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Teacher dedicates her life to helping deaf children

By Hou Liqiang | China Daily Europe | Updated: 2017-03-19 12:48

Yuan Jinghua's brothers and sisters all got married before they were 20. Yuan, however, didn't get married until she was 25, as many young men were frightened away by her special "dowry" - 45 deaf-mute children.

"If they wanted to marry me, they had to accept the dowry," says Yuan, from Xiajin county, Shandong province. She is also a deputy to the National People's Congress. The children were students she had taught to speak.

In 1992, Yuan saw two deaf-mute girls driven out of a local primary school in tears after they sneaked into the school and looked into the classroom.

Yuan tried to teach them to speak by asking them to feel her vocal cords vibrate and managed to teach them to say "grandma" and "grandpa" after two months. "I was so excited. I asked the pair to speak in front of many villagers," she recalls.

 Teacher dedicates her life to helping deaf children

Yuan Jinghua, a deputy to the National People's Congress (second from left), visits a children's hospital in Jinan, Shandong province. Yuan has submitted 205 suggestions or motions to the National People's Congress, most of which relate to children with disabilities. Qi Ren / For China Daily

Soon many parents took their deaf-mute children to her. Yuan turned her seven-room home into a school. Desks were used as dining tables at dinnertime and beds at night. She charged each child 60 yuan ($8.70; 8.16 euros; 7.13) a year and required 20 kilograms of wheat a month.

By 1997, the number of students had increased to 45 and Yuan had to set up a thatched hut to accommodate them.

"More children came and some refused to leave after I told them there was no space. They held the door as their parents tried to drag them away," says the 41-year-old.

Yuan also raised pigs to earn money, but it was far from enough.

In 1997, she did something that made others call her a madwoman.

She prepared posters reading: "No matter how old you are or how you look, I will marry you as long as you will build a school for the children."

Yuan put up the posters in nearby villages.

Her "crazy" action failed to attract attention from men, but it did catch the eye of the local government. The Xiajin county government invested more than 100,000 yuan to help Yuan build a school in 1998. That same year she was elected as a deputy to the Dezhou city people's congress.

Thanks to her kind heart, she found marriage in 2000. Her husband, a teacher, was persuaded to marry her by his grandmother.

"My husband's grandmother said I must be a loyal woman because I treated the deaf-mute children so well," she recalls.

The school, however, still was not large enough to meet the needs of the children, who continued to come from other provinces. She decided to move the school to Xiajin in 2002.

"The county government gave some support but I still had to raise about 1 million yuan. I borrowed money from relatives, and many of them tried to avoid me because of that," she says.

In 2012, Yuan raised more than 60 million yuan and built a new school that covers more than five hectares. The school is still 10 million yuan in debt, even though it received a lot of social and government support, Yuan says. It now has about 800 students.

More than 600 students have graduated from her school or transferred to regular schools. Some have graduated from college, says Yuan.

Since she was elected as a deputy in 2003, she has submitted 205 suggestions or motions to the National People's Congress, about two-thirds of them related to children with disabilities.

"All of them have been well received," she says.

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