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Vancouver charity sings out for rural female students from China's Gansu province

(Xinhua)

10:27, October 04, 2011

VANCOUVER, Oct. 2 (Xinhua) -- Vancouverites got the opportunity to hear about the plight of female students from rural areas of northwestern China's Gansu province on Sunday afternoon when a benefit concert was held to raise money for their university tuition.

Since 2005, the British Columbia Society for Educating Girls of Rural China (EGRC) has raised about 400,000 Canadian dollars (380,709 U.S. dollars) through private donations and corporate sponsors to help fund the university education of 286 students.

So far, the program, which provides 6,000 RMB (952 dollars) to each recipient, around half of their annual tuition, has produced 116 graduates since 2009.

Tien Ching, a Beijing native who came to Vancouver in 1983, founded the program after putting her own children through university in Canada. The single mother believes such a program is necessary "as education is a powerful tool that changes lives."

Currently, the EGRC is supporting 170 students attending 96 universities in more than 20 different cities around China. More than half are studying sciences or engineering.

Tien's knowledge of the northwestern province comes firsthand as she lived in Gansu starting from the early 1970s when her doctor mother was sent there during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). The move also meant abandoning her own education as she went to work in a factory for eight years.

At the time, the young Tien said she would often accompany her mother on visits around the province's rural areas and see the poverty. It wasn't uncommon to see village girls engaged at as young as eight, and married at 13.

"Most of the students, the young women I'm sponsoring now, their mothers are usually in their forties but they have never been to school," she said. "Education, I think, is the key to changing a person, a family and even a society, especially educating women. We believe if a woman is educated her children will be educated."

As the owner of a commercial art gallery, Tien said the initial donors to the program were local Canadians who she met through her work, as well as Hong Kong immigrants. Last year, she got her first corporate donor when Eldorado Gold, a Canadian mining company with operations in China, came aboard.

"I think this is the way to go in corporate sponsorships with Canadian businesses operating in China. My target next year is 200,000 dollars. Last year, David Mulroney, the Canadian ambassador in China, hosted a private lunch (for the EGRC) and invited businessmen from the private sector, government officials and journalists to let people know about our work and that really got things going."

Among those in attendance at Sunday's benefit concert that featured a finale of the largely Western ensemble singing two selections by Chinese composer Wang Ning, was a Chinese post-graduate student Wang Bixia.

The native of Longxi County, Gansu, is the first student in the EGRC program to come to Canada to continue her study. She is now studying at Vancouver's Simon Fraser University toward her master's degree in material chemistry.

"It's changed my life because if I was not supported by this charity now I should be someone's wife, or one or two children's mother, stay in Gansu in the fields. But now I am here in Canada."

With the program helping her to get her first degree in chemistry from Shaanxi Normal University in Xi'an, the capital of Gansu's neighboring Shaanxi province, Wang said her long-term goal is to work toward her doctorate, which requires another five years of study in total.

She explained the program will help lift her family out of poverty as her father is a construction site worker earning merely 1,000 RMB (159 dollars) a month, while her mother is ill and her brother disabled.

"My tuition was about 6,000 yuan (952 dollars) and I couldn't have attended university without (the EGRC's) help," Wang said. "It's wonderful. For me it's an exciting experience. I experienced most first times here. The first time to take a plane, the first time to go to Beijing, the first time to eat Western food and go sailing here. Wonderful!"

Tien adds it isn't the goal of the program to bring more students over to Canada, instead it is a chance for all the donors over the years to see where their support has been going.

"Also for the girls, I encourage them to dream big. You know, to come to Canada or go to any other countries to pursue a higher education is not just what their studying, but also to give them a broader idea and inspiration about the world beyond China."

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