A pas­sion for pay­ing it for­ward

China Daily (USA) - - SHANGHAI - By YU RAN in Shang­hai yu­ran@chi­nadaily.com.cn

For 88-year-old Amer­i­can bil­lion­aire and phi­lan­thropist Ken­neth E Behring, do­nat­ing an­i­mal spec­i­mens to mu­se­ums all over the world is just one of the ways to help chil­dren ex­plore the nat­u­ral world.

Since 1997, Behring has do­nated count­less spec­i­mens to the Wash­ing­ton-based Smith­so­nian Mu­seum of Nat­u­ral His­tory and helped with the re­con­struc­tion of the Smith­so­nian’s Na­tional Mu­seum of Amer­i­can His­tory.

Start­ing from 2003, Behring has also been do­nat­ing an­i­mal spec­i­mens with val­ues of more than $100 mil­lion to mu­se­ums in dozens of cities across China, in­clud­ing Bei­jing, Dalian and Tian­jin. Most re­cently, he also do­nated a to­tal of 307 spec­i­mens from Africa, val­ued at more than $30 mil­lion, which were show­cased dur­ing the open­ing of the Shang­hai Nat­u­ral His­tory Mu­seum in April 2015.

“I’ve do­nated spec­i­mens to mu­se­ums as I be­lieve they are plat­forms that can help ed­u­cate, in­spire and de­velop the fu­ture gen­er­a­tions of pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tor lead­ers around the world,” said Behring, who has been work­ing with world-class mu­se­ums for more than a decade.

In ad­di­tion, he is also the founder and chair­man of the Global Health & Ed­u­ca­tion Foun­da­tion, which launched Global Nat­u­ral His­tory Day in 2012, a com­pe­ti­tion that aims to teach nat­u­ral his­tory and sciences out­side the class­room and to con­nect school chil­dren with their peers around the world. More than 7,138 stu­dents have taken part in the an­nual event which has ex­panded from the United States to Asia, in­clud­ing China.

“This event has en­cour­aged chil­dren to ar­tic­u­late their find­ings after ex­plor­ing the world, and this has changed their way of learn­ing. Chil­dren get to con­duct pri­mary re­search and learn things that are not tra­di­tion­ally taught in schools,” said Behring.

“We are try­ing to help young peo­ple think in­de­pen­dently — wher­ever the prob­lem is, don’t go to the text­books, you have to think and de­velop your mind in or­der to be­come a great leader in the fu­ture.”

Behring is cur­rently plan­ning to take groups of chil­dren from dif­fer­ent coun­tries on a trip to the sa­faris in Africa as he be­lieves such ar­eas are the best for get­ting close to wildlife.

While he may be one of Amer­ica’s rich­est busi­ness­men who owns his own pri­vate jet and the Seat­tle Sea­hawks, a team in the Na­tional Foot­ball League in the United States, Behring is also well-known for his Ken­neth E Behring, phil­an­thropic ef­forts, es­pe­cially in China. The suc­cess­ful real-es­tate de­vel­oper flies in to China about four times ev­ery year to help the needy.

“I firmly be­lieve that I was a Chi­nese in my pre­vi­ous life as I feel more com­fort­able in China than any­where else in the world,” said Behring.

The in­ci­dent that in­spired him to be­come a phi­lan­thropist took place in 1999 when he do­nated a wheel­chair to an elderly man in a Ro­ma­nian vil­lage. Touched by the sight of the man’s teary dis­play of grat­i­tude and a re­lief that he could fi­nally leave his home and be with his friends, Behring be­came in­spired to do more to give back to so­ci­ety.

“It was the first time in my life that I re­al­ized such a small thing like a wheel­chair could change one’s life and bring them free­dom and the courage to live,” said Behring.

The in­ci­dent also spurred Behring to es­tab­lish the Wheel­chair Foun­da­tion in Cal­i­for­nia in 2000 and the or­ga­ni­za­tion has since do­nated more than 1 mil­lion wheel­chairs to peo­ple in 155 coun­tries.

In 2001, Behring es­tab­lished a part­ner­ship with the China Dis­abled Per­sons’ Fed­er­a­tion to help dis­trib­ute wheel­chairs in China. Since then, Behring has dis­trib­uted more than 325,000 wheel­chairs in more than 40 cities and towns in China. Some of the re­cip­i­ents in­clude the 500 sur­vivors of the 1976 Tang­shan Earthquake.

“Xie Yan­hong, a man from Dalian, Liaon­ing prov­ince, re­ceived a wheel­chair from me in 2003 and he started to pur­sue his pas­sion for swimming. One year later, he be­came the first dis­abled Chi­nese per­son to swim across the English Chan­nel,” said Behring when asked if there have been mem­o­rable in­ci­dents.

To­gether with lo­cal gov­ern­ments, Behring has also launched a safe drink­ing wa­ter pro­ject in North­west­ern China to help elim­i­nate wa­ter­borne dis­eases and im­pu­ri­ties by car­ry­ing out fea­si­bil­ity stud­ies and pur­chas­ing wa­ter pu­rifi­ca­tion sys­tems.

“My goal is to start a move­ment, and have ev­ery­one start help­ing each other.”

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