Fa­ther of six has helped about 1,000 dis­ad­van­taged chil­dren over 20 years of char­ity work

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CHINA - By ZHAN QIANHUI in Bei­jing and SUN RUISHENG in Taiyuan

When Brent John­son first ar­rived in Shanxi province in 1990 to study Chi­nese cul­ture and his­tory, it proved the start of a close bond with or­phaned and dis­abled chil­dren there.

Then a ju­nior at the Univer­sity of South Carolina, he was en­rolled at Shanxi Univer­sity on a one-year stu­dent ex­change pro­gram, dur­ing which he met his fu­ture wife, Ser­ena, a fel­low Amer­i­can who shares his af­fec­tion for China.

Their deep con­cern for poor peo­ple meant their dates were of­ten spent at wel­fare in­sti­tutes.

John­son was im­pressed by his year in China, and af­ter re­turn­ing to South Carolina to fin­ish his med­i­cal de­gree, he and his wife de­cided to move to China in 1998 to start vol­un­tary work with or­phans.

Since then, they have been ded­i­cated to help­ing sick and dis­ad­van­taged chil­dren, and have trav­eled to many parts of north­ern China, in­clud­ing Bei­jing and the prov­inces of Hei­long jiang, Shan­dong and He­bei, to carry out char­ity work.

John­son’s ties with or­phans in Shanxi date back to April 2004, when he ap­proached Geng Kai­wen, the dean of the Taiyuan So­cial (Chil­dren) Wel­fare In­sti­tute, dur­ing a gath­er­ing in Bei­jing.

He of­fered to fund treat­ment for the in­sti­tute’s dis­abled chil­dren through the China Care Foun­da­tion, a char­ity aimed at sav­ing the lives of med­i­cally frag­ile or­phaned chil­dren.

Although touched by the doc­tor’s sin­cer­ity, Geng hes­i­tated be­cause John­son was a for­eigner.

How­ever, John­son did not give up. He went to Taiyuan, cap­i­tal of Shanxi, and gave Geng a per­sua­sive pre­sen­ta­tion. He also in­vited Geng to visit the foun­da­tion in Bei­jing.

See­ing how the China Care Foun­da­tion op­er­ated eased Geng’s con­cerns, and he was moved by John­son’s pro­posal to send sick chil­dren to the cap­i­tal for treat­ment and re­turn them to Shanxi af­ter re­cov­ery.

“Many chil­dren didn’t get the treat­ment they needed in time due to a lack of funds and the out­dated con­di­tions in our in­sti­tute,” Geng said.

“John­son’s pro­posal would ad­dress our prob­lems and help those in need in a broader way.”

Dur­ing a business trip to Taiyuan in 2005, John­son needed to catch a late flight to Bei­jing, and Geng sug­gested they have din­ner to­gether. Con­sid­er­ing the tight time and bud­get, he bought the Amer­i­can a sim­ple bowl of rice noo­dles.

Touched by Geng’s fru­gal be­hav­ior, John­son de­cided to nail down the fund­ing agree­ment with the Taiyuan in­sti­tute there and then.

In ad­di­tion to pro­vid­ing man­power, fund­ing and tech- nol­ogy, John­son also founded a project in Taiyuan to cre­ate a cozy en­vi­ron­ment for chil­dren to re­cover af­ter treat­ment and help find new per­ma­nent homes for or­phans.

Dang Xiao­hua, born in 1992, had con­gen­i­tal sco­l­io­sis and was told she would not live to see her 18th birthday, as the surgery she needed was ex­pen­sive and risky. As a re­sult, she cut her­self off from oth­ers.

When he be­came aware of Dang’s sit­u­a­tion, John­son con­tacted a hos­pi­tal in the United States and paid for the surgery, which cost more than 400,000 yuan ($59,500).

He also man­aged to ar­range her adop­tion by an Amer­i­can fam­ily be­fore she turned 14, the age limit for adop­tion.

When Dang re­turned to Taiyuan 18 months later, John­son said she had be­come an out­go­ing teenager who al­ways had a smile on her face.

John­son has changed the lives of many dis­abled or­phans.

He has helped an es­ti­mated 1,000 or­phans in Taiyuan since 2004, in­clud­ing sev­eral hun­dred who re­ceived free surg­eries. He also raised 800,000 yuan to im­prove liv­ing con­di­tions at the Taiyuan So­cial Wel­fare In­sti­tute.

His kind­ness has not only warmed or­phans’ hearts, but also touched the peo­ple around him. Geng said he re­mem­bers John­son’s words, “Every life needs to be treated with re­spect, even if he is a dis­abled new­born.”

John­son, now 49 and a fa­ther of six, re­turned to the US in mid-July af­ter nearly 20 years of char­ity work. It was dif­fi­cult for his friends in China to say good­bye.

Lu Lu, a for­mer col­league who wit­nessed John­son’s com­mit­ment to char­ity in China, said she can still re­call the first time they met 11 years ago.

“John­son told me in Chi­nese that it was his hobby to help peo­ple, es­pe­cially dis­abled or­phans,” she re­called. “He set a great ex­am­ple for Chi­nese char­ity work­ers, and built an all-Chi­nese team to con­tinue his work.

“We hope to in­herit his spirit and sow the seeds of love across the coun­try,” Lu added.

Con­tact the writ­ers at zhan­qian­hui@ chi­nadaily.com.cn

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Brent John­son, his wife (cen­ter), his two daugh­ters and Lin Lin, a for­mer fos­ter care child from China who used to live with the John­son fam­ily in the United States.

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