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Go-west service plan bears fruit
By Liu Weifeng (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-05-20 06:34

A growing number of fresh college graduates say they cherish the go-west service programme as a prime textbook-to-practice opportunity.

Co-organized by the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Youth League and the ministries of education, finance and personnel, the programme of volunteers serving the country's western areas is entering its third year. It has been widely accepted as a reciprocal experience for both volunteers and locals.

Along with this year's recruits, it is estimated that more than 30,000 students have been involved in the programme since 2003.

This year alone, some 11,300 students will volunteer their services, including those recruited last year for two-year terms.

"I've been thinking about the meaning of being alive since I was very young. But I thought too much and did too little. I need a breakthrough and this volunteer opportunity is a first step," Wu Liang, a fourth year psychology major with Beijing Normal University told China Daily.

Wu, who has been guaranteed a postgraduate position at the university, is suspending his studies for one year and will do volunteering work in the Tibet Autonomous Region starting this July

"I don't think I was influenced by others in making the decision. I know very clearly what I eventually need is to secure higher learning and serve more people who need help," Wu said.

However, "working with the less developed ethnic minorities is an urgent mission for me right now," added Wu, who is from Southwest China's Guizhou Province, where poverty is still a haunting plight for many.

Wu is among 102 applicants for the volunteer programme in his university. However, only one in every 10 gets the chance. A total of 1,309 colleges and universities across China have registered with the programme.

The number of schools participating in the programme has grown by 106 over last year.

From mid-April to May 10, about 52,000 applications were received, with students competing for 11,000 openings. Looking into stories of volunteers who have been engaged in the service, one can get a much clearer picture of what the applicants would do if they are granted the opportunity to serve.

Growing up in China's largest metropolis Shanghai, Gao Tian, a young woman wearing metal-framed glasses in an eye-catching red-coloured dress, actually learnt the skills of chopping firewood and carrying water on her 22nd birthday.

Gao is posted in Xiji County, Northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. Soon after she graduated from Shanghai-based Fudan University in 2004, she picked up tough living skills while serving as a teacher for third-year high school students in Sanhe Middle School in the county.

"I chose my own way and I am still proud of the decision I made last year," said Gao.

She was one of the graduate volunteers last year responding to the nation's go-west call to devote herself to fields such as education, rural medical support, basic agricultural training and legal consulting.

Gao, 23, a Chinese language major, was appointed assistant director of a school recently, thanks to her outstanding teaching performance during the past year.

As the only child in her family back in Shanghai, Gao, who is a little princess in her parents' eyes, was exposed to many unexpected difficulties upon her arrival in Ningxia last July.

"The place I stayed was listed as the most unsuitable place for dwelling by the United Nations, due to its dramatic shortage of water," Gao said.

Because of that, Gao had no place to shower for six consecutive weeks.

Also, she was startled by the students' poor basic knowledge, which posed great pressure on her teaching.

"What once shocked me was that there were 35 wrongly written characters in an 800-word writing assignment," Gao said.

However, "what I got from my work was the accomplishment of being needed and trusted," she added.

Mo Feng, a clinic medicine major from Peking University, found that after a two-year tenure in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, he has decided to stay on for the long term.

"The programme benefits the locals in the west and provides an opportunity for college graduates to hone their skills in practical work at the same time," Yang Yue, an official with the Chinese Communist Youth League told the reporter.

Returned volunteers will be treated with priority in job hunting or further study opportunities after completing their tenure of one or two years, which is guaranteed by organizers of the programme, Yang added.

(China Daily 05/20/2005 page5)

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