China: Zhiying Ma

I fully understand how destructive poverty can be to education, and how cruel it is for a child pursuing dreams to lose the chance of schooling. I have to try my best to help them.

— Zhiying Ma

Ma Zhiying lives in the remote Sabao Village, Zhengqi Town, Haiyuan County, Ningxia Muslim Autonomous Region. Here she has supported girls in difficult circumstances to complete their studies, with a scanty income of her own. Ma has contributed a great deal to the education of girls from China's western poverty regions.

Ma Zhiying is an ordinary Muslim woman, living in Sabao Village, a place “most unsuitable for human living” according to the World Food Program of the United Nations. Poverty and backwardness make education difficult, especially for women. Although Ma Zhiying finished senior high school with a good academic performance, she could not pursue further studies because her family was too poor. Ma worked as a cleaner in a market under the Commerce and Industrial Bureau with a monthly salary of 200 yuan. This meager sum, however, is the base of her altruism. One day in 1997, Ma headed to work as usual. As she was passing by the Haiyuan No. 2 Secondary School, she saw a girl wandering up and down in front of the gate. Ma found out that the girl had been admitted to the school, but had to quit due to financial difficulties. She brought her back to her home. Another day in 1999, Ma Zhiying saw several girls standing around a kerosene stove cooking in a little alleyway. It turned out that their school did not provide a dormitory, so they had to rent as cheap a place as they could find, and often there was no room to cook. Ma brought them to her home. From then on, Ma’s family began to reserve their three best rooms as free accommodation for peasant girls. Altogether 73 students have benefited from this. So far, Ma has spent 120,000 yuan on this work by trimming the family expenses. In the past few years, over 30 of these girls have been accepted by universities. Whenever this happens, Ma becomes very excited, saying, “When a girl is accepted, I feel as if I were going to have my own university life.” Ma got sacked from her job in 2002, but she did not give up her altruism.