Wang Qiuju, 18, is grateful for being able to begin first-year studies at Beijing Jiaotong University four months ago.
"Six years ago when I was forced to drop out of school because of poverty, I never expected I would sit in a college classroom," Wang said at a celebration to mark the third China Children Charity Day last week in Beijing.
"If it was not for the help from the Spring Bud Plan, I'm afraid I would have followed what my mother experienced -- getting married early and lacking knowledge to change her life in the poverty-stricken village," said Wang, who is majoring in real estate management.
Born into a poor farmer's family in Liuhegou village, hidden in the mountains of Miyun County in northeast Beijing, Wang still remembers the day she was told she would be able to return to school. "It was the happiest moment I've ever had," Wang recalled.
She was not the only lucky girl that year. Together with 30 others from 11 ethnic groups across the country, Wang entered Hepingli Middle School in Beijing's Dongcheng District with the aid of the Spring Bud Plan.
The girls shared similar experiences -- they used to be good students but left school because of poverty.
The Spring Bud Plan, launched by China Children and Teenager's Fund (CCTF) in 1989, is aimed at helping girl dropouts in poverty-stricken areas return to school. It helped Wang and her classmates finish their six-year junior and senior high schooling.
During the first three years Wang and her classmates each received an annual stipend of 600 yuan (US$72) to cover their expenses. When it came to the senior high school period, their aid increased to 800 yuan (US$96) each.
After six years of study, all the girls are now sitting in college classrooms after passing the national College Entrance Examination last summer.
According to the plan they will continue to receive 1,000 yuan (US$120) in aid every year until they finish their four-year study.
According to CCTF, more than 2 million children drop out of school every year in China, and seven out of 10 are girls.
Although most rural parents realize the importance of knowledge in changing their lives, many are reluctant to allocate their limited budgets to girls' education. They maintain the traditional view that men are superior to women -- an idea still widely advocated in many impoverished regions.
The Spring Bud Plan has collected 500 million yuan (US$60.5 million) and helped 1.35 million girl dropouts return to school since its establishment in 1989, according to CCTF.
The Spring Bud Plan has not only opened special classes for girls, but trained and offered them practical skills to help them find work.
The Spring Bud Plan is one of the projects initiated by the CCTF, a non-profit NGO established on July 28, 1981. It's designed to pool donations from all walks of life throughout the country to help millions of children who are forced by poverty to drop out of school.
In addition to donations, funds are raised from benefit performances and charity sales.
Ma Xin, who opened a private hospital in Zhoukou, a city of central China's Henan Province, has donated 20 yuan (US$2.4) to the fund every month since 1997. He has never stopped helping the children, even after his hospital was 160,000 yuan (US$19,347) in debt in 2000.
"I think that every child has his or her right to go to school, and the whole society should lend a hand," he was quoted by CCTF as saying.
Hao Deyuan, 90, a professor with the Capital Normal University, donated his savings of 100,000 yuan (US$12,092) to CCTF.
"Children who drop out of school need our help," he said smiling while a schoolgirl aided by the plan kissed him at the celebration of the third China Children Charity Day.
Since the first China Children Charity Day on June 22, 2002, CCTF has collected more than 200 million yuan (US$24.2 million), according to CCTF.
On the third charity day last week, the fund got donations from a number of enterprises and organizations totaling about 7.2 million yuan (US$870,600). Meanwhile, China Cast, an IT company in Shanghai, donated teaching facilities worth 100 million yuan (US$12.1 million).
In addition to the Spring Bud Plan, CCTF, together with the State Administration of Work Safety, launched the China Children Ankang Project in May 2000, which focuses mainly on children's safety and health.
The Ankang Project was designed to help children keep away from disease, crime and dropping out from school.
To date, 8 million yuan (US$967,300) has been distributed to several poverty-stricken areas, in a bid to build 800 classrooms for children in need.
The classrooms, which are designed to provide a healthy environment for children, comprise medical boxes, bookshelves, computers and sports facilities.
"We hope not only CCTF but the whole society will pay great attention to the education of children, especially those in poor areas because they need help," said Chen Muhua, director of CCTF.
(China Daily December 24, 2003)