China / Education

Girls' education project is proving a massive success

By Emma Gonzalez (China Daily) Updated: 2015-04-23 08:32

 Girls' education project is proving a massive success

Tien Ching (left) talks to a student of the Educating Girls in Rural China program in Qinghai province.

EGRC celebrates a decade of support for hundreds of students from rural regions

Our early life experiences tend to shape who we are and what we do in our adulthood.

For Tien Ching, founder of the charity organization Educating Girls in Rural China, her experience during the "cultural revolution" (1966-76) in her teenage years changed her life, and consequently, the destiny of hundreds of girls in Gansu, Guizhou and Qinghai provinces that have benefitted from the education project she created.

Tien Ching, who now lives in Canada, was only 17 years old when her life took a dramatic turn after being sent to work in a factory in rural Gansu.

She went from studying in one of Beijing's most prestigious schools to completely giving up on her education.

When she returned to the capital city eight years later in the early 80s she found it hard to enroll in university and decided to emigrate to Canada to chase a better future.

She started a family there and did not look back to that period of her life.

But in 2004, during a UNICEF fundraiser event for African girls at her daughter's school, she was inspired by the concept that "educated women will have educated children".

That was her "light bulb moment" to set up Educating Girls in Rural China.

"That event reminded me of my own life in Gansu and the poverty and limited resources that girls face in rural areas of China," she said. "It showed me that just one opportunity can change your whole future."

Her idea started taking shape and a year later the organization was registered in her country of adoption.

She started by raising $30,000 that managed to pay the tuition fees of 150 elementary school girls, and 24 first-year university students.

"The following year, the government started a new policy - no tuitions for students from Grade 1 to 9 in China. I realized I was working on a very limited budget and that I needed to focus on university candidates because that was a huge step for girls from rural families."

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the organization. Since its creation in 2005, EGRC has helped over 500 girls from rural areas of Gansu, Guizhou and Qinghai get through school and on to college.

Around 300 of the sponsored girls have already graduated, 150 are currently attending university, and more than 100 are attending high school.

Tien said she feels most proud of having achieved a 100-percent graduation rate, and attributes that to the fact her organization does more than merely provide financial means to the girls - it's often the moral support that it offers that proves the key to success, she insists.

From the start, Tien had realized that being away from their families and experiencing the hardships of the life in big cities could often be overwhelming for the girls.

For that reason, from 2007 she has made a point of traveling to different cities to check on the girls and offer them her personal support. "I really wanted to know about their individual situations and to offer them security.

She now pays regular visits to the girls and has a close relationship with each of them.

Most of the financial support EGRC receives comes from Canadian and Chinese individuals, fundraising events in Canada and Beijing, Canadian corporations who operate in China and different international organizations in Beijing and Shanghai.

Workshops that raise funds and offer valuable skills

Canadian-born Cindy Jensen, a management consultant at Boldmoves China, has taken on a stronger role with Educating Girls in Rural China by spearheading a new way of raising the charity's much-needed funds, while also providing a valuable service to the business community.

Jensen first met EGRC's founder Tien Ching at a charity event held in Beijing in 2006 by the former Canadian ambassador to China.

"I was really moved by the work that Tien was doing," she said. "I truly connected with the project."

Her work with the organization initially consisted of holding mentoring programs for the students EGRC was supporting through school, and trying to attract donors.

But this year, she said, "after living in China for 13 years I did not want to just be a passive participant anymore".

She wanted to develop an initiative that could raise more money, while at the same time enable donating companies to train their employees.

"We wanted to create an activity that offers valuable skills that could be brought back to the workplace."

The result is a series of leadership workshops run by Jensen, which are paid for by company training budgets, with the fees passed onto EGRC.

The initiative already has the support of a number of leading organizations, including Eldorado Gold, a Canadian gold producer with more than 20 years of experience building and operating gold mines in the region, and UNICEF. The Four Seasons hotel group provides the venue for the training sessions.

Jensen said she expects more Chinese companies to become involved in the project.

"We are talking about the future of young girls in China, so it would make sense for Chinese companies to become patrons of the project to help build opportunities for young women across the country".

 Girls' education project is proving a massive success

Students supported by the EGRC program at Enling High School, Yuzhong county, Gansu province. Photos Provided To China Daily


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