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Free milk builds young bodies
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There are few things Zou Mingxing, a 9-year-old student at Tangchong Village Primary School in Chongqing Municipality's Rongchang County, looks forward to more than the two free containers of milk he receives every week.

It has been something of a love affair ever since he got his first taste of the creamy beverage a week before Children's Day, which falls on June 1.

"It was so tasty. I had never had it before, though I had been dreaming about it for a long time after seeing children in cities drinking it," Zou said, recalling that first drop of milk.

Li Huan, a student at Shilie Village Primary School, had a similar memory of his first experience with milk.

"It tastes sweet. I finished it in a couple of seconds," he said.

Since June, more than 48,000 students in 203 primary schools in Rongchang have been drinking free milk provided by the local government every Monday and Wednesday. The service was extended to 18,000 preschool students in the county in September.

"Li Huan had never drunk milk before, and I never imagined that one day he would be able to do so. How I hope my son will grow as tall and strong as the children in town," Li Bangcheng, Li Huan's unemployed father, said.

"The students in villages are so thin and short. They can hardly compare with the children of the same age in cities," Xia Zeliang, head of the county's Party committee, said.

He said students in Rongchang are 5 cm shorter and 2 kg lighter than the national average.

"Nutritionists have told us poor nutrition is a key reason. They said students should drink more milk," Xia said.

The government of Rongchang expects to pay more than 7.3 million yuan ($995,000) per year delivering the free milk, which is a sizable sum for this poor agricultural county.

"We had to stop work on our new government building," Xia said.

Rongchang has boosted its spending on education by 15 percent a year since 2004. More than 70 percent of the increase has gone toward providing compulsory education in rural regions.

"We will continue pouring money into the free milk fund. Maybe the students will one day be able to drink milk three, four or even more times a week," Xia said.

"We just want rural students to have the same healthy bodies that city kids have."

The local government set aside 300,000 yuan this autumn to provide free physical examinations to 80,000 primary and middle school students countywide.

More than 5,000 disadvantaged children have received financial assistance from the government.

(China Daily November 23, 2007)


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