At first glance, 17-year-old Kang Lanlan is a typical village girl from the mountains of Gansu Province. Not very tall and with a rosy complexion, she is shy and quiet almost to the point of silence.
But unlike most of the youths in her impoverished rural area,
in July 2003 Kang and three other girls who had won Gansu Basic Education Project (GBEP) scholarships were invited to meet British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife Cherie in Beijing.
The normally retiring Kang spoke up on this special occasion to say, "Nice to meet you," in English to Blair.
A year later, Blair followed up that meeting with a letter, encouraging Kang to follow her dream of becoming a schoolteacher.
In late 1999, Kang became one of GBEP's first beneficiaries under Sino-UK Gansu Basic Education Project. Funded by the British government Department for International Development (DFID) and managed by the Gansu Provincial Education Department with support from Cambridge Education Consultants (CEC) of the UK, the project serves to increase enrollment in poor minority areas, help achieve universal basic education and reduce inequalities that exist in the education system.
GBEP was implemented in four of Gansu's poorest counties, including Kangle, Kang Lanlan's home. In such areas, families that are struggling to make ends meet often consider girls' education a luxury that they simply can't afford.
Kang Lanlan was a bright student, but as an orphan being raised by her grandparents she had little hope of being able to stay in school.
The program provided Kang with a grant of 75 yuan (US$9) every semester -- a small sum, but one that enabled her to finish junior middle school. Another annual subsidy of 70 yuan (US$8) covered food and lodging, so that Kang would not have to trek a great distance along the mountain paths to get to and from her classes.
Because Kang excelled in her studies, she was selected last year for a two-year teacher training program at the Lanzhou Normal School in the provincial capital. When she graduates, she will be the first female primary school teacher in her home village of Puba.
Now halfway through the course, a year of life in the city of Lanzhou has wrought changes in Kang beyond those taught in the classroom. She has become more polished in her demeanor and confident in her abilities.
Her experience has also given her even greater dreams for the future. Under the terms of her agreement with GBEP, she must return to her hometown to teach. But, she says, if she had a choice she would not return.
In Puba Village, life revolves around the wheat and potato crops, and Kang and her uncle are the only ones to help her grandfather with the farm work. In Lanzhou, she can do more exciting things, like sending e-mail messages to friends in other places. It is a brighter, wider world.
When she looks at her tiny village now, Kang says, she wonders, "Must I really spend my whole life here?"
Kang recently saw a newspaper advertisement for primary school teachers to work in the Yili region of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. The job pays 2,000 yuan (US$241) a month, almost unbelievable wealth to Kang. She read about the magnificent Tianshan Mountains of Xinjiang in a school textbook, says Kang. Perhaps, when she completes her GBEP obligation, she can work and even go sightseeing in those lofty mountains. (China.org.cn by Wang Ruyue October 15, 2004)