When Gou Yufeng was offered a place at the prestigious Tsinghua University four years ago it should have been one of the happiest days of her life.
But for the 23-year-old from north China's Shanxi Province, it brought some sadness as she feared she would be unable to afford to study there.
Her mother had not worked for many years, while her father, who had heart disease, had to make a living for the family of four by doing odd jobs, earning only a few hundred yuan a month.
However, thanks to a charity fund providing financial support, she has been able to fulfill her dream of furthering her studies.
She was chosen by the China Foundation For Poverty Alleviation (CFPA) to receive financial aid, which marked the beginning of its New Great Wall Project.
The foundation provides her with 2,000 yuan (US$246) a year, which goes towards basic living expenses.
She had initially taken out a bank loan to cover tuition fees and other costs, but the cash from the foundation has been a lifeline.
"Now I can concentrate on my studies," she said. "Otherwise I would have to do part-time jobs."
Her family could only manage to put together 6,000 yuan (US$740), barely enough for the first-year's tuition. Considering the living and miscellaneous costs of at least 2,000 yuan (US$246) a year, Gou had decided to give up on going to university.
In order to relieve the pressures on poorer students, and help them finish their university studies, CFPA set up the New Great Wall Project to help them.
As of the end of last year, the project had handed out 8 million yuan (US$987,000), providing financial assistance to 20,000 students from 168 colleges and universities.
Clifford Pang, managing director of Clifford Group, donated 20.8 million (US$2.56 million) to the scheme in 2005.
He said: "I always feel happy when I see more students have the chance to study."
The China branch of Nu Skin, an international leading cosmetic company, donated 300,000 yuan (US$37,000) as part of the project, to a school in Xingning of Guangdong to repair its main building, benefiting more than 600 students.
However, compared to the number of students who are in need of financial assistance, the aid is little more than a drop in the ocean.
"Of the 13 million university students at present, 20 percent are from poor families and 8 percent are living in extreme poverty," Liu Wenkui, deputy executive director of CFPA, told China Daily.
Official statistics show only 11.1 percent of poor students are receiving financial assistance from charity organizations or the government, with the others having to find part-time jobs or borrow money from friends and relatives.
This situation is made worse by the fact some students lack awareness of the help available, or are reluctant to ask for it.
"Lots of students feel ashamed to receive charity donations," said Liu. "Actually, all students have to do is to fill out a registration form of their family situation when they start on campus, which includes questions such as how much money each of their family members earn."
Charity organizations would choose the most needy students to benefit from the fund, Liu added.
China has only three other well-known non-governmental charity organizations that run projects to give financial support to students China Charity Federation, Red Cross Society of China, and Project Hope.
(China Daily February 24, 2006)