Bayan Huawei prepares to take photos of students at Runan Primary School in Yulongnashi Autonomous County, Yunnan Province, during the visit. China Daily

A doctor’s charity project has helped end student malnutrition in Yulong County

As a nutritionist, Bian Huawei never expected that a random stop at a school in Yulongnashi Autonomous County in Yunnan Province 14 years ago would direct him toward a 4 million yuan ($548,600) charitable cause.

In 2009, he visited Ronan Primary School at lunchtime while on a tour of the province commissioned by the China Poverty Alleviation Foundation to assess whether children were getting adequate nutrition.

“I went to look at the students. I became a father not long ago,” said Bian, director of the Department of Clinical Nutrition at the Third Affiliated Hospital of Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province.

He returned to school at dinnertime and again the next day. Apart from rice, potatoes dominated the students’ diet. Bayan learned that the students ate only a small amount of vegetables and meat, which were available on Tuesday and Thursday.

The governorate is located in a mountainous area more than 3,000 meters above sea level, and has limited sources of water and income.

On that visit, Bian bought a whole pig for about 1,000 yuan for the students and school staff to eat.

In 2010, Bayan visited the school and funded the purchase of fresh meat for the entire school year.

The following year, he signed an agreement with the provincial education office to oversee meat purchases with his funding. The conditions included providing at least 150 grams of fresh meat in lunch for each student on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. In the fall of that year, the government across the country launched a plan to enhance nutrition for rural students during their compulsory education.

Bayan expanded his support to include more elementary schools in the district and provide free breakfast, lunch and dinner to students, supplementing government funding with his donations.

He also provided professional advice on how to improve students’ diet using available resources. In the streams under the mountains, for example, there were plenty of shrimp and fish. Teachers were asked to use these resources to give students protein on a regular basis.

In 2011, Bayan also funded the construction of greenhouses in schools to provide students and teachers with more types of vegetables. The water storage facilities used in the greenhouses have been funded by other charitable organizations.

Bayan Organization donations were used to purchase refrigerators for schools, develop school kitchens, provide support to four primary schools, and purchase clothes for students.

Total spending so far has exceeded 4 million yuan, said Zhao Shuofang, former head of the county’s Women’s and Children’s Hospital, which serves as a liaison for the Bian Charity Project.

Bayan was joined by 20 of his friends, six of whom have been involved in charitable work since the beginning. Most of them visited the schools they helped. Bayan has visited schools at least twice a year since the project began, except during the COVID-19 pandemic. Chow said the donations have led to significant improvements in students’ health.

The rate of developmental delays was cut in half to 14.4 percent among Ronan Elementary School students a year after the project began. After two to three years, no cases of malnutrition were detected among the students. She said parents are grateful that their children eat better at school than at home.

Over the years, most school buildings and facilities have been rebuilt or renovated with government funding. Despite the progress, Bayan believes that children’s health still deserves people’s attention.

“Children’s pre-pubertal development is very important. If they are not healthy at this stage, it will become a problem in the future,” he said.

Bayan takes pictures of each student when he visits and gives them the pictures the next time he visits. “Every time I go, the children don’t know my name. They just know that there is an uncle who helps them. They take pictures with me and play with me happily. I feel proud,” Bayan said.

“There was a shy little girl. I took pictures of her every year from 2010 until she graduated from elementary school. And every time I went there, she would tell her teacher that she wanted to take pictures with me. This is so rewarding for me.”

Bayan’s charitable work was not known until early this year. He was awarded the title of “Guangdong Good Person” by the provincial authorities this year.

Wang Han Contribute to this story.

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