Grilled mutton kebab seller continues personal crusade for charity

12:35, February 04, 2011      

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When Alim stepped onto the stage at a charity award ceremony, he could no longer hold back his tears.

The 39-year-old Uygur was commended for his generosity and perseverance: in eight years he spent more than 100,000 yuan (about 1,520 U.S. dollars) to subsidize more than 100 poor students, using his meager income earned at a stall selling grilled mutton kebabs.

Alim's charity crusade was initiated in 2002 when the local government in Zhenyuan County of southwest China's Guizhou Province gave him 300 yuan to reward his contribution in putting out a nearby mountain fire, he recalled.

After being told a girl was about to be dropped from school for lack of tuition fees, he made his first donation of 500 yuan by combining the award of 300 yuan and 200 yuan he had left on him.

He said he made the donation as a way of showing gratitude to those who had helped him.

In 2002, when he arrived in Bijie City of Guizhou Province, he only had ten yuan and a coal scuttle with him.

Then, a migrant worker treated him to a two-yuan meal, dubbed by Alim as the "most unforgettable meal in his lifetime", when he was down and out, and a bar owner lent him 100 yuan to start his business.

Alim said he was indebted to those who had helped him in times of trouble and his first time of giving made him really happy, ushering in his eight-year-long charity work.

Alim had no clear idea how much he had spent to help poor students. He barely has money left in his bank account. The way he keeps his money is to stuff his drawer with notes and withdraw a handful whenever he deems it necessary.

"In the last few years, I would help students wherever I had some money." he said.

For every skewer of mutton kebab Alim grills, he makes about 30 cents now. Two years ago, the margin was even lower, at about 20 cents.

Alim estimates, for the donations he made to assist poor students, he sold at least 300,000 skewers of grilled mutton kebabs.

When Alim went to Bijie College with his savings of 5,000 yuan four years ago, teachers were both surprised and touched.

"It was a big bundle of cash with different face values. The smell of grilled mutton was all over the place." recalled Tang Yuhua, a senior staffer at the university.

"We were so moved. It was all he had." he said.

Alim said he donated his money because he believed only education could change poor students' lives.

Alim was born in a village of Hejing County in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. His father, an employee at a local supply and marketing cooperative, was the only bread-winner in a family of nine.

Alim had to quit school when he was a teenager.

"I received little education, so I can only make my living by grilling mutton kebabs. But I would not let those poor students repeat what I had been through," he said.

"My savings could help those students, they can learn knowledge, I am really happy."

Providing assistance to poor students is only part of Alim's charity work.

Soon after a 7.1-magnitude earthquake struck Yushu, a Tibetan prefecture in northwestern Qinghai Province last April, Alim arrived at the quake zone to help with the rescue mission.

He helped army officers carry survivors, erect tents and unload quake-relief materials, as he battled against severe altitude illness, nausea and vomiting.

He also spent 8,000 yuan to buy beef and vegetables for quake survivors.

What Alim had done made him stand out among 60 candidates for the charity campaign, which was sponsored by the Xinhua News Agency and aimed to bring more grassroots heroes to the public attention.

The campaign, which invites netizens to vote for the most admirable grassroots heroes, saw more than 2 million votes. Alim came in first place by winning 240,000 votes, including the vote from Zhang Chunxian, Party chief of Xinjiang.

On the official website of the Xinhua News Agency, xinhuanet.com, netizens hailed Alim as a "role model" and "pride of Xinjiang."

"Alim is a symbol, demonstrating Xinjiang people's deep love of the country and their compatriots," wrote a netizen named "Jianghuduchou".

When Alim went to Beijing to attend the award ceremony on Jan. 13th, he managed to arrange a trip to the "Bird's Nest", the landmark national stadium used as the main track and field stadium for the 2008 summer Olympics.

The crowds of sightseers near the stadium remind Alim of his charity mission. "If only I could set up a stall near the 'Bird's Nest'," he said, "the business would be hot and I could make more money to support poor students."

After winning the charity award on Jan. 13th, Alim continued his frugal lifestyle. In the brick-and-stud structure which Alim rents in Bijie City, a desktop computer is the only home appliance he has added in the past two years.

Friends advised Alim to save some money to buy an apartment, but he thought there would be better ways to spend his money.

"Inscriptions on stones last forever; characters on the sand are only a flash in the pan. We should spend money where it is needed," he said.

Alim is optimistic about the future and paints a bigger picture for his charity work.

"I will save money for another 10 years and build a school for the children of migrant workers. They were left behind at home and need parental care," he said.

Source: Xinhua
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