To help poor students the China Foundation of Poverty Alleviation (CFPA) started a fund-raising campaign that put 500 yuan (US$64) in the hands of 584 college students by January 21 for a trip back home, said CFPA member, Huan Jing.
He also explained the CFPA had introduced 120 poor students to prospective employers looking for extra help during the holiday season.
But there are still 450 others looking for employment, Huan said, adding that the foundation's 'New Great Wall' project hoped to help 1,000 students who couldn't afford to go home for Spring Festival.
"We'd like to help more but we can't cope with more than a 1,000," said Ling Yun, a project coordinator. "When we heard a girl saying her New Year wish is to see her mother, hear her mom's voice and eat the food she cooks we were moved and are determined to carry on with the project in spite of all the difficulties."
Ling said when they initiated a similar program two years ago they gave the poor students money for travel. But they have shifted their focus now to helping students find part-time jobs so that they can stand on their own feet.
Unlike in the West part-time jobs for college students are a relatively new concept in China. Previously the State paid nearly all tuition fees for every student who won a place at university by sitting a tough entrance exam. As the State contribution to tuition costs declined in the mid-1990s parents had to accept increased financial responsibility.
With college tuition fees now at around 4,000-8,000 yuan (US$510-1,020) a year rural families have begun to crack under the strain. The average income of a Chinese farmer was 3,225 yuan (US$410) in 2005, according to a research report by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Tang Jiaguo, a business management sophomore from China Petroleum University stopped asking his family for money in his first year at college. But he said part-time job opportunities were scarce and poorly paid.
During the winter break last year he worked at a Sinopec gas station on the eastern outskirts of Beijing where he spent the Lunar New Year's Eve with his colleagues. "They treated us nicely just like in a family. But I believe every poor college student would have chosen to go home for Spring Festival if given the chance," said Tang.
(China Daily February 12, 2007)