Premier Wen Jiabao visited Chi Heng-sponsored families (29 Nov 2008)

From: 南方週末 (3 Dec 2008)

Premier Wen Jiabao, who made a special trip from Beijing, shook hands with each of the ten AIDS orphans, at 6 pm on 29 November 2008, at the entrance of the Epidemic Control Center in Caisi Village, Wanghua Town, Funan County, Fuyang City of Anhui Province. Chen, a 17-year old Senior Secondary Two student, was the eldest among the orphans.

“How do you pay your tuition fees and living expenses?” Wen Jiabao asked.

“Chi Heng Foundation of Hong Kong provides me with full tuition fees and gives me living grants each month.” Chen answered.

Wen Jiabao turned to the accompanying officials of Anhui Province and Funan County, “Although the country has put in a lot of resources to help AIDS orphans, it has not done enough. NGOs have relieved the burden of the Government and have played a supplementary role.”

Reporters of China Development Brief visited Anhui (June 2007)

BY: Nick Young with Mian Liping (勉麗萍) – (China Development Brief)

Anhui authorities have also been open to cooperation with international organizations. We travelled to outlying villages with two locally recruited staff from the Hong Kong based Chi Heng Foundation (智行基金會), delivering food parcels to affected families, which the Foundation also provides with financial support. This seemed a carefully targeted and smoothly-run operation, with detailed record keeping. The Chi Heng staff, who were cordially received, clearly knew the families quite well and spent time with each, chatting and listening to their news. The villages were tidy and most families seemed, if not exactly prosperous, at least to be making ends meet. But there were also scenes of considerable pathos, such as the barely furnished single-room home shared by two teenage boys.

Professor Hsien-Yung Pai’s Speech on 17 Nov 2008

Elisabeth Rosenthal, Reporter, International Herald Tribune/New York Times

“He (Chung To) planned well. He gave part of the donations received to the local schools and asked them to accept the AIDS orphans. In this way, the orphans could go back to school to receive education. He went around campaigning for such a cause. He found that the disaster was so extensive that it was like a big fire, which could not be put out by one person alone. I told him that such a big fire could not be put out by you alone. However, if you could extinguish some small flames, if you could save one or two lives, or several lives, you had already done good works and had accomplished your mission.”

There are children I met on reporting trips to rural Henan in 2002, who I assumed would be dead by now, or at least destitute and out of school, because they or their parents had been ravaged by AIDS. Every once in a while these days, I spot one of them in Chi Heng videos, looking happy and healthy. It is really a miracle, thanks to Chung To.

Walk for Chalk, A Most Unusual Holiday

By Wendy Ko

A friend posted an article about Chung To in a chat group. A Columbia and Harvard graduate and Wall Street elite, he gave up his lucrative banking career at age 29 to establish Chi Heng Foundation, for the purpose of saving AIDS-impacted orphans from their tragic fate. Furthermore, he has been at it for the last 18 years. This has to be the most moving story in the world of finance! Working in the finance field myself, I was very touched, and so I registered to participate in their fundraising activity “Walk for Chalk”. Friends around me advised me that a lot of purported charities were scams, that when I got there, they would come up with numerous excuses to ask for donations. There are just too many dishonest people in the world, and the more wonderful a “charity” sounds, the more scared of it my friends are. I figured that if this was a scam, they would have absconded with the donation money before their 10th anniversary and would not still be doing the same thing today. Besides, I found many photos of Chung To to be emotionally stirring. He was always bending down and listening intently, tightly holding the children’s hands, as if he was bent on rescuing all the underprivileged young lives in the whole world.

Although the activity was called “Walk for Chalk”, it was not really a walk but mostly interaction with sponsored children. On the last day, a number of sponsored university students came to give talks about themselves. The first lady who spoke had already graduated and was now a music teacher. She was very well-mannered. Halfway through her speech, she got to the part on how she initially learned about Chi Heng’s assistance for AIDS families through the epidemic prevention station in her village. “Because something happened in the family … something happened to my mom … um … um … well you know what I am talking about…” Although it had been years since that happened, and so much had changed including her having finished her education, she was still unable to utter the word “AIDS”. You can imagine what discrimination she had endured and how deeply she had been hurt! The ignorance of the fellow villagers caused them to believe that they would contract AIDS through daily lives, so they used to drive HIV-positive kids out of school! In fact, 90% of the sponsored children were HIV-free, but they were still considered by their relatives to be bringers of bad luck and a curse that caused their parents’ death!

Another speaker was an assertive lady with an emphatic speaking style. She was by now a math teacher, volunteering for Chi Heng in the summer to do home visits. Chi Heng is very thorough in verifying beneficiaries’ qualification and following up on every student’s progress, and home visits are a part of that. The lady said that these home visits had to be carried out in a low-key manner, to avoid arousing discrimination from fellow villagers. Many remote villages were not easily accessible, some with treacherous access roads that might not be very safe, so she often brought with her a fruit knife for protection. Another purpose of home visits is to inspire and encourage the youngsters from the angle of a big brother or big sister who has been through what they are going through, to instill hope in those who feel hopeless and restore their confidence in life. Yet another speaker was a male student who was somewhat apologetic, embarrassed that his grades at school were not great and that he only managed to get into studying physical education. His elder sister had found the upheaval at home unbearable and ran away to a faraway place, rarely heard from since. To me, these kids have been battered with poverty, sickness at home, discrimination, and broken families. The fact that they have lived through all that and survived with resilience is already something they should be very proud of! Of course, it is also a reflection of the outstanding work of Chi Heng. Among the children sponsored by Chi Heng in its first year, 60% have got into university. To date, over 20,000 children have been helped; their destiny completely changed. One child was a street beggar before he came upon Chi Heng. Today, he has already built his own family. All these children need is for society to give them a chance!

More than 20 sponsored junior and high school students joined us for the two days during the weekend, many of whom had never travelled outside of their villages before. When meeting so many donors for the first time, they were a bit nervous and shy. The organizers, being very considerate, arranged for some games to break the ice. We were also given some guidance – do not ask the kids about issues in their family so as not to touch their nerves, do not give them any cash so as to preserve their sense of dignity, do not give them gifts to avoid any feeling of inequity among them, and do not disseminate photos that clearly show their faces for the sake of protecting their privacy. Instead, we were advised to give them lots of encouragement and exude positivity. Amidst our enthusiasm, the children very quickly started to feel relaxed. The following day, some of them even proactively ran over to hold our hands as soon as they saw us. The one holding my hand was a 13-year old girl. She was particularly withdrawn and very shy, hardly uttering a word all day long. While we were all watching the stage show Impressions of Lijiang, the man sitting next to her gave her a piece of chocolate. She held it in her hand, stared at it for a while, then turned to me and asked, “Auntie, would you like to have a piece of chocolate?” We were very touched by how well behaved these kids were. It goes to prove the importance Chi Heng places on moral education.

Altruism is like water — it does not fight with anything but instead spreads out and encompasses everything. Just like birds of a feather flock together, Chung To’s selflessness and the children’s resilience have attracted a group of exemplary volunteers. Besides working hard to care for the children, they also did their best to ensure that we donors would have an enjoyable holiday. Matthew’s regular work is in the field of cultural heritage. Not only did he design the itinerary and all the activities for us, he even flew to Lijiang on his own expense a month earlier to inspect the area, arrange the spectacular music and dance performance by the Pumi tribe for us, and position a horse for us to take a rest on when we hiked Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. Although the weather did not cooperate when we held our campfire BBQ, forcing us to move into tents, the unbeatable lakefront scenery, the enthusiasm of the students in barbequing the food for everybody, and the warm atmosphere overall more than made up for it. The jocular Patrick made sure that first timers like me would assimilate into the group very quickly and enjoy themselves. In fact, most of the donors in the group had been annual participants in Walk for Chalk and many had continuously joined the activity for 8 to 10 years, so they quickly banded together like old friends. This “holiday tour” was such a success because it was both meaningful and had wonderful programs throughout. As a result, while we were doing good work, we also had a very enjoyable holiday.

The non-stop appeals for donations that my friends warned me about never happened. I sat with Chung To at the welcome dinner. He smiled politely, was a bit shy, and then he went on stage to talk about Chi Heng’s past, present, and future. After returning to the table, he only got a few bites to eat and quickly went off to do some more work. There were a few first timers like me at my table; they did not even get a chance to talk to Chung! Throughout, there was zero attempt at whipping up our emotions, let alone asking for donations. The next day, while touring a park, I asked Chung what the biggest challenge at the moment was. He said of course it was insufficient funding. More than 10 years ago, it was blood selling that caused the AIDS epidemic; nowadays it is drugs, with many dying in the addiction treatment facilities and the orphans they leave behind facing discrimination. After all, blood selling is at least honorable. Not so for drug addiction! When you get to the bottom of it, it is all due to poverty and ignorance. These days, Chi Heng is sponsoring about 1,000 new students each year, but that is only a small portion of those in need. Friends say that there are too many impoverished people and it is impossible to help more than a small portion of them, but to each of the children, the difference it makes is almost like that between life and death! Other than funding, Chi Heng is also in need of more volunteers. There are not enough people taking part in charitable work, so there is always a lack of manpower. Despite all the difficulties, what compels Chung to soldier on is the fortitude of the children. Many of their sponsored students give back to society after they graduate from school. An example is that, among Chi Heng staff today, 70% are former sponsorship recipients.

The meaning of “Chi Heng” includes wisdom and charitable action. Other than education sponsorship, they also provide psychosocial therapy to the children with art and music. Using his financial skills, Chung also established social enterprises to further his charitable goals. He founded a French bakery school in Shanghai which has graduated many bakers. One former student even won 4th prize at a World Cup French baking contest in Paris. On Nanjing West Road, Shanghai, he opened Village 127, a French bakery and café. All its profits are designated for Chi Heng’s charity work. He also opened an Eco bag factory in a village in Henan. It provides a chance for AIDS-afflicted women to make a living and lead a life with dignity. Accor Hotels and Banyan Tree purchase these Eco bags for use in their hotels in China as laundry and newspaper bags. In Chung’s ideal world, everybody can be engaged in charitable work in their everyday lives, whether they are drinking coffee or buying an Eco bag. Such participation can hence encompass the entire community.

My live-in Indonesian maid pays a visit home once every two years. Each time, she always brings with her bags of gifts and supplies, such as dozens of T-shirts of the same design. It turns out that these are for distributing to impoverished people in her village. She told me that her family was very poor and could not afford to send her to school. They never had money to buy her any new clothes, and she spent her days mostly watching over the fields. Sometimes, when she saw a neighbor’s kid wearing new clothes, she would imagine how happy she could be if someone would similarly buy her one. Now that she has the financial capability, she wants to bring gifts to the impoverished households in her village and give some money to the elderly. If my maid is doing all this even with a monthly salary of only HKD4,200, we really have no excuse to stand idly by and not help the underprivileged in this world.

What impressed me most about Chung To is not his giving up his million dollar earnings in investment banking but his incessantly running around cemetery-like AIDS villages for more than a decade, to be with those who are struggling on the eve of death. Before my father passed away, he was in the hospital battling cancer. I only spent his final two months with him, yet the experience was already most draining! I admit that I cannot hold a candle to Chung’s selfless sacrifice for and boundless love of others. All I can do is to donate some money and write about my experience as a testimonial. Chi Heng Foundation is indeed a very thoughtful charitable organization that is full of wisdom, enabling the donated money to be used most effectively for the benefit of society. At the same time, they provide an outstanding platform for others to participate in their good work.

Chi Heng Foundation is a Hong Kong-registered, legitimate charitable organization. They enjoy the support of many enterprises such as Accor, Business Traveller, and Standard Chartered Bank. Their donors include the Bank of China. In December, 2015, they were awarded the China Charity Award by the Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs. To find out more, please visit http://www.chfaidsorphans.com.

Declaration: the writer and this public platform have no business interest in Chi Heng Foundation

Learning, Transformation, Growth, and Gratitude
12 years of the Art Counseling Programme, Chi Heng Foundation

By Agatha Lee, Volunteer Art Programme Director

As a volunteer, I have been organizing and coordinating the Art Counselling Programme of the Chi Heng Foundation since 2006 as a volunteer. Now in its 13th year, the programme caters especially for AIDS impacted children. Looking back to our work in the past years, whether it is for these children, our team of volunteers or local Hong Kong students, I think the ways in which we are rewarded can best be summarized with four keywords: Learning, Transformation, Growth, and Gratitude.

The main target of the Chi Heng Foundation and its Art Counseling Programme is AIDS impacted children. The art training and counseling we offer help these children express their thoughts and dreams through painting and drawing. Through their expression in art, and the support and encouragement from our team, they can relieve the heartache from their parents’ passing, attaining a peace of mind and enhancing self-confidence. Their lives have been changed by the love this programme nurtures in them.

The changes brought about by this programme can also be seen in our team of young volunteers. In the past 12 years, our volunteers have consisted of retirees as well as young students. In their interaction with the children, our university student volunteers have learnt to cherish their own fortune in life. Seeing the children mature beyond their age and ready to take care of themselves, our volunteers have reflected upon themselves and valued the lessons from overcoming hardship. For this generation of affluent volunteers, the experience in the last few years has stimulated them to engage more actively in the community and extend a helping hand to those in need. They have become more pragmatic and generous, guarding themselves against their own ego and material temptations.

Apart from organizing the summer camp for the children, Chi Heng has also initiated the “Art for Chalk” charity art camp in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Each participating Hong Kong or overseas secondary student will sponsor an AIDS impacted student to join the activities at the art camp, painting with each other and exchanging their ideas. The art camp has also managed to raise fund for the support of more AIDS impacted children.

Another important output of the art counseling program is the many paintings completed by the children. Since 2008, Chi Heng has gathered these paintings and printed them in desktop calendars which are then sold for charity and let more people into the inner world of these children. These paintings have also been exhibited in cities all over the world and reproduced on electronic greeting cards, shopping bags, and so on, so as to further the idea of love and care. To our great pride and delight, one of these paintings, “The Seed of Love”, was selected for show at the World Expo in Shanghai in 2010 and later acquired by UNICEF for permanent display at their Geneva headquarters.

The experience these 12 years humbles me. I first met Mr Chung To, founder of the Chi Heng Foundation, at a seminar at the Rotary Club in 2004, and was extremely moved by his unwavering support and work for the children impacted by AIDS. I told myself there and then that I had to do something for these children when I retired. In 2006, as soon as I left the art education position after more than 20 years in it, I joined Chi Heng as a volunteer. I still remember some of my friends’ criticisms and dissuasion; besides, with so many people in China needing help, how much or how many people could I really reach out to? Well, I would simply help as much as I could. Chi Heng Foundation often cites a fable: tens of millions of starfish are washed up onto the beach and if they are not picked up and returned to the sea, they will be exposed to death. What we can do is to pick up and return as many of them as possible, so that they can gain another lease of life. We also hope that our action can touch upon others and motivate them to extend a helping hand to reach more children.

It is a fortune to have come across this platform of charity in my teaching life, to serve the children and influence their lives with mine. They have also enriched my life and brought great rewards and meaning to my art education experience. The joy it brings cannot be matched by mere gold, possessions, or fame.

I am grateful for the art team and volunteers who have worked together with me, selflessly contributing their love. We share our responsibility and care for one another, offering our strength and heart to the children orphaned by AIDS. We are lucky to have grown and learnt with these children. The results achieved in this programme should be attributed to all members of the team. Their diligence inspired me to more humbly do my part and I am just a fellow worker among everyone else.

It is a long-term mission to provide support to children orphaned by AIDS and nurture their love. By promoting their paintings and their stories, I hope more people will be touched by their perseverance in the face of adversity and will join force to with us to offer them help.

From Skeptical to Engaging

By Peter Yuen, Chairman of Walk for AIDS Orphans and Carnival & Chairman of “Rejoice in Kindness” Charity Vegetarian Dinner

It was around 2005 that I, by chance, came across a news article about the work of Chung To, the founder of Chi Heng Foundation, in sponsoring the education of AIDS orphans. I was quite touched at the time, so I cut out the article and kept it in my drawer, but then, after a while, this matter gradually faded from my memory. A few years later, I bumped into Chung To at a charity dinner and heard from him his story firsthand. It was then that my association with Chi Heng began.

Like most urban people, I like to keep things to myself and have a somewhat skeptical mind, preferring to maintain a distance between me and other people. Hence, at the beginning, I merely made regular donations, but then, I wanted to find out more for myself, so I joined other volunteers to do home visits, to directly interact with the families of the children, and, in the process, I came to understand the challenges they face. In fact, these children are not any different from other children, only that their parents suffer from AIDS. Some of these parents have even passed away, resulting in great psychological trauma to the orphans and tremendous financial stress for their families. Other than education sponsorship, Chi Heng also conducts many summer camps each year, to broaden the students’ horizons and soothe their damaged souls. Furthermore, Chi Heng also conducts different activities so that the sponsored students can also help others, as a way for them to give back to society.

My association with Chi Heng has by now gone on for almost 10 years, from passively donating at the beginning to now actively organizing major fundraisers for them. Despite my normally busy work schedule, every time I think of how, by putting in a bit more work, I can bring the gift of an education to the children, then whatever hard work there may be, it is most worthwhile! Chi Heng’s work is not that of one person or a few people, but the collective effort of everybody in order to bring hope and fortune to the least fortunate. In the end, because of all of you, this world has become a better place. Is there anything better than that?