Educating Girls in Rural China celebrates first PhD graduation

EGRC students enjoying each other's company in the classroom -- photograph courtesy of Founder Ching Tien.
EGRC students enjoying each other’s company in the classroom — photograph courtesy of Founder Ching Tien.

On June 13, Educating Girls in Rural China (EGRC), a registered Canadian charity dedicated to sponsoring girls and young women in impoverished areas of rural china through their high school and university educations, celebrated its first PhD graduation. The Vancouver-based charity, established in 2005, operates under the belief that educating women is the best global strategy to lifting communities out of poverty. It joins advocates like Malala Yousefzai in arguing that every girl should have the right to an education and that the ripple effects of keeping girls in school reach far beyond the individuals in question.

During China’s Cultural Revolution, EGRC Founder Ching Tien was removed from the “privileged girls-only school” she attended with the daughters of high-ranking Communist officials like Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. She was sent to one of China’s poorest provinces, Gansu, where — like millions of other young people across the country — she was forced to work in a factory for eight years. This was a typical story for young people of Tien’s generation, and many were also forced into military service, or into hard labour on farms.

Women in poor rural regions of China are particularly disadvantaged as cultural mores still dictate that males take priority over females when it comes to accessing a family’s resources, and the government of China stops providing free education after primary school. Studies by the United Nations argue that if all women had access to a secondary education, child deaths would be cut in half, global malnutrition would be drastically reduced, and two thirds of child marriages would be prevented. For this reason, Tien now works with Canadian and Chinese donors to sponsor the educations of women and girls from families in need.

EGRC’s first PhD graduate, Bixia Wang, received her doctorate in Material Chemistry from B.C.’s Simon Fraser University at the beginning of June. When Wang was introduced to EGRC’s Ching Tien, she was in desperate need. Her mother had been hospitalized and her father supported the entire family by carrying heavy bags of cement, getting paid just 90 cents per tonne moved. As SFU’s website notes, she is the first in her family, and her home village, to have graduated from University. She is one of nearly 600 women and girls sponsored by EGRC, which boasts a 100 per cent graduation rate.

“From a village girl in China to a PhD graduate, especially a female PhD graduate from a university in Canada, my life has been completely changed,” says Wang. “I believe that with this education, I’ll have a bright and amazing future, no matter what I do.

“The girls who are currently under the sponsorship of EGRC have been given the hope of life. Together, we will pay this forward and help other girls who are in need. Eventually we will make a better society and a better world.”

Wang’s graduation was celebrated with a dim sum luncheon, attended by nearly 200 people — not bad for a Monday afternoon. Most importantly, the event raised over $28,000, going directly toward the education of women and girls from rural China.

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Jess Martin

Jess Martin is a public relations professional, an aspiring writer, and an assistant editor at Feminist Current. She prefers to write about feminist topics, disability, or environmental issues, but could be persuaded to broaden her horizons in exchange for payment and/or food. In her spare time Jess can be found knitting, gardening, or lying in the fetal position, mulling over political theory that no one in their right mind cares about.