Charity far from home

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 November, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 November, 2003, 12:00am

While the poor and disadvantaged of Hong Kong have often benefited from Post readers' generosity, so too have people on the mainland

In February this year, the Post broke the story of Kailee Makena Wells, a six-year-old Chinese girl who will die without a bone marrow transplant.

Kailee was left on the doorstep of a teacher-training institute in remote Hunan province on January 14, 1997, when she was just 10 days old. She was adopted in 1998 by an American couple from Albuquerque, New Mexico, but on her fifth birthday she was diagnosed with severe aplastic anaemia, a condition which prevents bone marrow producing new blood cells.

In February this year, two Post reporters accompanied Kailee's mother Linda Wells, 50, and her aunt, Paige, as they scoured China in search of the child's biological parents - the best chance of a bone marrow match, after blood screening drives in the US and searches through registries had failed to find one. Kailee, whose Chinese name is Changban, meaning 'never alone', remained in the United States with her father Owen Wells, 51.

Despite an undertaking from the mainland authorities not to punish the mother for abandoning the baby if she came forward, Mrs Wells failed to find Kailee's immediate family. But her appeal did lead to a massive response from people wanting to help, with more than 10,000 volunteers tested as potential bone marrow donors.

At the time of writing, Kailee and her parents are travelling the US in search of a donor. She is being kept alive by chemotherapy and a cocktail of drugs.

Also this year, Post readers raised $200,000 in August for a kidney transplant for Sun Wenjuan, a 20-year-old woman from Hebei province. The sum was enough to cover the cost of dialysis before the transplant, the transplant itself and post-operative care. Donations were received from 150 readers in Hong Kong and Beijing in response to the appeal, which lasted for just four days.

Wenjuan's family had sold all their possessions to pay for two failed transplants and could no longer afford the cost of another transplant and further treatment when the Post launched the appeal.

In 1991, readers donated $268,000 to help a group of handicapped mainland children save their school. The Peng Cheng Special Education School in Xuzhou, Jiangsu province, which cared for 45 pupils, was facing closure to make way for a state school. The money was needed to build a new school.

Peng Cheng was established in 1989 by former teacher Han Rufen, 68, who rented a 15 square metre classroom with her savings to educate her grandson and four other children with average IQs of 22. Children with IQs below 50 do not qualify for admission to China's public special needs schools.

Mrs Han moved the school six times in 12 years, until the Beijing office of Unesco negotiated a plot of land next to its site for the school with local education authorities. The total cost of the project was estimated at $1.5 million and one anonymous SCMP reader offered to meet half of it.

Another $300,000 was collected in 2000 for residents of Shek Kong Cheung, one of the 63 leper colonies established in Guangdong in the 1950s. The people there subsisted on monthly state handouts of $120, which were only paid intermittently. Among them were an old teacher, Zheng Meiqiang, and 10 children. The children did not suffer from leprosy, but endured the stigma of being part of the leper community - schools had shunned them.

Part of the money went towards moving the children out of the leper colony and into a house with their teacher, so they could enrol in schools without people knowing where they came from.