Chang Ping-yi (張平宜), a Taiwanese woman dedicated to promoting education in a so-called “leper village” in Sichuan Province, China, over the past decade, was selected as one of last year’s 10 most inspiring people that touched the hearts of Chinese people, China’s CCTV network announced on Friday.
Launched by CCTV in 2002, the Touching China program each year honors 10 people that have touched the hearts of Chinese people and one to three groups that have made special contributions.
Chang formerly worked as a journalist in Taiwan. Her unexpected turn in life came when she was covering a story in a Chinese village in 1999. She found the village had been almost deliberately forgotten because of the stigma against people with Hansen’s disease, also known as leprosy.
She said she was shocked when she saw some people with Hansen’s disease dragging themselves around the village with their deformed arms and legs, leaving blood smears on the road. She discovered that the children of people with the disease had no identification cards and many of them were illiterate and homeless.
In addition, classrooms in the village were crowded with more than 70 students, with some children forced to stand during class hours because of a lack of seats.
Chang said she originally wanted to write a story and then return to Taiwan, but she simply couldn’t forget “the increasing number of children who were left in the street like chickens or ducks.”
Chang quit her job in 2003 to dedicate herself to the cause of promoting education in the village.
She founded a charity group called Wings of Hope in Taiwan. She wrote articles, gave speeches and talked to potential donors to raise money to build new classrooms and dormitories. Over the years, those classrooms turned into buildings, eventually coalescing into a middle school.
“Love has become my driving force,” she said.
Chang, who gave birth to her second son when she first visited Dayingpan Village, said that she felt the power of a new life and that she had devoted herself to education in the village “like a mother” because she could not turn away from “those angelic children.” Online voting for this year’s Touching China winners started in October.