After school, a dozen children strap on life jackets under their backpacks before boarding a flat-bottomed boat in southwest China.

china children backpacks
This picture taken on May 31, 2017 shows students wearing lifejackets as they leave school to take principal Li Congshu’s boat to cross the Xiangshuitan reservoir in Dazu district in southwest China’s Chongqing municipality. Photo: AFP/Fred DUFOUR.

A 60-year-old man then sinks a pole into the green waters of the Xiangshuitan reservoir to push the punt in the daily, half-hour-long trip between the primary school and the pupils’ village.

He is none other than the school principal.

“I do not have a choice because it would take too long for them to walk this far. The shortest route passes through the reservoir,” Li Congshu says.

“That’s why I bought a boat to transport them.”

Li drew on his own savings to purchase the boats. The school is on its fifth boat, after Li bought the first more than 20 years ago.

“It has become a part of my life, like teaching,” he says.

In addition to his duties as a ferryman and school principal, Li also teaches one of the five classes the small school offers each day in Dazu district, in the sprawling municipality of Chongqing.

“People tell me to stop boating because I am 60 this year, but there is no other solution. They do not want to pay someone, so I have to go on.”

The crossing takes about half an hour compared to the two hours it would take the children to walk one way.

But since Li lives at the school, he must first pick up his pupils in the morning, then return alone in the evening, spending a total of two hours each day propelling the boat.

“There has never been an incident. Everyone recognises that it is safe,” he said.

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