article," Wang said. In the eyes of the students and teachers, Wang is the liveliest teacher at the school.

Lei Xue is a native of Bijie, in Southwest China's Guizhou Province. She moved to Taoyuan County several years ago, because her husband was a native of the county. Working at the school means she and her husband have to live separately.

She was six months pregnant last December. "My students will be Grade 5 students after I finish my maternity leave and return to the school. I want to continue to teach them," she said.

Fu Jia plays the guitar.

 

'Children Need Me'

In August 2016, after Fu learned that Waergang, her alma mater, was recruiting teachers, she quit her well-paying job in Changsha, capital of Hunan Province, and returned to her hometown to become a teacher. Given her excellent work, she was promoted to principal in 2018.

Under Taoyuan Education Bureau's regulations, Fu could have applied to work in another school, with better conditions, after she completed her three-year contract at Waergang. However, Fu chose to stay. "Children need me," she said.

Niuchehe is a town located on the eastern edge of the Wuling mountains, and at the junction of three cities — Changde, Huaihua and Zhangjiajie. Transportation is inconvenient, and as such hinders the development of the local economy.

The school has 46 students, who come from four villages. About 90 percent of the students' parents have left their hometowns to work in other cities; as a result, the students live with their grandparents or other relatives. In addition to the students' physical health and academic performances, Fu pays attention to their psychological health.

She established a WeChat (popular social media app) account for the school, and she has since posted video clips of students doing sports activities. The account has been well-received by the kids' parents.  

Fu teaches Chinese (language), English, arts, music and physical education. To help her instruct the students, Fu learned to play the guitar — by herself.

Fu's classes are always vivid. "Only when students regard learning as a happy thing, will they take the initiative to learn. If students feel happy and relaxed during class, they will surely enjoy learning," she said.

During the past four years, Fu has become more competent as a teacher, and as a principal. In 2018, she received the title of "excellent teacher" from Taoyuan Education Bureau. In May 2019, she was honored as one of the top-10 young people by Taoyuan Committee of Communist Youth League of China.  

Fu and her colleagues' incomes and living conditions have been improved, in accordance with relevant policies. In the meantime, the school's conditions have also been greatly enhanced. The school has solar streetlights, new desks and chairs, multimedia educational equipment and a surveillance-camera system.

The school has received more attention from society thanks to media reports about it, and about the teachers. The school has received donations from caring people and organizations. For example, the school has received dozens of basketballs, footballs, hula hoops and other sports equipment.

"We have more first graders than before. The school's conditions and hardware facilities are getting better and better, and that is winning the trust of parents," Fu said.

A teacher uses an electric saw to cut a fallen tree.

 

On December 26, 2019, Qianjiang-Changde Railway opened. Now, it only takes 20 minutes to travel from Niuchehe to Taoyuan County. Previously, it would take about two hours. Fu hopes the children will take advantage of the railway and travel from the mountains to see the outside world.

When Fu was a student, she studied hard and held onto the hope of using her knowledge to walk out of the mountains and change her fate. Now, as a grown up, she chooses to live in the mountains and give back to her hometown. She hopes to give children the opportunity to go out and embrace the outside world.

"In my opinion, the biggest significance of poverty alleviation through education is to narrow the rural-urban education gap, so rural students can get better education," Fu said.

Students attend class.

 

Photos by Ji Zhe

(Source: Women of China English Monthly June 2020 issue)

 
 
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