AIDS orphans take 10km race in their stride

(2009/02/09 SCMP)

Five Aids orphans from central provinces were among the thousands taking part in the 10km race. The young men from Anhui and Henan all finished in less than an hour and described their run as “easy”.

The five, invited by the Hong Kong-based charity Chi Heng Foundation, said they had done no special training, but all took part in sports activities at their universities.

Chi Heng helps children and young people with education, food and psychosocial therapy in areas hit by the Aids epidemic, in which poor farmers became infected with HIV after selling blood in the mid-1990s to unscrupulous brokers for government-run blood banks.

The buyers used unhygienic practices, leaving thousands of farmers infected with HIV. Many have died, leaving these young people with only one parent or completely orphaned. Most of the children are not infected with HIV.

Xiao is also an intern with the foundation. “I might work for them for a few years. I also want to start my own business and use the money to help more people. I have a dream to use Chung To [the founder and chief executive of the foundation] as a role model to help other people.”

Another runner, Ah Liao, said he was excited by the crowds along the course. He was also impressed with the cleanliness of Hong Kong and its high-rise buildings.

Ah Da, 24, an engineering student from Henan province, described the race as “cool”. “There were so many people running alongside me, so I didn’t feel any pressure or fatigue. I think I might attempt the half marathon next time.”

Ah Lei, 21, is a medical student at Hebei Medical University. His father is a doctor in a Henan village, where about 80 people died from Aids-related illnesses, including his mother, when he was in secondary school. Like his father, Lei also wants to become a doctor. “Ultimately, I would like to, if possible, return to my home village and help the people there.”

He found the 10km run effortless, after playing a bit of basketball for training, and also wants to tackle the half marathon.

Sporting their marathon T-shirts, the young men said taking part in the 10km run had been an exciting experience. Earlier this year, Xiao went with other volunteers to Sichuan province to help those affected by the earthquake.

“We were teaching the children, largely in tents, so it was very difficult. But the children were so keen to learn. When some of the parents who had lost their children realised where I came from and that we had lost our parents, they were very moved that we had come to help them.”

The foundation’s founder, Mr Chung, who took part in the 1.8km Leaders Race, said that previously these young people had been regarded as a burden to society on the mainland. “But through the earthquake and other help that they have given, that perception is beginning to change.”

To protect the young men’s identities, their names have been changed.

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