Family begs for the chance to save the lives of loved ones

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 January, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 January, 2009, 12:00am

Three generations of a Guangdong family have been begging in Shenzhen and Guangzhou for nearly three years to raise money for stem-cell transplants for their two children who were diagnosed with thalassemia, a genetic blood disorder. The children's father, Huang Yawu , talks about their 900 days and nights on the street.

When did your family start begging?

Both of my children were diagnosed with thalassemia four years ago and we started begging in Guangzhou in early 2006. Begging was more or less the last hope for us to raise enough for blood transfusions and medical fees that cost at least 3,000 yuan a month. A stem-cell transplant costs 600,000 yuan (HK$680,800) - impossible for a struggling family living in rural Jieyang on 600 yuan a month and not covered by any health care scheme.

On the advice of other villagers, my wife, children and parents decided to beg in Guangzhou on the slim chance that we could cure our children. The three generations of our family sleep on two small tricycles at night and beg for 12 hours a day, seven days a week.

That has helped us raise 350,000 yuan and my five-year-old son had stem-cell transplant surgery in May. But he died three weeks after the unsuccessful operation.

It was a sad time for all of us after being on this odyssey to raise money and find a bone marrow match for him, but we're still anxious to get enough donations to cover surgery for my eight-year-old daughter. She is already two years older than the optimum transplant age, according to the doctors.

Do you have any alternative to begging?

No. We haven't found any medical insurance or cover they would qualify for. Many charities give us the cold shoulder and we received just 5,000 yuan from the Guangdong Charity Federation after pleading with them time after time. For me, there's no shame in begging because parents are duty-bound to save their children's lives.

Have you thought about giving up?

Yes, many times. My wife and I were too shy to lift up our heads (while begging) for money in the first couple of months. We raised only 26 yuan on the first day after standing silently on a corner. My parents in their 50s joined us a few months later but I still doubted whether begging was really feasible because very few people gave alms to us.

I once thought about abandoning my children and giving them to anyone who would pay for their medical treatment.

The situation has gradually changed since some volunteer singers and enthusiastic people started performing with us last year. It helps us to collect about 700 yuan on weekdays and 2,000 yuan on weekends.

How much do you still need?

We're still 200,000 yuan short to pay for our daughter's operation. Hospitals refuse to search for potential bone marrow donors before we pay the full amount. We'll spend the coming Lunar New Year holiday on the street, hoping to bring in more as people celebrate the holiday.

Do you think you have sacrificed a lot for your children?

Yes. But the children have suffered as much as us. They didn't have an education, they have to sleep on a tricycle with us and take cold showers on the street. My wife felt so guilty and couldn't bear to see our son when he passed away. She said we owed a happy childhood to our son, who had to have injections every day of his life.

What have been some of the most memorable moments?

There are many. I marked down every donation from fellow villagers, many of whom we hadn't met before. A manufacturer donated more than 60,000 yuan, helping us through the most difficult period.

I still remember a middle-aged housewife left with a smile after donating 1,000 yuan, without giving her name. Another lady prompted her neighbours to donate more than 5,000 yuan. I try to remember every donor; even small change helps.

What are your plans for the future?

We'll stop street begging if my daughter is cured completely. All of us are dreaming of giving her a stable life and an education so she can be like other teenagers. I'll try to find a job and settle the family either in Shenzhen or Guangzhou. We won't return to the village because superstitious people regard my children as bad luck because of the disease.