LIFE HAS NOT been kind to 19-year-old mainlander Xiong Liping. Her mother died when she was three and her father when she was 15. Since then, she and her two siblings have been relying on their grandparents, school and charity to survive. Ms Xiong, who was born in a remote Hunan village, is just one of the mainland students to receive support from the HOPE worldwide charitable organisation. She recently made her first visit to the SAR to attend the charity's volunteer services opening ceremony at the Queen Elizabeth Stadium in Wan Chai. Despite the tragedies in her life, Ms Xiong is cheerful and outgoing. But she has not forgotten her past, and speaks of it in a soft voice. 'My village was still an undeveloped area when I was born, even though [China's] economic reform had been launched in 1978,' she says. So life was hard, but it got even harder when her fragile mother died after giving birth to her brother in what was a long and difficult labour. From that moment on, her sister, brother and herself relied heavily on their father. Things were fine until another traumatic incident struck the family - her father was killed in a mine explosion. As well as the shock of being orphaned, Ms Xiong and her siblings had to face the reality that they had also lost their financial support. But help was at hand in the form of their grandparents and relatives, although life was to be very simple. Being a top student, Ms Xiong was granted school subsidies which covered part of her tuition fees. When she was in high school she started receiving financial support from HOPE worldwide. Since then, she has not had to worry about her tuition fees. 'It would be much more difficult for me to continue my studies without help from the charity,' says Ms Xiong, who is now studying Chinese literature at Hunan University. Another HOPE worldwide donation recipient from Hunan, Gong Xiaofang, 19, was also invited to the SAR event. She was a first year high school student when she got acute meningitis. With her hospital treatment expected to cost 3,000 yuan (HK$2,825), her poor farming family appealed for donations. 'It was a large sum of money that my family could not afford,' she recalls. 'My parents could have tried to borrow from the bank, but that would not have been easy.' However, HOPE worldworld volunteers just happened to be visiting her school when the family made its appeal. The volunteers donated their own money for Ms Gong to pay the bill. The charity backed this up with financial support for her studies at high school and university. Now Ms Gong, an architecture student at the Xiangtan Industrial Institute in Hunan, aspires to be an architect. And for Ms Xiong, because of the influence of the charity, she hopes to work for a charitable organisation after she graduates from university. 'Being a writer or working in the mass media used to be my ambition, but now, I want to work for a charity, helping other people in need and making contributions to society,' says Ms Xiong.