A Tibetan school may struggle financially, but students love it so much they stay after graduation, writes Miranda Yeung
Situated on the top of a hill inside a nature reserve, Baimaxueshan (White Horse Snow Mountain) Tibetan Community School at Deqin, in Yunnan province, is home to dozens of students - some of whom graduated years ago.
Founded by Lama Luosang Qudan in 2000, the charity school provides free housing and education for Tibetan orphans or students from extremely poor families in Yunnan, Sichuan and Tibet .
The students had been sent home for the summer break. But they all returned to school for a rare encounter with a group of Hong Kong primary school teachers. Their visit was organised by WWF Hong Kong and sponsored by Swire. Some of the students walked for as many as three days to get back to their term-time home.
Free education is provided on the mainland up to junior high school level. Students from extremely poor families don't have to pay for books.
'But those who can't afford to pay for food and clothing, or those without parents, are sent here,' says Lama Luosang.
In 2005, WWF China collaborated with the Baimaxueshan Nature Reserve to build a two-storey school with three dormitories and four classrooms for 61 students.
But financing the school has been a struggle. 'It costs 5 yuan [HK$5.70] per student per day, excluding the cost of teachers and teaching materials. We send our teachers to big cities like Beijing and Kunming to ask for donations. We try our best to run the school.'
The school also supports graduates who want to go on to senior high school, at a cost of HK$800 a year.
One of these students is 17-year-old Luosong Shi. 'I only had my mother and sister at home. I studied at a normal school for two years before coming here aged eight,' Shi says.
'The teachers have taken care of me. They have found ways to cover my high school fees. I just hope that I can go on to study further and eventually go to university.
'Then I can find a stable job, and go back to the school to help other children.'
Despite the lack of resources, the school incorporates environmental education in the syllabus.
At weekends, students are taken to the mountains to observe wildlife. They collect rubbish - plastic bags in particular - on the way home.
Nothing is wasted, with excess food being fed to the school's pigs and chickens. And students have to pitch in with looking after the farm.
'They need to know how hard it is to grow food so as to treasure the environment,' says Lama Luosang.
The Hong Kong teachers worked with students on activities such as drawing the landscape and asked them questions about environmental issues.
One teacher, Choi Hing-ling, says: 'It's impressive to see how the school uses its limited resources to teach students to protect the environment.'