Published: 14:28, May 20, 2024
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'Momma Chang' provides free home to families with sick kids in Xi'an
By Jiang Chenglong in Beijing and Qin Feng in Xi'an

Charitable gesture puts roof over head for patients who've traveled from out of town for treatment

Chang Xiangyang (fifth from right in back row) celebrates Spring Festival earlier this year with some children and parents at Xinyu Home in Xi'an, Shaanxi province. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

A kindhearted woman in Xi'an, Shaanxi province, is providing a much-needed lifeline for out-of-town families with family members requiring treatment in the city, by putting them up free of charge.

Xi'an native Chang Xiangyang struck upon the idea after an encounter with a grandmother who had been sleeping in the corridor at Xi'an Children's Hospital, where her 3-year-old grandchild was receiving treatment for leukemia.

To pay for his treatment, the family had used all their savings and borrowed a significant amount of money, meaning the grandmother had to sleep on the hospital floor to save costs.

As Chang was about to leave, she overheard the grandmother saying: "If there were any other way, I wouldn't be sleeping on the ground. Even the steamed buns in Xi'an are expensive, costing 0.6 yuan (8 cents) each."

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These words moved Chang deeply, revealing to her the great disparities there are in life.

"I realized that while some people wouldn't even bother picking up a one-yuan coin from the ground, others find a 0.6-yuan bun expensive. There are still so many people in need of help in this world," she said.

Chang Xiangyang looks after sick children at Xinyu Home in Xi'an. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Chang asked the grandmother: "If there were free accommodation and meals available near the hospital, would you stay there?"

The elderly woman looked at her with a puzzled expression for several seconds.

Chang asked again.

After a long silence, the grandmother replied: "If such a place existed, it would be in the next life."

This experience stayed with Chang, and was a driving force behind her decision to set up the Xinyu Home. Xinyu means feather in the heart in Chinese.

The home, established in 2017, is located just a stone's throw from the Xi'an Children's Hospital, and is capable of accommodating up to 13 families at any one time.

To date, Xinyu Home has provided free accommodation and meals to the families of over 2,300 children with serious illnesses from all over the country.

"This home does not charge a cent to the people staying here because I want these families in difficulty to know that Xi'an is a place full of kind people who will care for them," the 52-year-old said.

Chang Xiangyang looks after sick children at Xinyu Home in Xi'an. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Challenges

Once everything was ready, Chang began visiting the hospital regularly in order to invite the impoverished families of seriously ill children to stay at the home, but many doubted such good fortune, suspecting it to be a scam.

Determined, she sought help from doctors familiar with families in need to back her up and recommend the home. Within six months, Xinyu Home was filled with seriously ill children and their families.

To assist those genuinely in need, each family staying at the home must provide a doctor's diagnosis and a poverty certificate issued by their hometown's local government.

At first, Chang was able to fund the home herself with the help of her friends and family, but after a while the financial toll of renting and running the 200-square-meter property began to weigh heavily.

Xinyu Home's monthly expenses, including daily necessities and utilities, amounted to about 20,000 yuan. Although the parents of the sick children can help with cooking and daily chores, running the home remained a significant challenge, quickly depleting Chang's savings and straining her father's financial support.

At times, she even cried alone in her room, despairing at the prospect of having to close the home.

"But after crying, and then seeing these lovely children, I had no reason to complain or abandon them," she said.

As Xinyu Home's deeds became more widely known, like-minded people with a volunteering spirit started running fundraising campaigns to support it. The Xi'an government and local charitable associations also made donations. Since 2020, the Xi'an Charity Association has covered the annual rent of 50,000 yuan.

The home's running expenses are now essentially covered, and its facilities and equipment have been improved, Chang said.

In October last year, a social organization put up the money to renovate the home's rooms, including adding a reading corner, a walk-in wardrobe and a new kitchen, providing a better living environment for the children.

Chang's compassionate work has had a distinct impression on not only patients and their families, but also the medical staff at Xi'an Children's Hospital.

Liu Ansheng, director of the hematology and oncology department at the hospital, said: "The children's treatment is up to us, and their daily life is up to Chang. We can rest assured."

Chang Xiangyang looks after sick children at Xinyu Home in Xi'an. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Safe harbor

Most of the children and families that stay at Xinyu Home come from areas far from Xi'an, traveling to the city for treatment that can take long.

The experience of running the home has been an emotional one for Chang, because although her endeavor is a noble pursuit, there are inevitable losses along the way.

However, her warm interactions with the children and their parents have kept her heart warm and her resolve strong.

"Everyone here relies on and loves each other," she said.

Dealing with loss is never easy.

In early March, a father who had once stayed at Xinyu Home shared in the home's WeChat group that his 2-year-old child "had become an angel", meaning that she had passed away, and expressed his gratitude for everyone's care.

Chang had no idea how to respond at that time, noting that no one else in the group had replied either.

After a while, she responded to the father with three hugging emojis. Following her lead, the rest of the group unanimously replied with hugging emojis as well.

"It's not that everyone was indifferent to the father's message, but rather that we initially didn't know how to offer comfort," she said.

"When everyone replied with hugs at almost the same time, it meant that we all saw his message, and that he was not alone," she said. "We provide mutual spiritual comfort."

A mother surnamed Li from Yan'an, Shaanxi, and her 5-year-old son have been living at Xinyu Home since 2022.

Over the past year, Li went from being highly stressed and reserved to opening up and being willing to share her child's experiences with others. In her view, every small family living there became part of a larger family, making their mutual aid flow like "a transmission of love".

"When we first arrived, many experienced parents who had been living there for a while guided us," she said. "Gradually, as we gained experience, I began to proactively share our experiences with other newcomers."

Thanks to this process, the children have also become more extroverted and cheerful and are willing to initiate conversations with others, with her son saying "good morning" and "good night" to everyone, Li said.

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Another mother, Minmin, said that all families in the "loving shelter" have been encouraging and comforting, overcoming many difficult moments together.

"Our children are the apple of our eye. It's hard for us to comfort ourselves when we are alone, but because we live together with so many people in similar situations, we help and support each other," she said. "When everyone unites, our mental burden is greatly reduced."

Chang, who is affectionately called "Momma Chang" by the kids at Xinyu Home, has received support and donations from all sectors of society, and she remains determined to continue this good cause indefinitely.

"This is a place that provides confidence, strength and hope. I will keep going," she said.

At the same time, she wants to say to families with seriously ill children: "We are not afraid of illness; as long as we persist in treatment, there will surely be good outcomes.

"Do not abandon or give up on the children. Nothing can defeat us," Chang said.

Contact the writers at jiangchenglong@chinadaily.com.cn