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Coastal Fujian helping far west region flourish

By CHENG SI in Beijing and HU MEIDONG in Fuzhou | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2022-08-16 09:24
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Zheng Jie, a 50-year-old English teacher from Fujian province, voluntarily prolonged her stay in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region last year after she completed her one-and-half-year assistance program.

As one of the country's more developed areas, Fujian began to offer assistance in economic development, healthcare and education to Xinjiang's Changji Hui autonomous prefecture in 1999.

"I never thought that I would be here back in 2020 when the school was first selecting teachers to go to Xinjiang. My family were against my decision to begin with, so the principal called my husband to help persuade my parents," she said.

The move was hard at first. "The climate here is dry with very little rain. My peers often got nosebleeds. I used everything from a humidifier to face masks to avoid drying out and it took me about a month to get used to the climate."

The teaching method was another challenge. "The school I used to work at was a vocational school, but the one here-Changji Secondary School-is a regular junior and senior high school. It was a new challenge, both the living and working environment," she said.

Zheng didn't let this dampen her enthusiasm.

"I was happy and proud when my students progressed academically. They are clever and likable. But I still had a few regrets and that's why I extended my stay," she said. "One girl was often absent from class and I got to know during a family visit that there had been trouble between her and her father since her mother had died."

The girl's story touched Zheng and her peers, who all decided that if she wanted to continue her education, they would be there to support her. "In the end, she quit. Her father had a strict parenting style, and the two weren't able to get closer."

Zheng said that she regretted what had happened to the girl and her family. "We tried our best to treat the students gently, in case they were afraid of teachers and of going to school. I will finish my second term at Changji at the end of this year and I hope I'll get the opportunity to return after my stint as a volunteer ends," she said.

According to Changji Daily, the prefecture's official news outlet, some 4,000 people have been sent to support the development of the prefecture's economy, agriculture, education and healthcare since 1999 and nearly 6 billion yuan ($877 million) has been funneled into the prefecture by Fujian to finance 795 programs over the past two decades.

Last year, Fujian invested about 64 million yuan in updating healthcare infrastructure and facilities at the prefecture's county-level hospitals and clinics, and an additional 67 million yuan was used to build or upgrade 12 high schools and kindergartens.

The paper also reported that Fujian has poured resources into the prefecture's agricultural sector, investing 232 million yuan in 96 agricultural vitalization projects last year, and leading to the construction of 14 pioneer planting bases.

Yang Bin, dean of the Youxi county Agricultural Research Institute in Fujian, is helping to introduce advanced agricultural techniques and has been teaching farmers in Changji's Manas county how to cultivate mushrooms since coming to the prefecture in late August last year.

"The prefecture has a drier climate and the farmers weren't skilled at growing mushrooms. But we have both the experience and skills, so we were able to teach them how to improve yields," he said.

Yang said that he and his peers are now working to build a demonstration base for cultivating mushrooms to prove to farmers that they are now able to grow better mushrooms, both in terms of quality and quantity.

"We've combined the successful experience from Fujian with local practices, and tried to figure out new ways to help develop the prefecture's mushroom industry," he said. "Xinjiang also has plenty of experience for us to learn from, for example, the kinds of high-yield, high-quality fruits and vegetables we can introduce to Fujian. That makes it a win-win for us both."

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