Zhang Guimei, school principal in Yunnan
The year 1995 was the darkest time in Zhang Guimei's life, losing her beloved husband to cancer after spending all their savings trying to cure him. Before that, Zhang had lost her parents.
Feeling desperate, she applied to leave Dali city, Yunnan province, where she had worked with her husband as a teacher, and went to teach in remote mountainous Huaping county, Lijiang city, Yunnan, a totally strange place for her.
"I wanted to find a place where nobody knew me or could remind me of any beautiful moment in my life. I was banishing myself," recalled Zhang, who was born in Heilongjiang province in 1957, and went to Yunnan province in 1974.
That decision changed not only her life, but also those of numerous children living in deep mountains. Although she was in darkness, she lit up the sky for others, and has been elected as a delegate to the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China.
In 1997, she was diagnosed with uterine fibroids. Her colleagues and students donated money to help her, which moved her deeply and she wanted to repay them.
"I didn't make many contributions to the county, but brought such trouble. I felt guilty. I could only try my best to work as a teacher, and I hoped to do more for the county," said Zhang.
She noticed many girls dropped out of school, and after visiting their homes, she found poverty and outdated perceptions hindered parents in supporting their girls' education, and made them get married at a young age.
To change the situation, she made up her mind to establish a high school, which would offer free access for local girls. She tried to collect money, but failed and was regarded as a swindler by many people.
An opportunity for change came when she was elected as a delegate to the 17th CPC National Congress in 2007. After receiving an interview talking about her wish, the local government helped Zhang realize her dream and in 2008 established the Lijiang Huaping High School for Girls, with Zhang as principal.
Zhang Guimei, principal of Lijiang Huaping High School for Girls in Lijiang, Yunnan province, sees to it that the students have a good breakfast after a morning reading session last year. [JIANG WENYAO/XINHUA]
The first year welcomed 96 students, many of whom were poorly educated before entering the school.
"If girls from the mountainous area want to leave, we just offer a hand, to help them fly out to see a wider world," Zhang told China Global Television Network.
Since the school's establishment, more than 2,000 students have flown to the outside world and changed their lives, and the school has surged to be one of the best high schools in Lijiang.
Besides her work at the school, Zhang also serves as dean of the children's welfare home in Huaping, where she usually visits and cares for orphans.
Over the years, Zhang has reached almost every corner of Lijiang, and changed the destiny of many families. She is alone without any children, but she has become the mother of many orphans.
Zhang has devoted herself to the cause of education without caring much about her declining health. She has rheumatoid arthritis, lung fibrosis and severe stomach problems, but she insists on working.
"For the last decade, our Party and government have tried hard to make every child able to attend school. Today we've achieved this goal," she said after hearing the report to the congress on Sunday delivered by Xi Jinping on behalf of the 19th CPC Central Committee.
In the future, she said, she hopes to lead children from the mountains to the track of modernization. "This requires knowledge and teachers' capability, and we teachers have to improve ourselves while we teach students. But whatever it takes, we need to achieve it and not drag down our country's modernization."
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