Zhi Yueying, who is a deputy to the National People's Congress (NPC), was selected as a national role model for honesty and trustworthiness on Nov 5. She works at the Baiyang teaching site in Zaoxia town, Fengxin county, Jiangxi province, and has helped children living in the mountains to realize their dreams of education for more than 40 years.
"Do not let any child stop schooling due to poverty," Zhi once promised. She spent 41 years working on a mountain in Fengxin, growing from a young woman with two black pigtails to an old lady with gray hair. Time has changed her appearance, but it could not change her steadfast promise. More than 1,100 children have left the mountain in order to fulfill their dreams, while Zhi still works there.
Worthwhile or not? Fostering rural education
In 1980, when she was 19, Zhi passed an exam and became a teacher in the remote Niyang Primary School. The school was in a mountainous area, at an altitude of more than 1,000 kilometers. People rarely visited the school as there is no highway access. Students typically walk more than 10km to get there.
At the beginning of a semester, teachers at the school had to carry textbooks and teaching appliances from the foot of the mountain up to the school. Though Zhi's family opposed her decision, she began her teaching career with a passion to devote herself to education.
Zhi Yueying and the children living in the mountains [Photo/npc.gov.cn]
During her first workday, a village official said, "as conditions here are hard, many teachers try to transfer after working six months to a year. You are young and from an outside region, so you definitely won't stay long."
Zhi said it was okay during the daytime, but that at night she was full of fear and missed her family as she could hear the whistling wind and animals' cries. She asked herself whether it was worth teaching in a remote and impoverished primary school. She cried and considered giving up the job that night as she thought she would spend many sleepless nights there.
Zhi came to the shabby classroom the next day. She saw the children and thought education could bring them hope. "I saw their eyes that touched me deep in my heart." Students there had little contact with the outside world, and acquiring knowledge was the only way to walk out of the mountain, she said, adding that children in mountains need teachers just as urban students do.
She became a deputy to the 13 NPC in 2018. To appeal for the increase of rural teachers' incomes, she spent two months surveying rural primary and middle schools, teaching sites and teachers' homes, and submitted a suggestion to raise the salaries of rural teachers working for compulsory education before the national two sessions.
Educational authorities attached importance to her suggestion and responded to her. Such teachers can currently get a monthly subsidy of about 500 yuan ($78.6) on average.
Bitter or sweet? Her promise to not let any child stop schooling due to poverty
"Not letting any child stop schooling due to poverty is my belief and promise as I choose to stay in the mountainous area," Zhi said.
To help poor students, Zhi carried wood and loaded things onto vehicles on the mountain in order to earn more during the holidays. She got injured in an accident and still has a scar on her cheek.
As she was busy with teaching, she did not spend time visiting doctors down the mountain to treat her right ear and eye. The ear lost hearing while the eye lost sight. She has helped students from impoverished families to finish their studies over the last 41 years.
Leave or stay?
In February 2012, local authorities considered Zhi's physical conditions and decided to transfer her to teach at the town's central primary school. At that time, people in Baiyang village, more than 5km from Niyang village, invited Zhi to teach there. Zhi agreed.
Apart from her teaching work, she has helped the construction team to build a new teaching building. Local villagers have been moved by her spirit; the school's teaching performances and comprehensive evaluation ranked highly among schools in Zaoxia town.
Local authorities cared about Zhi's health and attempted to transfer her several times over the past 40-plus years, yet Zhi refused. She could retire to recuperate and reunite with her family five years ago, yet she chose to stay with children on the mountain.
Many children have left the mountain to continue their studies. Zhi said it was worthwhile to teach in the mountainous area. Zhi said sticking to teaching in the mountain village is not an easy job, but a promise for the children there.