When you think of giving, think of Wong Fuk-wing

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 April, 2010, 12:00am

Wong Fuk-wing was not a wealthy man, but he was more than equal to the most generous philanthropist. He gave what he could with what little he had to help the needy people of China: strength, truck-driving skills and a charitable demeanour. Ultimately, he made the biggest sacrifice, losing his life while saving victims of the Yushu earthquake. He epitomises the best of Hong Kong, a city too often wrongly characterised as money-grubbing and self-centred.

We know only too well that perceptions and reality are far removed. We are a generous society. A recent survey by the University of Hong Kong's public opinion programme found that nearly nine out of 10 people gave to charities in the past year, each donating an average of HK$2,986. That is several times what European and North American citizens give.

Another natural disaster has hit the mainland, and even though its full impact is not yet known, that spirit of giving is again emerging, just as with the Sichuan quake in 2008. Wong gave his time and energy then, trucking in relief supplies. In 2002 he went on a three-month charity walk to Beijing to help the China Red Cross and raised more than 200,000 yuan. When Yushu was hit by a tremor measuring 7.1 on the Richter scale on Wednesday, he was helping out as a volunteer at an orphanage.

Few of us will ever be in such a situation. As buildings collapsed, he gave his all to save lives. He rescued three children and a member of staff, but died while trying to get to two other orphanage workers out. His family is in mourning, but like everyone in Hong Kong they should be proud that he died a hero.

Not all of us are capable of such bravery. Nor can the majority of us spare the time to travel far from our jobs and home in the name of charitable causes. What we are unable to give first-hand, most of us compensate for with cash and goods. As the scale of the latest quake becomes apparent, calls on our generosity will again be made. We can only aspire to be like Wong. As we give, we must think of him, the most giving donor of all.