Teaching people how to ‘fish’ to lift them out of poverty

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By Kang Bing

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. This ancient saying sums up the government’s national campaign to eliminate absolute poverty.
Yes, there was a time when the government gave only “fish” to the poor in the form of food and additionally clothes to some aged villagers who lived alone and were unable to work, to improve their lives. But 40 years ago when the country decided to help more than half a billion farmers to emerge out of poverty, it realized there were just not enough “fish” to feed its poor population even for one day.
To teach people how to “fish” therefore has been the central leadership’s philosophy of the campaign to eliminate poverty. Providing rural children quality education was made a priority of the anti-poverty campaign 30 years ago. But despite the government allocating more funds for rural education, its limited resources at that time meant it could not make a breakthrough in a short time.
It was then that a widely-published picture by a China Youth Daily photographer touched the heart of the whole nation: a little girl in shabby clothes sitting on a worn-out desk in a dark classroom. Pencil in hand, she seems to be looking into the future, with her big, beautiful eyes saying she wants to study.
That picture helped to launch Project Hope, and prompted millions of people and thousands of companies to donate for education funds. The donations were used to support poor rural students and set up Hope Schools in impoverished regions. By 2007, more than 600,000 Hope Schools were functioning in China, which greatly improved the education level in rural areas.
Deeply involved in the project, China Daily, with generous donations from our staff and readers from home and abroad, helped build 12 such schools in Dongxiang county of Gansu province.
Thanks to such efforts, the little girl in that picture is now a mid-level manager of a bank after having completed her higher education. Project Hope has changed the fate of millions of girls like her.
The reason I stopped at Hope School statistics of 2007 is that by then governments at different levels, having enjoyed more than two decades of rapid economic growth, had started allocating more funds for rural education.
Rural schools were renovated and equipped with modern teaching tools. Rural teachers were trained and retrained to ensure the children received quality education. And the salaries of rural teachers were raised.
I once asked a schoolteacher in Dongxiang about his salary. He smiled but declined to answer, but another teacher told me that he was better paid than the head of the county.
Since 2007, rural students nationwide have been exempted from paying tuition and provided textbooks for free. Starting from 2011, poor students are given free lunch at school in many regions. As a result, China’s illiteracy rate today is below 4 percent while 88 percent of students complete their education up to the senior high school level and about 48 percent seek higher education.
Higher education helps millions of youths to leave their poor villages to find jobs in urban areas. China became the “world’s factory” primarily because of its high percentage of literate population and skilled labor force. Half of the more than 200 million rural people who work in cities today are from impoverished areas, yet they are paid 3,000-4,000 yuan a month mostly in factories along China’s east coast enough to lift a family of five to six out of poverty.
Apart from achieving success in rural compulsory education, the government has also begun focusing on vocational training. Realizing that science and technology can play a big role in eliminating poverty, it is providing free or compensatory training for farmers, especially poor farmers.
Each of China’s 2,800 counties has at least one vocational training school or center specializing in training farmers so they can find better-paying jobs. The skills taught at such centers range from greenhouse farming to selling their products online and taking proper care of fruit trees. Thanks to such skills, many poor farmers have doubled their crop yields or are growing in-demand fruits and herbs.
Teaching farmers how to “fish”, we hope, will make China’s poverty-alleviation campaign not only successful, but also sustainable.
–The Daily Mail-China Daily news exchange item