On a sunny February day in Chenji township of Hefei, when the bell rings, students file out of classrooms to the playground, one running after another, enjoying every bit of the warmth that the early spring has offered.
Behind the laughter and clamor, however, the village surrounding the school seems quiet, since many young people left to work in cities. Chenji township, located on the north side of Hefei, is one of the poorest areas in the region. Eighty percent of the children in town are left-behind children.
The Sunshine Primary School, set up by Chen Wanxia in 2006, works with 130 children who are left behind by their migrant parents. Ninety choose to board at the school, going back home twice a week.
"We are teachers while holding a textbook, and we become 'mothers' when putting it down," Chen said. The teaching staff includes college graduates as well as experienced teachers from other voluntary schools.
"The school is the children's home, so teachers are sort of like their moms," Chen said.
The Sunshine Primary School has turned out to be very popular for farmers, and it received over 300 students at its largest scale four years ago.
In July 2012, Chen was named one of the most remarkable teachers in rural China by China Central Television and Guangming Daily. And she was elected as a deputy member of Hefei Municipal People's Congress.
With the urbanization and improvement of family's living conditions in the past two years however, the school has seen a declining number of students as some of them were taken to cities by their parents.
This has caused a problem - it's becoming harder to keep the school running.
Chen said the school could barely make ends meet as one third of the students receive free tuition, with the remaining two thirds paying 2,900 yuan ($420) per semester. The school pays its 18 staff 40,000 yuan ($5,799) per month.
Moreover, the school is now over 300,000 yuan in debt as money has been used to renovate buildings and dormitories.
"It's pretty tough times right now, but I will fight (to protect the school) as long as there are students," Chen said.