Though she has been a citizen of France for the past 12 years, Wu Fei, a 22-year-old graduate student at a university in Paris, has always cherished her memories of China.
She stays in contact with her kindergarten and primary school classmates in Beijing, reads news about China on the Net and visits her former home when she has holiday time.
But her role as president of the Esporiento Association at the University of Mines in Paris has given her the most concrete link to China, allowing her to build a primary school in a remote village in the central part of the country.
The Tongzi Hope Primary School held its opening ceremony last month. Wu joined a group of French students, Chinese volunteers and students and teachers from Nanzhao County, a poverty-stricken region in Henan Province, to celebrate the school's opening.
"We finally made it after a year's hard work," Wu told China Daily.
She helped start the Esporiento Association - a combination of the words "espoir" (hope, in French) and "orient" (the East) - to help bring educational opportunities to children in Asia.
"As a student with Chinese blood, I want to do something to help improve education in the remote and poor areas of China," Wu said.
In addition to building schoolhouses, the association also donates books to schools in poverty-stricken areas.
Wu, an engineering major, first learned from a Chinese friend that students in the village in Nanzhao County had to conduct classes in a deserted temple after their school collapsed.
Moved by the students' hardships, Wu and other members of the association decided to build a school.
"Everybody was excited about building a school in China and saved no effort to make the dream come true," Wu said.
Wu and her fellow French students, along with a dozen Chinese volunteers from Tsinghua and Fudan universities, served as architects, fund-raisers, salesmen, accountants and PR specialists for the project.
To raise the money, Wu and her peers sent emails appealing for donations to roughly 300 alumni of her university.
"Every email was tailored to the background of each alumnus to make them personally interested in our plan," Wu said.
The Saint-Gobain Group and the French Societe General Bank were the most generous donors, giving 30,000 yuan (US$4,000) each.
The association also organized charity sales at universities in Paris, which raised 17,000 yuan.
Chen Xi, a fourth-year student at the architecture institute of Tsinghua University, designed the school and traveled to the village to coordinate the project during his winter and summer holidays.
"I was so touched by the devotion of the French students that I wanted to make the school my maiden design project," he said.
Construction of the 110,000- yuan school began earlier this year, after the association signed a contract with the local government to guarantee smooth operations.
In the end, the association donated 70,000 yuan and the local government paid the rest.
"I think the school is the most beautiful structure in the county," Zhang Fucheng, the school's principal, said.
More than 100 students showed up for class at the new school when the new semester began last month. Before the school was built, no more than 60 students managed to make it to school.
(China Daily October 30, 2007)