More than 1,800 girls made their way from the mountain villages in Lijiang City, southwest China's Yunnan Province, to universities over past 12 years, including 159 female students who achieved their dream of going to college this year.
They all graduated from Huaping Senior High School for Girls, the first free public high school for female students in the country, founded by the school's female principal Zhang Guimei. This year, the school boasted the highest university admission rate in the region. Teachers at the school have not only educated the students, but also broadened their horizons.
"I don't want to be cooped up in this small place. I want to walk out of the mountains. In my village, many girls at my age have already gotten married," said Chen Mingsi, a student at Huaping High School for Girls.
Over the years, Principal Zhang found that some school-aged girls in Huaping County did not continue to senior high school after finishing their nine-year compulsory education, which covers primary school and junior middle school.
Instead, the girls returned to their hometowns to do farm work or part-time jobs to support their families. Their parents would rather keep them home instead of sending them for further schooling due to their traditional values and economic circumstances. But Zhang believes this makes educating female students only more essential to the community.
"Educating girls will influence three future generations. A well-educated woman will never abandon her child after giving birth to a girl," explained Zhang.
The 63-year-old principal has devoted her life to fighting gender and economic inequalities. In 2008, she decided not to charge tuition fees.
"The first high-school student in generations graduated from this school. They can't afford it. Students come to this school because it is free of charge," said Zhang.
Zhang's hard work was recognized by the government, which awarded her the title of "National Model Worker" and one of the "Top 10 Most Beautiful Village Teachers in China."