Nerves, apprehension and excitement seem to collide on the first day at a new school, a pivotal moment for many teenagers. How welcome then are words of encouragement from a senior teacher. Words such as: "You don't need to call me Principal Zhang, just call me Ms Zhang. If you have anything troubling, you can always come to me." Or "you don't have to be afraid of anything when you are here".
On the evening of Aug 24, Xinhua News Agency posted a short video recording the opening day at Huaping Girls High School in Lijiang, Southwest China's Yunnan Province. School principal Zhang Guimei was having a cordial conversation with Yang Limei, a new student who lost her parents when she was a child.
Yang, of Naxi ethnicity, is one of the 159 high school freshmen this year. She lives with her uncle in Mingyin Town, Yulong County, about 300 kilometers away from the school. On registration day, Yang met Zhang on campus. Yang's mother fell to gastric cancer. Her father passed away soon after she fell ill.
Yang swore she would study hard in high school and get admitted to a good university. "After I finish my studies, I will return to people who helped me," she says.
Born in 1957, Zhang put down roots and built a life in the frontier for more than 40 years. In 2002, Zhang had the idea of establishing a girls' high school in Huaping. Initially her plans were met with skepticism but her efforts and tenacity paid off. With the care and attention of Party committees and governments at all levels, and the support and help of all sectors of society, Huaping County Girls High School became a reality in August 2008. Under her leadership, over the past 12 years, the school has helped more than 1,800 impoverished girls realize their dreams to further their studies at university, creating an "educational miracle" in the mountains. Thanks to Zhang's unremitting efforts, the school has prospered and built a formidable reputation. It has consistently been ranked the city's top school.
For a girl living in the mountains, Zhang says formal schooling can benefit at least three generations.
If it was not for the school, girls here would mostly marry and have their children at young age and stay in the mountains for a lifetime.
When they are admitted to university, the current preferential policies for poverty-stricken students will ensure that they complete their studies smoothly.
"As long as I draw breath, I will choose to fight to the last moment of my life for my pledge to the Party," she says. For more than 20 years, Zhang has not only been passionate about education, but also raised funds to help local people treat diseases, build roads and water cellars and resolve disputes. "Party members should help the people, and we should take care of them if they have difficulties," she says.
Over the years, Zhang has donated her salary and bonuses given to her by governments at all levels, and even the more than 1 million yuan ($154,000) from fundraising to education and social undertakings in the impoverished mountainous area. She doesn't have any personal property: "I have everything, I have a school in my heart and thousands of children."
Her body is racked with disease and covered with pain-relieving plasters. Yet Zhang still accompanies the students in morning reading, class and self-study every day. She insists on home visits all year round, clocking up a cumulative distance of more than 110,000 kilometers, for more than 1,500 students. She is also the "mother" of more than 130 orphans in Huaping Children's Home.
Since July 2020, Zhang has been awarded the honorary titles such as the National Women Red-Banner Pacesetter, National Outstanding Communist Party Member, Model of the Times, National Model of Poverty Alleviation and the July 1 Medal.
(Source: China Daily)August 30, 2021