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School drive in Ningxia is a lesson in how dreams come true

Updated: 2021-09-15 08:07 ( China Daily )
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Students take part in after-class activities, such as painting and sports, in a primary school in Yinchuan, Ningxia Hui autonomous region. The region has seen great improvement in education over the years. FENG KAIHUA/XINHUA

YINCHUAN-About 20 years ago, a diary account chronicling the struggles of a teenage girl from rural China was published at home and abroad and became an instant hit.

In the book, The Diary of Ma Yan: The Struggles and Hopes of a Chinese School Girl, Ma described scenes like how girls had to cross mountains to reach school every morning on an empty stomach. The longing for a change of destiny through learning and hard work was inspirational for many readers.

"Mother, my tears would never dry if I couldn't go to school," Ma wrote in her diary when her mother, Bai Juhua, suggested the 13-year-old drop out of school and learn tailoring or hairdressing skills.

Ma cried and asked her younger brother to read her diary to their mother. The mother gave up the thought. To support her daughter, she traveled far and did odd jobs to earn money.

Ma's hometown, Zhangjiashu, is a mountainous village in Tongxin county, Ningxia Hui autonomous region in Northwest China. It is part of Xihaigu, a barren region that was deemed one of the most unfit places for human settlement by the United Nations in the 1970s.

The conditions described in Ma's diary have undergone tremendous changes-a whole new world has been forged.

"Now, all children have got access to free education, thanks to the implementation of the country's nine-year compulsory education policy," says Ma Ruyun, principal of the Third Middle School in Tongxin county where Ma Yan once studied.

A new concrete building with bright classrooms equipped with digital blackboards and the internet are now in place. Students can attend online classes taught by teachers in bigger cities. After class, students are seen having fruit and snacks and some playing basketball.

Ma Yan wrote in her diary that she and her classmates used to bring steamed buns as the only food to school. Now, students do not need to do so. In the canteen, they line up to fetch meal sets that include rice, meat and vegetables. They can enjoy free lunch after a national initiative was launched in 2011 to improve nutrition for rural students.

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