A man dedicated to caring for AIDS orphans in Central China

Updated: 2006-09-16 07:05

By Nicole Wong(HK Edition)

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A man can earn fame and fortune in many ways but dedicating oneself to the cause of humanity is the noblest way to do so.

And To Chung, who won the 2006 Outstanding Young Persons of the World award, could easily claim to be one of those. For the 39-year-old is committed to giving a new meaning to the life of "AIDS orphans".

To is the founder and chairperson of Chi Heng Foundation, registered as a charity in Hong Kong in 2002. Its Orphan Project sponsors the education of about 3,000 students in Central China, whose parents are suffering from or have died of AIDS.

The award was given to him in recognition of his work to make the life of such hapless children better. Organized by the Junior Chamber International (JCI), the 2006 award was given to 10 persons below the age of 40. To was one the 10 to be chosen from a field of 145 nominees from 42 national organizations and countries. The winners were announced on September 7, but the Junior Chamber International, Hong Kong, presented the award to the Hong Kong winner yesterday.

"Our warmest congratulations to Mr To, who received the award in the category of Contribution to Children, world peace and/or human rights'," national president of Junior Chamber International, Hong Kong, James Tsui said.

To was born in Hong Kong but spent his teenage years in the US and returned in 1995. He graduated from Columbia University and got his master's degree from Harvard University. To had a successful career as an investment banker in New York and Hong Kong for a decade.

A visit to Central China in 2001, however, led To to put aside his career and devote himself to Chi Heng. To read about how some Central China villagers had tested HIV positive after selling their blood illegally to earn a few yuan. Shaken by their plight, he got in touch with a local doctor and boarded the train to Henan on a wintry day.

To didn't see only the loss of dignity and the suffering of the AIDS victims on their death beds. He also saw their children growing up as helpless orphans.

"I promised those parents I'd send their children to school," To recalled yesterday. "At that moment I decided to devote myself to charity."

Regular visits to patients

Apart from raising funds for Chi Heng in Hong Kong, To pays regular visits to AIDS patients and their children in Central China. Over the past four years, To has been delighted to see the Orphan Project children grow up in a healthy atmosphere, though he feels their pain, too of the loss of their parents and the absence of a normal childhood.

"Sometimes I wake up, in tears, from nightmares of their suffering. Other times, I feel drained and wonder if the prejudice against these orphans will ever end," To said. "Once I took some of them on a trip to Beijing, but more than 40 guest houses rejected our booking for accommodation. How were those children supposed to feel?"

Despite the sorrows and setbacks, To's work has won him numerous awards, including "Rotary Club Centennial Service Award for Professional Excellence" and "China Charitable Foundation: Ten Most Touching Persons" in 2005.

On the Outstanding Young Persons of the World award, To said he was glad to see voluntary work for AIDS care services being recognized. Since the award ceremony will be held in Seoul, South Korea, in November, To hopes to promote the importance of AIDS prevention and care services among other Asian countries too.

(HK Edition 09/16/2006 page2)