New school 'not made of mud' a dream come true for Kirgiz girl
Gulniya, 14-year-old Kirgiz girl who lives at the foot of snow-capped mountains in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, used to dream going to school somewhere warm.
She longed to attend a school that is "not made of mud, so studying will not freeze my hands", she said.
Her village of Bulunkyvle in Akto county means "a lake in the corner" in the Kirgiz language and is near the region's border with Tajikistan.
Noted for its glaciers and inaccessibility, the county has one of the largest populations of ethnic Kirgiz in China, with an average annual temperature that is not much above freezing and an average altitude of more than 2,800 meters.
It used to take Gulniya more than half an hour to walk through the mountains to her school, leaving home each day before sunrise. "My hands were frozen stiff during the first class and I could not write anything. They usually warmed up during the second class," she said.
During the region's short summers, melted snow can cause flooding. Gulniya and her classmates often had no choice but to remove their shoes and wade through freezing water in order to get to school.
She also had to change schools regularly, because her parents are herders and often move around with their flock.
All this changed in 2014, however, when Gulniya enrolled as a student at a new bilingual school, which offers free board and education in both Mandarin and Kirgiz for the children of nomads.
At first, there were only 32 teachers and 380 students in the school, which made use of classrooms belonging to a local college, but for Gulniya, it was already "the most perfect school".
In the autumn of 2014, her school's new building opened and the playground and track were completed within the following 12 months. Last year, a new arts building opened and two five-floor dormitory buildings are currently under construction.
In the course of three years, Gulniya and her classmates have learned how to use computers, paint and dance. She now plays an electronic keyboard, something she had only ever seen on TV previously.
Her elementary school now has 2,802 students and 189 teachers, representing a diverse mix of Han, Kirgiz, Uygur and Mongol ethnic groups.
Gulniya regularly calls her parents and goes back home using transportation that the school provides for free.
Her dream now is to become a teacher.