Born in a remote village in China to parents who never got the chance to learn to read, Meihua Huang walked an hour to school every day. The most she could hope for was to become a farmer.
Everything changed on May 12, 2008. When Huang was 11-years-old, a magnitude 7.9 earthquake hit her home province of Sichuan in southwest China.
Her school collapsed, trapping her for hours. After rescuers finally pulled her out, Huang's legs had to be amputated above the knee.
Meihua Huang hopes to study at the University of British Columbia this fall. (Photo: Supplied)
More than 87,000 people died or went missing in the devastating quake, and another 4.8 million lost their homes, according to BBC News.
The doctors who treated Huang after the earthquake changed her life.
“Because of the nurses and doctors, I am who I am now,” Huang, now 19, said in an interview with The Huffington Post Canada. “They treated me equally and with honour so I felt 'OK, I am normal.'"
Inspired by them, she now wants to study at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver to become a doctor.
She hopes to crowdfund the costly tuition, since her family’s income in China amounts to about C$300 a month.
A worker gathers debris from a collapsed building in June 2008 at Juyuan Middle School where about 280 children died in the Sichuan earthquake. (Photo: David Gray/Reuters)
Huang’s parents lost their home in the earthquake.
“They are pretty tough and pretty brave,” said Annie Zhang, who became Huang's godmother after meeting her in the hospital. Zhang was working for the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai when she became close with the girl.
It was her idea for Huang set her sights on applying to school in Canada and the U.S.
Huang called UBC her dream school because "it has the best programs" and "Canadian people are so good."
Meihua Huang in Vancouver with her flight instructor, Cristian Sepulveda, left, and the president of Imperial Canadian Flying School, right. (Photo: Supplied)
Attending expensive post-secondary schooling in North America may be a pipe dream for a rural girl from China. But Huang has already beaten many odds. She was voted class president in high school and graduated among the top students.
She created anti-bullying initiatives, worked with rural students as a volunteer English teacher, and even gave a speech with Canadian activist Craig Kielburger at a WE Day event in Beijing.
Oh, and she's learned to co-pilot a plane. Just another impressive goal checked off her list.
Meihua Huang learned to fly at a school outside of Vancouver this spring. (Photo: Supplied)
The Imperial Canadian Flying School in Pitt Meadows, B.C. helped Huang with her dream. It was the first time she'd ever left China.
After three weeks of lessons in March, Huang got to fly a seaplane (guided by an instructor).
Now, Huang is firmly set on some other goals: to be fully independent and to become a physician.
Looking for independence
In China, she must rely on others because there is little infrastructure for people in wheelchairs, Huang said. But arrangements in Canada are geared much more towards independent living.
UBC has already accepted Huang, and now the cost of tuition is the major obstruction to embarking on her medical studies.
It may seem daunting, but challenges don’t seem to faze Huang.