Teachers delivering hope to children in China's landlocked mountains
When a Xinhua reporter first met Yu Qigui a decade ago, the village primary school teacher was seen trudging a muddy mountain path carrying a hand-woven basket on his back with a group of school kids tailing him.
His backpack basket was sometimes filled with a collection of schoolbags belonging to the kids and sometimes even with one of the kids.
The four-km rugged path with ups and downs over hills and valleys, leading from home to their destination -- Wengjiang Primary School in Jiangliu village of Longji township, Longsheng county, South China's Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region -- was nothing but challenging for young pupils, and adults as well.
Yu is among over 270 teachers still working or once worked in landlocked mountainous areas across 20 counties in Guangxi who have been interviewed by a Xinhua reporter over a span of 11 years. Some are pulling through in schools with only one teacher and a handful of students.
Zhao Hong is working in such a "mini-school" with one teacher and six pupils in Shentan "teaching site" in Lingchuan county of Guangxi. Living in the school -- over 20 km away from home -- Monday to Friday, he teaches the kids and cooks for them, too.
When asked whether it is necessary to keep these "mini-schools" up and running, Tu Bingwang, deputy principal of a local school, the closest one to Zhao's teaching site, gave an affirmative answer -- "Quite necessary!"
The 40-km distance from Zhao's teaching site to the closest school is next to insurmountable for the handful of young kids, most of whom have only grandparents as their caretakers when their migrant-worker parents are away from home.
Many kids of school age in Guangxi's mountainous areas have to postpone their schooling due to long distances and craggy roads. Otherwise, one of the parents has to quit their job and rent an apartment in the vicinity of the school, which creates a rather heavy financial burden for a cash-strapped family from the mountainous area.
Huang Yongyong and Huang Xiubi, husband and wife, have been working in Nawang Primary School in Dongling township, Debao county of Guangxi, for 19 years and 30 years, respectively, as teachers, cooks, and caretakers.
When Huang Yongyong thought about leaving the backwater place over a decade ago, a parent of the students pled, "What about our kids if you left?" The couple finally decided to stay. "Here, we are the hope of the kids," said Huang Yongyong.
Hope has also been delivered to teachers of mountainous schools.
A cement road was paved in 2016 leading all the way to Wengjiang Primary School, and Yu Qigui bought a car a year later. Today, a different snapshot may be taken -- Yu's car is seen snaking through undulating terrace fields in the morning mist, picking up his students along the drive.
Moreover, Wengjiang Primary School was retrofitted, with dated wooden blackboards replaced by modern teaching facilities, and the dark and cramped school cafeteria was refurbished and equipped with a refrigerator and a disinfection cabinet.
Young teachers, including those born after 1990, are also seen working for these mountainous schools.