Mudalebek Mametjuma (R) says goodbye to his family before heading to the school bus pick-up point at Muji Town in Aketao County of northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, March 24, 2020. Unlike his peers living in China's inland cities, the journey to school for Mudalebek Mametjuma and his younger brother is long and full of twists and turns. (Xinhua/Ding Lei)
by Xinhua writers Zhang Zhongkai, Ma Kai and Ma Yujie
URUMQI, March 27 (Xinhua) -- Unlike his peers living in China's inland cities, the journey to school for Mudalebek Mametjuma and his younger brother is long and full of twists and turns.
The 15-year-old junior high school student lives in Muji Town, Aketao County of northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Located on the Pamir Plateau, it is also known as the westernmost region in the country.
Going to school has never been easy for people living on the plateau with an average elevation of 4,500 meters. His father, Mametjuma Abudurahman, dropped out of school early in his childhood because the journey to school was too arduous.
"I lived much closer to school than most others, but it still took me over an hour to get to school by donkey," said Mametjuma Abudurahman, recalling that they had to bring lunch and pick up dry cow dung on their way to school to keep the stove hot in the classroom in winter.
His son no longer has to endure such hardships. Local government has offered aid to help junior high school students and some elementary school students study in urban boarding schools, where they can enjoy better facilities and education. Mudalebek Mametjuma is now a student of one of the county's best schools, which provides students with free food and accommodation.
After an extended winter holiday due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Mudalebek Mametjuma could finally resume his journey to school.
Xinjiang reopened all elementary and high schools on Monday, the first provincial-level region in the country to do so as the coronavirus epidemic recedes.
The local government sent school buses to get nearly 1,200 students in four towns in mountainous areas back to school. Teachers and medical workers are also on board to help take necessary epidemic prevention and control measures such as taking temperatures and giving free masks.
Mametjuma Abudurahman drove his two sons to the school bus pick-up point, about 20 km away from home. With a monthly salary of 2,600 yuan (about 367.5 U.S. dollars) as a border guard, he bought a pre-owned sport utility vehicle earlier this year.
Mudalebek Mametjuma's school is about 200 km from the pick-up point. The commuting time has been significantly cut thanks to an upgrading of the once bumpy gravel road. Tunnels and bridges have also been constructed, lowering accident risks from landslides and mountain torrents.
Despite the long distance and epidemic, resuming normal classes is a shared expectation for students in the town. Turuganaye Kerim, who attends the same school with Mudalebek Mametjuma, said she missed the diverse extracurricular activities such as printing and dyeing at school.
"I am happy to be back," Mudalebek Mametjuma said. "I look forward to playing basketball with my friends."