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Eight-Year-Old Girl Baby-Sits Her Brother at School

This may sound shocking and even hard to believe, but there are others like her who cannot even go to school.

The typical winter weather in Guizhou Province (southwest China) is gloomy and rainy. the sunshine barely lasts for three days in a row. On a slippery village road near the Moon Mountain area, seeing a young girl carrying a boy on her back to school is a common sight.

On June 24, 2006, China’s Today Morning Express newspaper published the story of such a girl. Her name is Ning Yuexiang, a fourth grader at the Dadong Elementary school in Yongli County. She is eight years old, and the boy she carries on her back is her two-year-old brother.

She started washing clothes at the age of four. At age five, she climbed hills with her father to chop wood, which is a source of fuel supply for daily cooking. She started taking care of her six-month-old baby brother at six years of age so that her mother could work on the farm.

the first time Ning Yuexiang took her brother to school, he cried in the classroom. the next day she was upset and went to school alone. After school, she realized that her brother had been crying at home for the whole day. Since then, she has been carrying him to school every day.

Her father often works away from home, and her mother takes care of the farm. Her grandmother is over 90 years old. After school, Ning Yuexiang’s daily chores consist of taking care of her brother, doing housework, washing clothes, and feeding the pigs.

Ning Yuexiang’s home is a three-room, two-story building mostly made of locally available wood. the partitions of the house are broken. the cooking stove, situated in the middle room, is surrounded by plastic sheeting to block the mountain breezes. the pig pen is located at the right. the upper floor is where the family sleeps and stores grains. the floor squeaks whenever someone walks.

the story may sound improbable in metropolitan cities such as Beijing or Shanghai, but in the remote countryside many children may even fare worse than little Yuexiang. As one of her teachers says, "She is lucky that she can make it to school."

When asked if life is hard, Yuexiang says no. She also says that she is not tired as long as her brother is not crying, and that shets happy when he is with her.

But when asked about how hard she has to study to go to college, she showed sadness on her face. Yuexiang is never late to school and has been getting excellent grades. Being able to go to college one day is her biggest wish. She worries whether her father will be able to afford the tuition.

Lily Qu is a correspondent for Chinascope.