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Heart of gold

By Mike Peters ( China Daily ) Updated: 2013-11-28 11:05:22

Heart of gold

Nico Jia / For China Daily

Huilin Liang once brought two strangers home because they were stranded and was called crazy. That's not the only help she has rendered. She tells Mike Peters that she has made community volunteering not just a pastime but a vocation.

The bright-eyed woman in her 70s smoothes her scarlet jacket and looks out from her third-floor office in the TEDA area of Tanggu in Tianjin, as if she's inhaling the energy of that bustling commercial district. Or maybe the energy is flowing the other way.

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She turns back to her guests with a beaming smile and a new topic: Basketball. "We've got a big tournament right now," Huilin Liang says in a sweet, cajoling voice that would have sold us four tickets on the spot, if there were any. "Sixteen teams over four weeks - yesterday we finished the third week, so next week is the championships!"

Liang is president of Huana International Volunteer Service Group, with hundreds of students, young professionals and business leaders literally at her fingertips to assist with her projects of the moment. Right now, that's the basketball tournament, which will help 150 poor students in western China with school supplies and winter clothes.

"You have to pay to play, and young professionals like to be given some time off work for this," she says with a grin. "Most of all, it's an excellent opportunity for businesses to sponsor something worthwhile for the community."

Liang has been mining such opportunities for decades, and her office wall is bedecked with certificates of appreciation for the volunteer teams she's put together running the association for the municipal government. She's recently secured the donation of 100 wheelchairs from Tianjin's Rotary Club, and also partnered with that US-based service organization for a match grant to raise money for heart operations for needy rural children.

But working from such a command center - "We have so much work, I have three beautiful young Chinese ladies as my secretaries!" - still feels new to her. She cut her teeth as a community organizer with "no fancy office, no title, no nothing," she says, laughing at the sudden memory of herself as a young wife in the United States. She was first an elementary school teacher, then a dealer in fruits and vegetables, and finally an unpaid civic association leader.

Born in Guangdong province in 1942, she moved with her family to Taiwan at the age of 7 after China's civil war. Liang earned her teaching qualifications, and taught elementary school for several years until her husband, a PhD candidate in material engineering, won a fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania.

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