Some of you may be unhappy to be back at school. But what if you had to trudge for four or five hours across dry, hilly landscape just to get there? And then, because it was so far away, you got to go home only on weekends?

What if your parents then decided it was more important for your brothers to go to school than you? After all, you are just a girl.

What if, despite all this, you fought to continue your education and you took your fight to the rest of the world?

This is the true story of a Chinese girl named Ma Yan. When a French journalist, Pierre Haski, met Ma Yan in her remote village, Zhangjiashu, he wrote a newspaper story about her. Then he helped get her diary, which she wrote when she was 13 and 14, published.

People in France were so moved by her story they sent money so she could continue her schooling. Children sent letters with ballpoint pens attached.

There were so many donations that Haski and others created a foundation, called the Association for the Children of Ningxia, for the province in northwestern China where Ma Yan lives. More than 400 children such as Ma Yan have had their schooling paid for. She is now in high school, hoping to become a journalist.

This summer, Ma Yan's diary was published in the United States. Here are some excerpts:

Friday, Sept. 15, 2000

At eleven in the morning, after the last class of the day, we left school and went home for the weekend. The classes stop at the end of the morning to give us time to get back to our villages. There are seven of us, boys and girls. . . . I'm always afraid on this road. The ravines on either side are very deep, the mountains dangerously steep. Sometimes thieves stop us and demand money.

Thursday, Oct. 5

This morning Mother wants to winnow the rice in order to remove the husks. When she opens up the rice bags she finds mice in them. She flies off the handle and yells at us.

I was supposed to make sure the door to the storeroom was always closed, and I forgot. The mice got in, and that's why Mother is so angry.

Tuesday, Dec. 26

This morning Mother prepares dinner and cleans the house. She boils up a pot of water for me so that I can wash my clothes. . . . I've only washed two things when a lot of people arrive, among them my grandmother. They talk and laugh so noisily that it feels as if the roof is going to fall in.

I carry on washing my school clothes, and think that it really is at home that things are happiest and that we forget our misfortunes.

Monday, July 30, 2001

. . . . my pen isn't there. I'm distraught. . . .

If you only knew the trouble I had to take to get that pen. I saved up my pocket money for two weeks. . . . My mother had given me some money with which to buy bread. For days, I had only eaten yellow rice. I preferred going hungry and saving so that I could buy the pen. How I suffered for that pen! . . .

It made me understand the meaning of a difficult life or a happy life. Every time I see the pen, it's as if I were seeing my mother. It's as if she was encouraging me to work hard and make it into the girls' senior school.

-- Elizabeth Chang

Copyright 2005 by Ma Yan. Used by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

"The Diary of Ma Yan: The Struggles and Hopes of a Chinese Schoolgirl" has helped raise money to allow more than 400 kids attend school.Ma Yan, smiling in the second row, endures many hardships to attend school.