YINCHUAN, Aug. 3 (Xinhua) -- Yao Wenjing loves playing badminton. But unlike her urban peers, the 11-year-old village girl did not have a professional guide or an indoor badminton court.
Yet an opportunity knocked this summer. A free badminton course was offered by the youth activity center near her home in the outskirts of Shizuishan City, northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. Yao found a chance to give wings to her dream career.
Yao's father is a construction worker, and her mother a housewife. Under a government-funded relocation program, the family left their original home in Xihaigu, one of China's poorest areas, and resettled in a residential community in Shizuishan years ago.
"I dream to be an athlete, but playing badminton is a luxury for my family," said Yao, adding that she will take part in the municipal badminton competition this year with the help of the center.
The youth activity center was built for children of migrant workers. "These left-behind kids have little choice of entertainment. They usually watch TV or do homework during holidays. But now they can nurture interests and make new friends at the center," said Yang Xiaohui, head of the center.
Yao is among the more than 400 students who have signed up for courses at the youth activity center this summer. Spread over more than 7,000 square meters, the center offers 23 courses -- from badminton and football to ballet and Lego.
Plain canvas shoes are aligned neatly along the walls of a dancing room, where girls in tutus stand on their tiptoes, ready for the music to start. Boys are going all out to make their Lego robots move with the help of programing or fly self-made airplanes high in the sky with controllers.
To reduce the urban-rural education gap, China has channeled funds raised by lottery into youth activity center programs in rural areas since 2011. By the end of 2018, more than 5.5 billion yuan (787 million U.S. dollars) had been invested to build facilities and employ teachers at these centers.
"To prevent children from getting injured due to improper exercise, I was sent by the center to Yinchuan, the regional capital, to learn professional skills before working here," said Guo Weijuan, a football coach at the youth activity center in the city's Dawukou District.
Ningxia has set up 455 youth activity centers across the autonomous region since 2011. Around 93.9 percent of local poverty-stricken counties, districts and townships have been covered by the program, official data showed.
This year, Ningxia is expected to build another 15 free youth activity centers in Guyuan City, the main battlefield of the region's poverty alleviation effort.
These youth activity centers have provided a new way of life to many rural children.
In a Domino class, 10-year-old Zhang Jingqi patiently built blocks with meticulous execution. When she put a green block on a red one, hundreds of dominoes she had spent two hours stacking up fell one after another. Not losing heart, she decided to do it all over again.
Zhang's father is a miner and her mother is occupied with casual work. Both do not have much time to look after the girl.
"She started to participate in courses at the center two years ago. I am happy to see that the reserved girl is much more optimistic and patient now," said Zhang's teacher Ma Peng. Enditem