- Alarmed to find the male homosexual community largely ignorant of the threat of AIDS, Chung To created the Chi Heng Foundation (CHF) in 1998, to arm gay men with a means of protecting themselves.
- Beginning in Hong Kong, CHF has expanded into the mainland with branches in ten Chinese cities. As CHF’s chairperson, Chung To hopes to multiply the foundation’s impact with a new “business model.” What began as a “family run” enterprise, he says, will become “a multi-branch franchise.”
- Moved by the plight of children orphaned by AIDS, Chung To launched the AIDS Orphans Project in 2002.
- The RMAF board of trustees recognizes “his proactive and compassionate response to AIDS in China and to the needs of its most vulnerable victims.”
In China today, a transformation of dazzling speed and complexity is reshaping society and calling forth new leaders. Chung To and Chen Guangcheng are two of these. Each one in his own way, and on his own initiative, has stepped forward to address an urgent contemporary need. Where others have been slow to act, they have acted.
Chung To was born in Hong Kong but migrated with his family to the United States when he was fifteen. He attended Columbia University, earned a master’s degree at Harvard, and then plunged into a career in banking. In 1995, success led him back to Hong Kong as a senior bank executive.
By this time, Chung To was already sensitized to the AIDS crisis through the death of a favorite teacher and of many friends. In Hong Kong, he was alarmed to find the male homosexual community largely ignorant of the threat. Gay men accounted for a third of the city’s HIV-AIDS cases, yet unprotected sex was commonplace.
Chung To reacted by creating the Chi Heng Foundation (CHF) in 1998, to arm gay men with a means of protecting themselves. Beginning in Hong Kong but later expanding into the mainland, he enlisted the help of pimps and brothel owners and hundreds of volunteers to distribute condoms and safe-sex kits in gay bars and clubs. He set up a help line with frank, factual information about HIV-AIDS and offered workshops and personal counseling, legal advice, and links to doctors. And he exploited the rising popularity of the Internet to reach the millions of gay Chinese men who use it. By 2006, Chung To had established CHF branches in ten Chinese cities. Taking note, the United Nations named his direct, management-savvy approach one of its “best practice” models for China.
In 2001, an encounter with AIDS victims in Henan Province led Chung To in a different direction. In Henan, the AIDS epidemic was caused not by sexual contact but by the egregiously careless practices of blood buyers. Here, he saw villages where half of the adults had either died of AIDS or were HIV-positive. “I have never seen so much hardship and suffering concentrated in one small village,” he says. He was especially moved by the plight of children orphaned by AIDS. Their grim lives and futures stirred him to launch the AIDS Orphans Project in 2002. He left his job at the bank to devote himself full-time to China’s AIDS crisis. “I figured that the world could do with one less banker,” he says. “But these children, they cannot wait.”
Pondering how to help the children, Chung To concluded that education was the key. In its target areas, his AIDS Orphans Project provides every child who has an AIDS-infected parent with school fees and expenses through university or vocational school. To avoid reinforcing the AIDS stigma and its social isolation, Chung To spurns orphanages and foster homes and insists that AIDS-impacted children attend normal village schools and live with relatives. His foundation also provides the children self-affirming counseling through art and writing therapy, summer camps, and home visits by CHF volunteers-including Chung To himself. Chung To’s orphans project began with 127 students in a single village. Today, four thousand children of AIDS in five provinces are benefiting.
Chung To works cooperatively with the Chinese authorities and has found allies in international NGOs and foundations. Still, raising funds is a constant concern. CHF has a “six-step fund-raising strategy” and Chung To himself has also recently returned to the business world-another strategy for sustainability. As CHF’s chairperson, he hopes to multiply the foundation’s impact with a new “business model.” What began as a “family run” enterprise, he says, will become “a multi-branch franchise.”
In electing Chung To to receive the 2007 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Emergent Leadership, the board of trustees recognizes his proactive and compassionate response to AIDS in China and to the needs of its most vulnerable victims.
The Honorable Chief Justice, Chairman and Trustees of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation, distinguished guests, fellow Awardees and dear friends.
A seven-year-old girl I know named Fang Fang asked her dying mother, “Mom, why don’t you sell me? If you sold me, you would have money to buy medicine.” What she did not know was that both her parents were dying of AIDS from selling their blood. They died recently, leaving Fang Fang and her younger sister behind. Her sister has since been diagnosed HIV-positive. Having lost both parents to AIDS, Fang Fang will soon lose her only sibling to the virus, becoming the only survivor in her family.
According to the China News Agency, there are 76,000 AIDS orphans like Fang Fang on the mainland, and the number will increase to 260,000 by 2010. UNICEF’s estimates are higher: that there are half a million children in China today who have been orphaned by the disease, are HIV-positive or are living in households with at least one HIV-positive parent.
Due to unsanitary collection practices in the 1990s, many poor peasants contracted HIV while selling blood to earn extra income. In some villages today, more than 40 percent of adults have either died of AIDS or are HIV-positive. Tens of thousands of orphans have been left behind. Most do not have HIV themselves. If we do not help them now, they will grow up uneducated and vulnerable, becoming a large force for social instability for decades to come.
Having watched in horror the destruction of the middle generation, I started a programme to help AIDS-impacted children by sponsoring their education and providing psycho-social support and vocational training. The Chi Heng Foundation does not build orphanages, and we do not operate foster care. Instead we empower local communities so that children can grow up with their grandparents and relatives. We help them to go back to school with children not affected by AIDS. We also try to cut out middlemen by paying school fees directly to schools and to the students we serve. Taking a pragmatic, non-confrontational approach, we have grown to become the largest non-government effort focused on helping youngsters affected by AIDS in China, serving more than 4,000 children.
Since AIDS emerged twenty-five years ago, it has killed more than twenty million people worldwide. Another forty-five million people are living with HIV. While most casualties have been in sub-Saharan Africa, many experts predict Asia will be next. You may think Asia still has a long time to respond. However, from an epidemiological perspective, once we have passed a threshold, the virus will spread rapidly. We do not have time to be complacent. Even a moderate 3 percent infection rate in just two Asian countries, China and India, could translate into seventy million new infections, resulting in unbearable costs in medical care and social instability-and millions of orphans.
On learning of the disastrous impact of AIDS in Africa, many people in the developed world said, “Gee, I wish I had known. We could have done something.” In the case of Asia, we have no excuse for saying such a thing-because we do know AIDS is coming. We also have a rapidly closing window of opportunity to prevent more from being infected and do something about children affected by the virus. Ten years from now, would we rather say to each other “Gee, I wish I had done something”, or “Gee, I am proud that I have done something”?
I would like to thank my good friend and mentor, Dr. Gao Yao Jie, who came all the way from China to show her support. Her integrity, her courage to speak the truth and her compassion to help AIDS-impacted people are my inspiration, motivating me to go on.
Last but not least, I am extremely grateful to the Ramon Magsaysay Award selection committee for giving me this prestigious award, which is not only a recognition of our work, but also a statement of the importance of AIDS.