70-year-old volunteer teaches in rural school

xinhua xinhua
Mar 07, 2019

CHANGCHUN, Ju Hongmei, a retired associate professor in northeast China’s Jilin Province, said she missed very much the children she used to teach as a volunteer teacher in a village in central China’s Henan Province.

“I have been a teacher all my life, and nothing can stop me from teaching,” Ju, 70, said.

In November last year, she heard via a Wechat group that there were only five teachers at Guyao Primary School, the only school in Guyao Village in Gaoshan Township of Yichuan County, Henan.

Having been a teacher for nearly 40 years, Ju always wanted to be a volunteer teacher but never had the opportunity. “Since I can still walk at my age, I applied without telling my family,” she said.

After over 10 hours on a plane, train and bus, she finally arrived. There were no dilapidated buildings or broken tables and chairs as she thought. Sliding blackboards, multimedia and many other advanced teaching equipment made it far from poor.

“The only problem was the lack of teachers,” she said. “So there were no music or art classes, and children barely knew anything about painting or art.”

Ju was supposed to teach Chinese, but she changed her mind. “It is more important to teach them to have a love for art and life,” she said.

Ju bought picture books, crayons and textbooks, and also asked her artist friends for advice and started from the very basics.
“Although I know how to draw traditional Chinese paintings, I still felt nervous when teaching the kids,” she said.

The children liked their new teacher and called her “Grandma Ju” instead of “Mrs. Ju” which made her feel at home. After class, they would always surround her and ask her lots of questions.

“I remember during the first music lesson, I was teaching them to sing a local folk song. When I began to play the keyboard, the children burst into cheers, clapping their hands along,” Ju said. “They are simple, enthusiastic and curious about new things.”

However, there was no central heating indoors. She had to play the piano for hours, and it was so cold that her fingers swelled up. “Not to mention the nights when I was awakened by the cold,” Ju recalled.
“It was not until she asked me to mail some crayons that I knew she went to Henan to teach,” said Zhao Jumeng, Ju’s son. “It’s not that we didn’t support her, we were just worried.”

Ju kept a diary during her time in Guyao, full of details of everyday life: Today, the children sang a new song to me…Today we learned how to do paper-cutting and the children’s work was beautiful.

As the semester came to an end, Ju had to return home. The children kept asking when their “Grandma Ju” would be back with tears welling up in their eyes. “I wish I were young and healthy enough to stay with them longer,” Ju said.

A few days ago, Ju received a photo from Guyao, with the flower-pattern paper-cutting on the window that Ju and the children made together.

“I miss my children there,” Ju said. “As long as my health permits, I will continue to be a volunteer teacher.”

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