In 2011, after working for a year in the Kunming centre, Li joined a project taking care of Aids patients in Dali because he wanted to explore different kinds of service. He and his colleagues visited people with HIV and Aids in hospitals and villages, looked after the patients’ families and offered psychological counselling to affected children. Li was present when one of the patients, Ms Yan, died.
Once the doctor certified her death, a nurse told Li and his colleagues to remove her body as soon as possible. When Li informed her family members of her death on the telephone, their response was simply, “burn it.” The heartless reactions of Ms Yan’s family and the nurse showed how people in the villages discriminated against people with HIV and Aids.
Li believes that everyone should die with dignity. So he and his colleague cleaned Ms Yan’s body and changed her clothes. Nurses in protective clothing came over and asked Li to remove Ms Yan’s ventilator with his bare hands. He struggled for a while because he was afraid of infection. But he overcame his fear, and removed it carefully while upholding his belief in equality for all humankind. “This was the first time I sanitised a body, the first time I held a body, the first time I saw the darkest sides of people,” Li says.
For Li, Ms Yan’s death, and that of other rural Aids patients, set them free from pain. “You [Aids patients] are being discriminated against every day. It is ridiculous,” he says.
After two years of volunteer work in the Mainland, Li returned to Hong Kong and began teaching at CUHK. But he has not forgotten the disadvantaged in mainland China and has raised funds to support the living expenses of underprivileged university students in rural villages.
It is said that “charity begins at home” and in 2014, Li decided to serve local society by starting a scheme to offer poor students jobs giving free tutorials to children living in subdivided flats. He raised the money to pay the university students himself. “One sum of money can help two families,” he says. Li hopes the tutors can be role models for the children and show them that poverty does not have to stifle their future.
As a teacher, Li has never forgotten the nurturing provided by his compassionate professors. Just like he did with the street children, he treats his students as his equals. He chats with those who are lost and “walks alongside” them to help them find their direction.
His values, and his example, often touches those around him. Some of his friends have invited Li to volunteer with them in China; some have donated to charities. One of his students, inspired by his experiences, volunteered at Mother Theresa’s Mission Charities in Kolkata.
“If you believe in something, you have to prove it with how you live your life,” Li says.
Edited by Donna Shiu