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Couple Supports 265 Girls to College

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In China's poor western rural areas, getting a college education is rare, especially for girls. Besides the expense, there's also a tradition of favoring boys. One woman in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region convinced her husband that they could make a difference.

It's a rewarding summer for this family. More than fifty girls got into college. They've been away on holiday, but some came back for the good news.

Ma Zhiying, founder of Girls Home, Ningxia, said, "I feel very happy. My daughters got into university. So I'll have my daughters all across the country.”

None of the girls are biologically related to the couple or one another, but for them, this is home.

The Girls Home was founded in 1997. Over the years, Ma Zhiying and her husband have provided free room and board for two hundred and sixty five girls.

Their help gives children from poor families an opportunity to pursue higher education.

Ma Zhiying said, "It was a pity I didn't go to college. My family was poor, and my parents favored boys. So I wanted to establish the Girls Home to help more girls go to college."

Ma Fuxiu, student of Girls Home, Ningxia, said, "She says she hopes to expand the Girls Home so that more girls can go to school. I almost had to go shepherding on the mountain."

Most students are in senior high school, which isn't included in China's nine-year compulsory education program. In the countryside, girls usually stay home after junior high.

Sometimes, when their families can't afford tuition, the couple pays for it.

The husband didn't like the whole idea at first.

But now, the entire family depends solely on his income as a civil servant.

Yang Wanhai, founder of Girls Home, Ningxia, said, "I was very much concerned back then. First, it was a heavy economic burden. Second, if you can't treat the girls as your own kids, they'll feel isolated and not cared for. It doesn't help them, but pushes them away, to society."

The girls are from different ethnic groups, including Hui and Han. But Ma treats them all the same. She considers them all daughters, each with her own personality.

Ma Zhiying said, "I don't care if they're Hui or Han. They're poor students and must be raised to adulthood. And when they grow up, they're all my daughters."

Ma Fuxiu said, "We're sisters and we get along very well. The time spent with Auntie Ma is great. Sometimes living conditions are poor, but we're all content and happy."

With the new semester about to start, new girls are arriving, full of hope and gratitude.

A parent said, "It's just like home. I feel safe sending my child here. I hope my daughter can get into Tsinghua or Peking University."

This summer, they are expecting eighty-five girls, the most in one school year. This will put a big strain on finances, but the couple choose not to refuse.

The new semester is a time to welcome the new, but also a time to say goodbye. And Ma Zhiying has more than words.

Ma Zhiying said, "Every year, I buy a suitcase for every girl leaving for university. And I give them tuition. I'm still trying to get their tuition. I'm glad, but reluctant to see them leave home.”

Seeing her daughters leave to pursue a better future is the best reward. And this is what keeps the couple going on.

(CCTV September 11, 2009)

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