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June 24, 2013

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Local entrepreneur an angel for ailing kids

ZHANG Yali, 13, was taken to Beijing by her destitute parents in February from their hometown in rural Hebei Province. The girl suffers from leukemia, and the family didn't have the money for medical care.

Her case is not unusual in China, where funds for care of children suffering from birth defects and disease fall far short of the need. What is unusual is the story of how a good Samaritan who is a Shanghai businesswoman gave Zhang a new lease on life. Footing the bill is a Chinese-Filipino woman named Bonita Lim, who has devoted her life to helping less fortunate children in China. She started her fashion brand and charity business in Shanghai.

Zhang finished her third round of chemotherapy on May 22. Doctors at the Capital Institute of Pediatrics in Beijing said she can survive the disease without a marrow transplant if she undergoes 11 such treatments.

"All talk, no action," Lim said, describing the numbers of people who say they want to help such charity works but never do anything. "I am always told that one person single-handedly can't ameliorate the need. But if everyone took that view, the world would never get better."

When Lim heard of Zhang's plight, she organized a fashion charity event last Thursday to raise 300,000 yuan (US$48,400) to pay for the girl's medical treatment. A total of 115 guests attended the one-day event held at a Design Republic outlet in the city's Jing'an District.

Lim is a humanitarian first and a fashion designer second. She has been staging charity shows in Shanghai for several years to raise money for poor children with medical problems. Her dedication goes beyond that. She also sponsors programs to help train the children and their families in basic handicrafts to help them earn some income.

Lim was born in the Philippines into a wealthy family that originally hailed from China's Fujian Province. The family initially made its fortune in agriculture and real estate and was bred with a sense of giving back to others.

In 2001, the family moved to Shanghai and started an edible-oils business.

"I always remember my grandmother telling me, 'We have almost everything we need, so we should be grateful. We must give something back.'"

In 2006, after a failed marriage that produced twin sons, Lim founded Brown Rice Designs in Shanghai. The idea was to make clothes and raise funds to pay for surgeries for orphans around China. As Lim's designs gained popularity, she formed Nuomi, a professional design team. The name refers to sticky rice.

"Our company works like sticky rice," Lim said. "We stick together and support one another."

The Nuomi team provides 1,000 underprivileged breadwinners with sustainable livelihoods. It teaches disabled children, orphans and poor families how to knit, sew and design small articles.

Families like the Xiang household.

Li Xueqin, mother of the family, said her son Xiang Ze, 10, suffers from cerebral palsy. The family took him to Shanghai soon after his birth in rural Hunan Province, seeking medical care. Neither parent could find full-time work. Odd jobs here and there weren't covering the cost of living.

"Then we met a good Samaritan," Li said. "She told us never to give up."

Lim designed a teddy bear that the family members could make at home to earn money. She also purchased a 60,000 yuan wheelchair for Xiang Ze and arranged for his care at a private medical center.

"I'm happy to do what little I can," Lim said with characteristic humbleness.

Her passion to help others seems boundless, and it warms the hearts of all it touches.

"Bonita is like my personal ATM," said Tingting Chan-Sullivan, co-founder of Baobei Foundation, a US-registered, Shanghai-based non-governmental organization created to provide life-saving surgeries to Chinese orphans. "When I need money for a baby's surgery, I just call her and she is always there to help."

Chan-Sullivan recalled the time Lim emptied her bank account to pay for a surgery. Luckily, the gesture was followed by a round of new orders for Brown Rice.

Lim in addition has adopted two of the children whose lives her sense of generosity has touched.


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