It has never been easy to make a difference in Shimen, a place hidden in the mountains in southwest China's Guizhou province.[Special coverage]
Shimen, translated as "stone gate", had its share of fame about 110 years ago due to the dedication of British pastor Samuel Pollard, who in China was known as Bo Geli, and his followers, but it never fully escaped poverty. People here have persistently struggled against isolation and destitution, and the battle is still on.
At the beginning of 20th century, Pollard, a British missionary arrived at Weining County, which administers Shimen township. Shimen was known as Shimenkan at the time.
Pollard pioneered modern education in the community, where ethnic Miao people lived. He founded Guanghua elementary school in 1905.
Shimen once flourished under external influence, however, it went into decline since the 1940s due to remoteness, poor infrastructure and failing education.
Over 1.48 million people live in Weining, an autonomous ethnic county in western Guizhou, inhabited by Yi, Hui and Miao people. Even today, about 13 percent of the population there are still struggling under the poverty line. Per capital annual income is under 2,300 yuan (353 U.S. dollars). The poverty rate in Shimen is around 25 percent.
In 2015, Shimen became a liaison point for Chen Min'er, Communist Party chief of Guizhou at the time. Chen has went to Shimen three times to personally direct anti-poverty efforts here.
In Guizhou, 20 provincial leaders were sent to lead poverty-relief work in 20 "extremely poor" towns.
New houses, roads and power grids are under construction in Shimen. Investment in schools has greatly increased.
Poverty must end at this generation, not the next, and the only means to get rid of it is through better education, Chen told teachers at Minzu Middle School in a visit.
The school has been completely renovated at cost of over 97 million yuan (15 million dollars). "It is very expensive to build a school on a mountain like ours. The walls and underlying structure cost over 40 million yuan," said Li Zhengdong, the principal.
Now the school, where 1,044 students study, has air-conditioned classrooms, new labs and well-equipped libraries,
Before 2015, the school ranked almost the lowest in the county in terms of performance, but this year it ranked second. Students in Shimen had very good scores in high school entrance exams, Li said.
"The teachers are better paid than before, so they are very committed to teaching the kids," said vice principal Zhao Bingying.
Last year, 1,215 people were taken off the poverty list in Shimen. The target for this year is 2,576.
An Chaowen, 47, gave up his home on a mountain slope and was given a 140-sq-meter apartment for free according to the poverty-relief policy.
Now he transports construction material with his new tractor. He also runs a grocery shop.
"I have six kids, and my wife suffers rheumatism. It was difficult to get water when we lived at the old home. It is much more convenient for four of my children to go to school now that we are living in the town," he said.
"Now many contractors have come to buy our vegetables, and business has been very good for the farmers," said Ma Xu, Party chief of Nyugu village.
"Poverty relief needs policies and day-to-day work of grassroots officials, besides the diligence of the farmers themselves. We believe, as the old saying goes, if you are sincere enough, you can move a stone gate," said Xie Dingguang, head of the Shimen township.