Over the past five years, a compassionate couple from Beijing have been devoting themselves to a noble cause — teaching ballet to children from mountainous areas in southwest China's Yunnan Province, bringing them life-changing opportunities through the art.
The two teachers are Guan Yu, a Beijing native and a ballet teacher from the prestigious Beijing Dance Academy, and his wife, Zhang Ping, who used to be a freelance choreographer. Zhang came up with the idea of teaching ballet to underprivileged children in Yunnan in 2016 when she saw a photo of several kids dressed in the Yi ethnic group's costumes standing barefoot beside a broken wall.
Zhang was touched by the sight of these kids with their big bright eyes and disheveled hair in the remote village of Naduo, which in the Yi language means "paddy fields hidden behind mountains", in Yanshan County. When Zhang, who was born in the county, visited the once poverty-stricken village, she found that many kids were not being taken care of. Some were left-behind children while others were orphans.
Later, Zhang and her husband decided to launch a welfare program to help poor children in mountainous areas change their lives through ballet.
Every summer and winter vacation, they returned to Naduo Village to teach children for free, and also invited local teachers and volunteers to receive free instruction.
In January 2017, Zhang and her husband brought 12 children to take part in a cultural training activity held in Beijing and visit well-known institutions of higher education including Tsinghua University. It was the first time the kids had visited a big city.
Later, the couple started to make more plans for the children — they hoped that these underprivileged children could pursue more professional further education in Kunming, capital of Yunnan, and find their own career paths.
Seven months later, the couple sent four students from Naduo Village to Kunming Art School, the only public secondary professional art school in the city, opening up a new option for these rural children.
In June 2019, Zhang quit her job in Beijing and set up a public welfare center in the village. "I have to stay here for the sake of the local children's development and the sustainability of the welfare program," she noted.
Children from nearby villages also attended ballet classes offered by the couple and other courses provided by volunteers at the center, walking for more than an hour to reach it.
"At first, the center was big enough for seven or eight local children to practice and have meals. However, there wasn't enough space at the center for more than 20 children, including those from nearby villages," Zhang explained.
While Zhang was worried about the restrictions on teaching conditions, she was actually more concerned about the children's employment prospects after graduation.
In August 2020, the couple established the Caiyi art training school in Yanshan County, which served as an ideal solution. "Graduates from art schools can teach children how to dance back at their hometown," she said.
Zhang further explained that they would charge students from the county seat some tuition fees and use the money to provide more assistance for rural children, while children from the public welfare center in Naduo Village would study at Caiyi art training school, which provides them with free accommodation.
"Our welfare program aims to offer a new possibility and option for these children," Guan added.
As of 2020, the welfare program had helped 62 children, most of whom were from ethnic minority groups, get recruited by art schools such as the affiliated art school of Yunnan Arts University and the Kunming Art School. The couple also found ways to cover their tuition fees and living expenses.
Today, an increasing number of local children want to learn dance at Caiyi art training school, which will soon exceed its maximum capacity. "We may set up new schools in other villages and continue to teach children how to dance ballet," Zhang said while revealing her plan.
(Source: People's Daily Online)
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