A 51-year-old teacher from a small remote school in a rural area in Shanxi province in northern China was recently chosen by Chinese e-commerce Alibaba as a role model for his selfless dedication to teach children despite being born without fingers or toes.
Chen Haiping’s story began when he met the principal of Liujiashan village school back in 1990, according to China Daily. At the time, rural areas were in desperate need of instructors so he was hired as a substitute teacher in the village’s school.
“I was 23 then and nobody recruited me after I graduated from a middle school. The job provided me a monthly wage of 50 yuan ($7.81). I was very satisfied,” he said.
However, his line of work proved to be difficult because of his condition. Chen, as said in the report, was born without fingers and toes, thus writing on a chalkboard was very challenging for him.
“It was a painful process. I got blisters on my palms, and the chalk always fell to the floor,” the teacher said.
This did not deter him from making sure the children got a proper education, though. Instead, he overcame all of the obstacles he faced like how he got rid of his accent and made his Mandarin standard to teach pinyin (Chinese phonetic alphabet) to his students.
Chen also had to wake up early in the morning and travel more than 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) to observe other teachers and learn from them before he returns to his own school to teach the children.
The school he is teaching in, which is located on a hillside in Liulin county, is very different compared to what it was around 20 years ago. Before, there were over 100 students attending the two-story school building, but now, only seven people come to the establishment everyday – six students in total where three of them are still in preschool and Chen, who is also the cook and cleaner.
Many children have reportedly moved in with their migrant parents as they take them to the city where they worked in, as said in the report. Government data showed that about 60% of children aged 6 to 15 moved with their migrant worker parents in 2013.
Another reason for the massive decrease of student in Chen’s “ghost school” was the merging of rural schools, while some of them closed in early 2000s. This has resulted in children being sent to far away schools like in other towns or cities. Unfortunately, for the few children left in Chen’s school, the traveling is not viable as it is either too long or too expensive to attend a much bigger school.
This is one of the reasons why 11-year-old Feng Qiangqiang, his eldest student, refused to leave the ghost school. His stepfather is working as a coal miner and is never home most of the time, while his mother is chronically ill. His family couldn’t afford to send him off to a better school.
“The quality of education in ghost schools is not as good as in bigger ones, but they are still important. Without them, some students would drop out,” Chen said.
Chen’s hard work paid off when he was awarded 5,000 yuan ($780) for being a role model to the younger generation. But unfortunately, the joy he felt did not last long.
In the end, he became troubled that he may be the last instructor to ever teach in that school considering the tough conditions that future teachers may go through. Despite that, his will to teach the children still lives on.
“I will keep teaching even if there is only one student left,” Chen said.
It really is heartwarming to see teachers go the extra mile to help their children, especially the “left-behind” kids. Like this similar story about a teacher who used her pre-wedding photos to help raise awareness to these children.
Featured image via China Daily