“Hello, headmaster!” Xu Shunhong, a stocky man from China’s Yunnan Province, was greeted wherever people met him in Muang Xay, a major business town in northern Laos.

Since 2006, Xu has been running the China-Laos Friendship School in Muang Xay, the only one in the country that teaches Chinese language and is owned by a foreigner.

“We started with 16 students, including the first and second grade students, (and) two Lao teachers. This school couldn’t make much money, so I had to find other ways to bring more income, like running a restaurant, providing certificates services, etc.,” Xu recalled.

With the cultural and people-to-people exchanges growing between China and Laos, the school is now seeing more and more students enrolled, up to more than 1,000 at the peak.

“I hope it is able to provide the condition for more Lao people to learn Chinese, so only a low tuition fee is charged by this school,” Xu said.

Free training is also available to personnel from local government departments at various levels as it aimed to contribute to local development while serving the Belt and Road Initiative, he added.

Proposed by China in 2013, the Belt and Road Initiative refers to the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, aiming at building a trade and infrastructure network connecting Asia with Europe and Africa along the ancient trade routes of Silk Road.

Xu said after graduating from university, he worked in Pu’er, China’s Yunnan Province as a teacher.

“During my teaching experience, I came to know some Lao students. In 2005, a traffic accident occurred to these Lao students when they were on their way back to Laos to celebrate the New Year, and some students lost their lives,” he said.

That accident prompted Xu to make up his mind to set up a school in Laos to facilitate local students learning Chinese language.

In February 2018, Xu and Zhang Tingjiang, a local Chinese business leader, began a large-scale construction project near the town of Muang Xay, with a plan to invest 25 million yuan (3.7 million U.S. dollars) to upgrade the China-Laos friendship school.

Zhang came to Oudomxay province where Muang Xay is located to do business in 2001, and saw that local students had difficulty in going to school and wanted to help. He told Xinhua that the school now offers tuition waivers for students from the northern provinces of Laos.

“They wanted to help Laos, to make Laos better, to make Lao people understand more Chinese. Schools are not built to make money, but more about teaching students knowledge,” said Hongkham Bounphakhom, director of teaching affairs at the school.

“For the infrastructure, this school must be number one here, but for the scale, it’s still number two, but we are developing and very confident about the future of this school,” she said.

Chanpheng Duangphachan, vice principal of the school, told Xinhua that the school is well-recognized in the surrounding communities, and Lao people from all ethnic groups are willing to send their children there.

Lao government departments at various levels also spoke highly of the school for its contribution to local development and cultural exchanges.

“This might be the most exhilarating and meaningful thing I’ve ever done! Life should have dreams, goals, and then fight for them!” said Xu.