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Overcoming the odds

By Tom McGregor (China Daily)

09:14, August 31, 2012

Liu Sen, 14, does homework while his 83-year-old grandmother sits beside him, in their shack in Anhe village in Hebei province. (Provided to China Daily)

Liu Sen has long struggled with adversity. The 14-year-old grew up in impoverished conditions and has lived with his grandmother, Li Genzhen, 83, ever since his parents died of AIDS when he was very young. Liu has been diagnosed with HIV as well.

Home is a primitive shack that looks like a cave in the remote village of Anhe in Baita town, a few kilometers away from Xingtai city, Hebei province. There is no running water and a light bulb is his only access to modern-day technology. He must cultivate a vegetable garden for food.

It would seem that any young boy facing such dire straits would lose hope, but Liu remains optimistic. He believes that "studying hard" can make a better life for himself and his grandmother. He holds a special love for math, a subject he studies at Gaozhuang Middle School.

Liu dreams of going on to study at a university where he can learn more about trigonometry, calculus and the algorithms of life. However, there are still many obstacles to overcome.

His grandmother cannot pay for a tutor to help him prepare for the college entrance examinations. He must also spend time looking after his elderly and sick grandmother. But at least, he won't be distracted from watching television, since their ancient set broke down a few years ago. He does not have a cell phone, computer or Internet access.

The only help he gets is from some Catholic nuns from Our Lady of All Souls, a congregation of 51 sisters working in three religious communities in the Xingtai Diocese, helping disadvantaged youth and senior citizens.

They visit Liu regularly and help pay his school fees and the cost of his HIV treatment, such as medicine and doctors' visits.

Liu says he refuses to allow his tribulations prevent him from doing his homework, but confesses he is struggling with some hurdles.

"Maybe, I'm not so good at studying English or history," he says. "But I really like to study math because it's really easy for me and I'm good at it." He speaks about the bliss of calculating algebraic formulas.

But meanwhile, he must continue to study other subjects to help him gain entry into a good university.

In the summer, he spends most evenings reading textbooks to prepare for the upcoming school year and he believes that doing his beloved math helps him forget his sorrows.

And above all, Liu is grateful for the Catholic sisters' help.

The nuns at Our Lady of All Souls do most of their fundraising by participating in the annual Beijing Marathon, which is scheduled for Oct 13 this year. They are part of the service belonging to Jinde Charities, founded in May 1997 in Shijiazhuang, capital of Hebei province, and recognized as "the first nonprofit organization of the Chinese Catholic Church for social services".

Liu has become a living testament to the daily deeds of the nuns, and his passion for math has inspired them to launch a drive to collect books for children under their care. And for Liu, at least, his favorite subject may broaden the window to a brighter future.
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