In the Rongshui autonomous county of the ethnic Miao group in southern Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, the name of French woman Francoise Grenot is on the lips of local folks.
With the help of Grenot, 1,100 needy school-age children from Danian and Liangzhai townships, both in Rongshui, 300 kilometers from the world-famous scenic city of Guilin, have been able to attend classes for six straight years with the completion of 11 new village schools.
Grenot developed a keen interest in China at a very young age, studying Chinese at a Paris university and obtaining a Master of Arts degree, Xinhua news agency reported.
She later became a tourist guide with an international travel agency in Paris and began to lead tourist groups to China back in 1989, spending over a half year in China annually.
In those days, she traveled high and low around China, fascinated by its abundant sources of tourism and folklore.
Grenot, who married a Chinese and calls herself "Fang Fang," got to know Rongshui Miao autonomous county in 1997 via the French workers with Doctors Without Borders, which has set up medical centers in Guangxi's remote, outlying mountainous areas inhabited by ethnic groups, including Miao and Dong.
In summer that year, Grenot set out alone from Guilin City for Danian township deep in the enclave's mountainous region.
Soon Grenot returned to Guilin, quit her job as a tourist guide, packed up all her belongings and returned to Danian township and became a Chinese-language interpreter for local residents and workers at centers operated by Doctors Without Borders.
But her idyllic world was shattered when she found many young girls out of school simply because of poverty. Instead they would herd cattle, sheep or even cut timber for cooking fuel.
In the summer of 1998, Grenot told the township authorities about her plan to help needy children by sending them back to school.
In addition to giving 11,000 yuan (US$1,300) to support the schooling of 132 children that year, she returned to Danian with friends from France when the new semester began in September.
Under the impact of Grenot, who is now capable of speaking the dialects of both ethnic Miao and Dong people, some 800 French friends have joined the endeavor to bring back school dropouts of ethnic Miao and Dong groups.
Elegant landscapes and unique lifestyles led Grenot, who is now divorced, to finally settle in Danian, where the local government provided her a free plot of land to build her own residence, which was finished in February.
(eastday.com July 06, 2002)