China: Xinlan Ma

I have tried to use my own example to educate and inspire children and their parents. The force of knowledge is great and I hope to change the extent of poverty in my home village through knowledge.

— Xinlan Ma

Ma Xinlan started her career as a teacher in 1971. Since 1985 she has been the headmistress of Weizhou Hui Women’s Primary School. She and five other teachers established the school, a significant step in a region that has been slow to offer education to women, particularly those of national minorities.

Ma Xinlan was born in 1952 into a Muslim family in Weizhou, Tongxin County, Ningxia Autonomous Region. According to the local conditions and customs, it was difficult for girls to go to school. But the appearance of a young woman teacher changed Ma’s destiny. Ma not only went to school as she wished, but also decided to become a teacher. In 1965 she completed her primary school education. At the time, only four girls in the township had finished primary school. Ma was accepted by Tongxin County Middle School with high scores. However, because the villages in the poor mountainous area where she lived were affected by the Cultural Revolution, she had to leave the school for the poor yellow earth at home. Fortunately, her strong wish to teach resulted in her getting a job as a village teacher in 1971, when positions were available in the county. She was 19 that year. In 1985, under the auspices of local religious individuals and the education department, the Weizhou Hui Women’s Primary School, which had been disbanded 30 years earlier, was re-established. Ma, who had 14 years of teaching experience, was assigned to be the headmistress of the school, an important step in a region known for its bad educational standards for minority women. The percentage of Muslim girls who attended school was less than 20, and those who quit after the third or fourth grade was 80 percent. For many years Ma advised and persuaded them to stay and her efforts paid off, with the percentages going up (98 percent, and 95 percent remaining in school). Girls were given vocational training as well. For Ma this is a labour of love.

Weizhou Hui Women's Primary School