Zhang Guimei, who has dedicated her 40 years to education at China’s southwestern border, is a “mother” for more than 170 children, and a principal motivating young girls from impoverished families in mountainous areas.
Trying to cut the intergenerational transmission of poverty, she has ignited the hopes of many with the light of education.
Zhang was born in Mudanjiang, northeast China’s Heilongjiang province in 1957. When she was 17, she came to Yunnan province, which lies in southwest China, with her elder sister, responding to the call of the country to support the development of border areas. When she first arrived there, she worked a job in the forestry industry. However, she stumbled into teaching and started a career as an educator ever since.
After Zhang’s husband passed away in 1996, she went from Dali to teach in Huaping county, Yunnan’s Lijiang. Five years later, she established a children’s home and worked as a part-time president of it. The organization adopted a total of over 170 children, and Zhang had to take care of them only after coming back from work. The children call her mom though she has never given birth to a child.
Teaching at a middle school in Huaping county at that time, she saw many girls drop out of school due to poverty. It saddened her very much and made her realize that an educated female is able to cut the intergenerational transmission of poverty and change the future of three generations. In 2002, Zhang started her preparation to build a free all-girls high school, in hope of changing the destiny of the girls in the mountain and lifting them out of poverty.
In 2007, Zhang went to Beijing for the 17th Communist Party of China (CPC) National Congress as a deputy. Her report titled “I have a dream” delivered at the meeting made her dream of building a free all-girls high school known to all. Later, both the Lijiang and Huaping governments sponsored her with a million yuan.
A year later, Zhang’s school was completed, becoming the first free all-girls high school in China
The school, born to fight against poverty, is a shelter for a number of girls in mountainous areas. Before it was established, the enrolment rate of high school entrance exams in Huaping was less than 50 percent. However, the figure surged to over 90 percent last year, and the county has been leading in the enrollment rate of college entrance exams in Lijiang for years. In the past, rural females in the county would choose to marry and get pregnant at a young age, but today, more and more of them are going to high schools for education. During the past 13 years, the school has nurtured over 1,800 students who have made it to universities.
With no offspring and property, Zhang lives in a dormitory building with her students. She has donated all her cash awards, donations from others, and most of her salaries, which added up to more than a million yuan, to the children in mountainous areas and other people in need.
Zhang suffers from 23 diseases, including heart disease and emphysema, but she is still working selflessly. She gets up at 5:00 am and is always the first to arrive at school. She also checks how the classes are going three times a day. Zhang has made over 1,600 family visits annually for the past 12 years, covering a total distance of 110,000 kilometers.
On June 29, Zhang was awarded CPC’s top honor July 1 Medal at a ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. At the ceremony, she said she did all this out of her gratefulness and love for the country, as well as the original aspiration and mission of a CPC member.
“The things we have done are what many CPC members are doing every day. As long as I’m still capable, I will stand in the classroom to give my all, which I will never ever regret,” she remarked.
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