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Nation-spanning trip opens rider's eyes to blind
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Having wrapped up a three-year bike journey that took him across the country, Liu Shicong has set his sights on his next mission-helping the poor with his Aitu Angel foundation.

Aitu is a combination of the Chinese words for love and journey.

The 29-year-old native of Wuhan, Hubei province, said he got the idea to set up a foundation to help poor people suffering from eye diseases after seeing so many of them in poor villages during his trip.

Liu's adventure started in Beijing in April 2004. Over the next 1,157 days, he traversed the length and breadth of the mainland on his bike.

In Lhasa, the capital of the Tibet autonomous region, he met a dozen blind children near the Potala Palace and visited their school.

Sabriye Tenberken, a German social worker, who has been blind since the age of 12, founded the school in 1998 after coming to Lhasa as a tourist.

A student there told Liu he wanted to be a taxi driver in Lhasa, though he knew he never would be able to drive.

"But you can set up a taxi company and hire your own drivers," Tenberken said with a smile.

Liu said that incident planted the idea of helping the blind in his mind.

He later traveled to impoverished and mountainous areas in Guizhou and Yunnan Provinces, where the local poor people made an impression on him.

He later met some volunteer doctors from Taiwan. They were there to help members of minority groups get healthcare.

"Many children there haven't seen doctors and don't even know what a doctor is," a volunteer surnamed Zhang said. "When they get sick, they rely on superstition and herbal medicine."

The doctors saw more than 1,400 patients in three days, but they could only help them selectively because of limited resources.

Sick children were priority patients, and 10 of them were eventually sent to Red Cross hospital in Kunming, the provincial capital.

In his photo diary, alongside a photograph of the villagers coming to see doctors, Liu wrote the following words:

A child had been scalded by hot water because of his mother's careless mistake, but there was no hospital where he lived so he didn't get timely treatment.

"The child's right eye can't be cured now. Had there been better medical services, there would not been such a serious result," one of the doctors said.

In contrast to the sad scenes in the poor regions, Liu also witnessed the well-off lives of wealthy residents of developed coastal regions.

Liu visited a college classmate in Dongguan, Guangdong Province. As he looked out of the French windows in his friend's duplex apartment, Liu said he struggled with his mood.

In Futian, Fujian Province, Liu was received by a high school classmate who is now the boss of a large company. As they sat in the classmate's Audi A6, Liu's friend said he planned to upgrade to a BMW 760 soon.

In Shanghai, a friend who treated Liu to dinner boasted that the apartment he bought 10 years ago for 300,000 yuan (US$41,719) could be sold at 3 million yuan today.

The huge gap between the urban rich and rural poor he witnessed during the trip strengthened Liu's resolve to set up a fund to help the people living in impoverished regions.

When he returned to Beijing last June, Liu started the preparations to set up the charitable foundation.

"The start-up funds of 1 million yuan will not be a big problem," Liu said confidently.

Now he is cooperating with Putian government in Fujian Province and preparing to hold a charity crafts sale.

His next trip will be to the southeast coastal regions, where he plans to lobby entrepreneurs to contribute to the Aitu Angel foundation, under the China Red Cross Foundation.

When he asks his friends to donate, they often ask whether doctors will be willing to provide medical services in remote areas. Liu always answers: "Were these our own kids, how much would we be willing to pay for their treatment? Cost would definitely not be an issue!"

(China Daily January 30, 2008)

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