Kebab seller donates profits to help needy people in Guizhou
Alimjan Halik roasts kebabs in Bijie, Guizhou province, on Jan 21. [Photo/China Daily]
Bijie, Guizhou - It wasn't the kind of reception expected for a man who sells lamb kebabs for a living.
Yet when Alimjan Halik touched down at Urumqi, capital city of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, he was feted like a returning hero.
Better known as Alim, the 40-year-old had been selected as the "Cyberspace Personality Who Moved the Hearts of the Chinese in 2010" for his decade-long help for needy people.
During that time, he donated almost all of his earnings - more than 100,000 yuan ($15,000) - from his humble kebab business in Bijie, Guizhou province.
"Bijie is my second hometown," said the Xinjiang native with his humble smile. "In my most desperate time in 2000, a complete stranger in Bijie gave me 100 yuan and helped me out."
He has since been returning the favor, one kebab at a time.
Born into a poor family with six siblings, Alim left home to earn a living in 1997 with only a kebab roaster.
In the following three years, he earned a difficult living roaming around China before arriving in Bijie.
"My most depressed moment was a summer night in Guangxi. I had no money and slept on the street. When I woke up, my shoes had been stolen. I had to eat leftovers in rubbish bins to kill my hunger," he said.
But in Bijie, someone reached out and gave him a helping hand.
"I feel Bijie is the best place for me. People here are kind-hearted and don't cheat strangers," he added.
As the city found a place in its heart for Alim, its citizens developed a taste for his lamb kebabs.
"They can't live without my kebabs," Alim said, maybe only half jokingly.
During the Spring Festival in 2005, he sold more than 7,000 in one day.
But he seldom spends money on himself, preferring a simple meal of noodles and bread, sometimes leftover kebabs. He lives in a rented room in a shabby house, his leather shoes rescued from a rubbish bin.
Over the past decade, Alim has helped more than 200 students from poor families, and 10 of them have entered university.
"At the beginning, my family thought I was crazy as I donated all my earnings to strangers. But after they learned of my experiences in Bijie, they supported me," he said.
Among those he has helped, Alim remembered Zhou Yong, with whom he has created a family-like bond.
Alim first met Zhou in the winter of 2003 in a local hospital.
Zhou, then 11, skinny and tiny because of a long-term kidney disease, was studying in bed.
Alim, shocked by Zhou's bad health, gave all the money in his pockets to Zhou's parents, while calling local newspapers to help him.
Thanks to Alim rallying support, Zhou received enough funds and assistance for treatment and recovered three months later.
During the treatment, Alim often visited Zhou and encouraged him.
To assist the family with its finances, Alim hired Zhou's mother to help him during the peak kebab season.
Alim has also established two scholarships in two colleges in Guizhou province.
"I talk to the media not to become a celebrity. I hope through the media more people can pay attention to the education of the poor and offer whatever assistance they can provide," he said.
Alim said he feels happy to have an easy life and help others. He has two plans for the coming years : getting married and earning enough money to build a school for the poor.
"I will try my best to earn 500,000 yuan in the next five years and run a school for children whose parents have left for work in big cities. They need our help," Alim said.
Back in his hometown, Alim has become a hero and an inspiration for many of his county fellows to follow.
Hearing of his return home for Spring Festival with his mother and sisters last Thursday, many locals thronged to the airport to welcome him.
Some of them even brought him the local Xinjiang specialty - roasted mutton bun.
"Alim is a nice guy of Xinjiang," said Zhang Chunxian, Party secretary of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.