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Physics by Day, Web Start-Up by Night: How One Teacher has a Lasting Impact

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Last week, I wrote about how the education inequity gap won't be closed in China by simply sending armies of great teachers into classrooms. It's going to take so much more, including entrepreneurs who understand the real issues, and have the vision and gumption to start their own programs, non-profits and businesses that will serve children across the country.

Over the next few weeks, I'll be profiling a couple of inspiring people who have taken it upon themselves to Just Do It. This week, meet He Guannan, a second-year Teach For China teacher who started his own non-profit while battling the challenges of teaching ninth grade physics in Yunnan Province.

Ten years ago, I was just like my students.

Much like the small town I grew up in, most of the parents of my students are uneducated peasants who earn very little money. Most are unable to help their children with their school work and don't know how to encourage their children to pursue their dreams. Most homes lack a desk, lights, bookshelves and books. Many students drop out by age 15 because they lack the inspiration, grades and guidance, as well as a lack of money to pay for school or survival.

But unlike so many others from my hometown, including my parents who worked in a factory and as an electrician to raise me, I've managed to pursue my dreams over the past 10 years by studying hard, graduating from the top university in China and becoming a Teach For China middle school physics teacher in a mountain village in Yunnan Province in 2012.

In order to have a real impact with my students, I couldn't just be a great teacher. I needed to start something longer lasting for my students than the next physics lesson.

In my first year teaching last year, I set up a program for my students called "Future Dream", a platform for them to share their dream jobs online. People from all around China took notice and established connections with my children by email and letters.

These volunteers worked with my students to create a detailed plan on how to achieve the dream occupation. Whenever a student would meet certain milestones to their plan, their Dream Guardian would send them an award. The project helped the students clarify what they want to do in the future and offered much-needed encouragement.

After a few months of testing out "Future Dream", I realized that my students and fellow teachers needed even more. I began a related program called "Yunnan Micro Commonweal" that jumps off from the premise of "Future Dream" with an online donation platform to help students across Yunnan Province find one-on-one supporters who provide both financial and spiritual support to students.

At the same time, Yunnan Micro Commonweal is also an online platform for teachers to fund raise for classroom resources, such as books, stationery, sports goods or clothes for their students. They can also exhibit their students' drawings or photographs online. Teachers can set up their own small arts and science projects online, and the platform would support them to fund raise for the materials. By supporting teachers, we can support thousands more students.

In our pilot year alone, we have already helped 200 students from 9 different schools raise more than 200,000 RMB per year.

I'll be leaving my students after the summer to work at an international school. At the same time, I'll continue managing Yunnan Micro Commonweal and will be registering it as a legal NGO (non-governmental organization).

Although I will no longer be seeing my students day-to-day, I have more confidence than ever that by developing Yunnan Micro Commonweal, I am helping them and 20 million other children in rural China come closer to finding Dream Guardians and achieving their dreams like I had the chance to do 10 years ago.

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