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UPDATED: March 5, 2012 NO. 8 FEBRUARY 23, 2012
Celebrating Good Deeds
A TV show highlights the efforts of kind-hearted people in a society facing a moral crisis
By Li Li

BRAVERY AND COMPASSION HONORED: Chang Ping-yi, who has dedicated herself to promoting education in a "leper village" in Sichuan Province for over 12 years, at the Touching China award ceremony (CNSPHOTO)

Chang Ping-yi, a former reporter with the Taipei-based China Times, received a Touching China award from CCTV, China's national television network, on February 3.

Launched in 2003, the Touching China award honors about 10 individuals and between one and three groups each year who have touched the hearts of the Chinese people.

Chang, who has spent 12 years volunteering as a teacher in a "leper village" in Sichuan Province, was the first Taiwanese to win this award.

In 1999, 40-year-old Chang decided that she was ready to switch the focus of her life to her family. Having just given birth to her second son, she had decided to end a 12-year professional career that had seen her win both the Vivian Wu Journalism Award and the Golden Tripod Award for Journalism, two of Taiwan's most prominent journalism awards.

Satisfied that she had achieved enough as a journalist, Chang was preparing to dedicate her time to raising her children in her family's four-story mountainside villa.

"Being a good journalist means sometimes you have to forget about everything other than work, even your family. I thought my new role as a stay-at-home mom would allow me to explore a different dimension of myself," she said in an interview with Southern Metropolis Weekly based in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, last December.

However, Chang didn't quite make the smooth transition to a life of domestic bliss she had hoped for.

Covering what she thought would be her final story, she traveled to Dayingpan, a village in southwest China's Sichuan Province that was designated an area for the treatment of leprosy amidst a national epidemic in the 1950s. Chang was shocked to find that half a century later, Dayingpan was still referred to as a "leper village" and isolated from the outside world because of the stigma against people with leprosy, a chronic and often disfiguring infectious disease.

Chang was touched by the hard lives led by people disfigured by leprosy, but was deeply troubled when she discovered the fate of children in Dayingpan, who were mostly healthy but illiterate. In the village's only school, crumbling classrooms were crowded with more than 70 students. Some children were forced to stand during class hours because of a lack of seats. The school was on the verge of closing down as Wang Wenfu, the only teacher, wanted to quit his job due to low wages.

While her original plan had only been to write a single story on the village, Chang said that as a mother she could not turn away from the children in the village.

After going back to Taiwan, she wrote several articles on the lack of education resources in the leper village and visited people who might provide financial aid for a new school.

In 2003, Chang quit her job, as planned, but, instead of focusing all her energy on raising her own children, she dedicated herself to the cause of promoting education in Dayingpan and giving hope to the children of the village.

She founded a charity group called Wings of Hope in Taiwan and wrote articles, gave speeches and talked to potential donors in order to raise money to build new classrooms and dormitories.

In Dayingpan, Chang volunteered as a teacher, paid door-to-door visits to convince parents to send their children to school and visited local government officials in search of support.

In 2005, 16 students graduated from the school, the first batch of graduates the school ever produced. Due to Chang's efforts, in 2008, the Sichuan Provincial Government invested 2.6 million yuan ($412,607) to expand the six-grade school into a nine-grade one. A new campus with teaching buildings, students' dormitories and teachers' dormitories, was put into use at the end of 2009. The number of students in the school has grown from less than 100 to more than 300.

Keeping people motivated

Although prominent scientists, astronauts, senior government officials and celebrities have been among the award winners in the last 10 years, the majority of Touching China heroes are ordinary people.

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