Volunteer's lament for a fallen hero

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 April, 2010, 12:00am

Li Shuzhong refused to sleep inside the tent. He had arrived a day late and insisted on sleeping amid the rubble of an orphanage that meant the world to his friend, Hong Kong volunteer Wong Fuk-wing.

Sobs pierced the night air as Li could not suppress his deep mourning for Wong, who died on Wednesday trying to save people trapped under collapsed buildings.

Li, a veteran volunteer from the Sichuan NGO Fujiali, arrived in Yushu county on Sunday from Shifang , where he had met Wong in May 2008 after the earthquake there. He brought with him Wong's diaries of his days as a volunteer in Sichuan, along with dozens of photos, as well as mementoes including a T-shirt that Wong had worn.

Li wanted to pass the items to Wong's family, who had collected his body and returned to Hong Kong on Saturday.

Family members said Wong's funeral would take place early next month. Discussions over arrangements with the funeral parlour and the government had begun.

Li wished he could have arrived sooner to say his farewell. 'We were very good friends, and we talked about everything,' he said, devastated. 'Wong never wanted anyone to know the good he did.

'I got here, saw the rubble and tried to pick up a few nails and bricks. I knew Wong would do the same. Building this orphanage is what Wong wanted.'

Wong went to Shifang to help rebuild schools after the Sichuan earthquake. Li recalled how at one point Wong was chased away by the armed police because he was not from the mainland and had to spend days in a temple. But Wong insisted on returning to help at the school. 'He just threw himself into helping people,' Li said.

Tears welled as Li talked about how Wong persisted in volunteering in Sichuan despite having to inject insulin every day into his stomach because he was suffering from severe diabetes. 'I often asked him why he persisted in what he was doing to the detriment of his health, but it seemed that he knew he wouldn't last long and that's exactly why he persisted,'

In a pile of notes Li brought with him were words written by volunteers back in Shifang. 'You are a true volunteer in our heart,' one wrote.

Li said he would travel to Hong Kong to hand over the items because his family needed to know how much the people in Sichuan appreciated a hero.