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UPDATED: October 30, 2014 NO. 44 OCTOBER 30, 2014
A Quarter Century of Hope
A Chinese foundation aimed at helping impoverished children get an education celebrates its 25th anniversary
By Yuan Yuan

BACK TO SCHOOL: Pupils in Yongping Town of Yunnan Province, which was hit by a 6.6-magnitude earthquake on October 7, run to their newly built makeshift school sponsored by Project Hope on October 12 (CHEN HAINING)

Fan, an 18-year-old girl who declined to reveal her full name, is a new student at Shanxi Medical University this year. By the end of September, she had received 5,000 yuan ($815) from Project Hope as financial aid, which helped relieve her family's financial stress by supporting her college education.

Fan's parents died in an accident in 2004, leaving Fan to be raised by her grandparents, who struggled to save wherever they could to support Fan and her education. Ultimately, they still couldn't afford to send Fan to college by themselves, despite their efforts.

Fan turned to Project Hope for help and after two weeks, she received financial help from it. "Ten years ago, my parents were lost, but my grandparents spared no efforts in raising me," said Fan. "I can finally start college and I am very grateful to all the people that helped me. I will give it back by helping other people in need in the future."

Altogether, there are 196 students in Lingwu, northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, have received financial aid for college from Project Hope.

The origins of hope

Project Hope started in 1989 with sponsorship from the Communist Youth League (CYL) Central Committee and the China Youth Development Foundation, with the goal of supporting young students in poverty-stricken areas that would not otherwise be able to continue their studies.

Zhang Shengli, born in 1975, left his school in Taomugeda Village of Laiyuan County in Hebei Province at the age of 12. Appearing to have no other options, Zhang wrote a letter to county officials expressing his strong desire to continue school. In the letter, Zhang described how difficult it was for his family to support his education and that he was going to have to quit.

The letter caught the attention of the Central Government, which prompted efforts to set up the project. Zhang was among the first to receive the grant-in-aid scholarships from the CYL on October 17, 1989.

Thereafter, the CYL Central Committee responded to the severe situation in poverty-stricken areas by establishing the China Youth Development Foundation on October 30, 1989, to subsidize children unable to go to school.

The project's short-term goal is to establish grant-in-aid programs in 328 poverty-stricken counties, with the long-term target centered on ensuring that all Chinese children receive an education.

In September 1990, late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping wrote the inscription Project Hope to commemorate the initiative. The Development Program for Chinese Children promulgated by the State Council in March 1992 formally listed Project Hope as one of the main measures for ensuring the survival, protection and development of children.

With the project's subsidies, Zhang was able to finish middle school and pursue higher education at Shanghai Normal University. He later gave up job opportunities in cities and returned to his hometown to help village children fulfill their school dreams.

Now, Zhang is the deputy headmaster of a charity-funded primary school in his hometown Laiyuan, one of China's poorest counties. The school was established with funds from Project Hope in 2001 and has prevented hundreds of children from dropping out. Most of them are from impoverished villages, lacking tap water or paved roads.

"It is a difficult task to stop all these kids from leaving," said Zhang, who revealed the picture of education in small villages is not an optimistic one for the time being with kids still quitting school from time to time. "I told them there is only one way to change their fate—knowledge."

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