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Story of Unsung Heroes Untold
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Bay Watch was all about the heroic deeds of a professional team of lifeguards, and glamor. But a family in south China's Hainan Province has been doing the same in real life, and without the glamor.

There's another difference, though. The setting is not one of those fancy American beaches. Instead, what we are talking about are the banks of Donggan Canal near Danzhou.

It all started when Li Changyuan settled on one of the banks of the canal a decade ago. Rapid currents and lack of safety measures used to claim many an unsuspecting swimmer's life in the canal. Then there are those who jumped into the water to end their lives. But since the family moved in on the bank, death by water has more or less become history.

What's more heartening is that the family has spent its own money to buy lifesaving equipment such as lifebuoys, bamboo poles and ropes. That they practice hard to master the art of swimming and exercise regularly to keep fit goes without saying. To top it all, they have learned all the first-aid skills, including mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

No wonder, local people see the Li family as saviors. As an old man surnamed Lin said members of the family are "real heroes" because even a well-intentioned man wouldn't jump into the troubled waters to save a life.

"Thanks to the family, no one has drowned in the canal in recent years and nearby residents feel much safer now," Lin said.

Guarding angels

"They are like our guarding angels," said a woman surnamed Chen who, too, lives on the bank. "When people see someone drowning, their first instinct is to jump and save him. But the fear of drowning themselves makes them look towards the Li family for help."

Li died at the age of 73 two years ago. But his legacy lives, for he not only taught his four daughters and two sons the importance of human lives, but also inculcated a sense of duty in them.

Though all his children live close to one another, it's the youngest son Li Zongdian who now leads the life-saving brigade.

Li Zongdian, 38, is a civil servant in Danzhou's Forest Bureau and lives in the house that patriarch Li built. He believes that a daughter can be as good as, or even better than, a son. Which is why he is now teaching his 14-year-old daughter to carry the family mantle.

Such is Li Zongdian's zeal that he rues: "It's a pity our family can take care of only a section of the 10-kilometer long canal I wish the canal had more lifesaving teams."

Li Zongdian's first rescue mission was in August 2004. A teenaged girl had tried to commit suicide by jumping into the canal. Li jumped after her and dragged her out of the water. He made her understand how important life was before people who had gathered around took her home.

The lifesaving team now comprises elder brother Li Zongbao and his two younger brothers-in-law. The third brother-in-law Li Ming, who runs a restaurant nearby, is perhaps the most active member of the team. The fact that he is always in the restaurant near the bank may have something to do with his commitment.

Li Ming has saved 10 people, and the other bother-in-law once saved three college students.

The family's commitment and dedication has rubbed off the clerks in Li Ming's restaurant, too. They have willingly joined the family's cause, and in March last year they saved two children.

(China Daily January 12, 2007)

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