In China today, a transformation of dazzling speed and complexity is reshaping society and calling forth new leaders. Chung To and Chen Guangcheng are two of these. Each one in his own way, and on his own initiative, has stepped forward to address an urgent contemporary need. Where others have been slow to act, they have acted.
Chung To was born in Hong Kong but migrated with his family to the United States when he was fifteen. He attended Columbia University, earned a master's degree at Harvard, and then plunged into a career in banking. In 1995, success led him back to Hong Kong as a senior bank executive.
By this time, Chung To was already sensitized to the AIDS crisis through the death of a favorite teacher and of many friends. In Hong Kong, he was alarmed to find the male homosexual community largely ignorant of the threat. Gay men accounted for a third of the city's HIV-AIDS cases, yet unprotected sex was commonplace.
Chung To reacted by creating the Chi Heng Foundation (CHF) in 1998, to arm gay men with a means of protecting themselves. Beginning in Hong Kong but later expanding into the mainland, he enlisted the help of pimps and brothel owners and hundreds of volunteers to distribute condoms and safe-sex kits in gay bars and clubs. He set up a help line with frank, factual information about HIV-AIDS and offered workshops and personal counseling, legal advice, and links to doctors. And he exploited the rising popularity of the Internet to reach the millions of gay Chinese men who use it. By 2006, Chung To had established CHF branches in ten Chinese cities. Taking note, the United Nations named his direct, management-savvy approach one of its "best practice" models for China.
In 2001, an encounter with AIDS victims in Henan Province led Chung To in a different direction. In Henan, the AIDS epidemic was caused not by sexual contact but by the egregiously careless practices of blood buyers. Here, he saw villages where half of the adults had either died of AIDS or were HIV-positive. "I have never seen so much hardship and suffering concentrated in one small village," he says. He was especially moved by the plight of children orphaned by AIDS. Their grim lives and futures stirred him to launch the AIDS Orphans Project in 2002. He left his job at the bank to devote himself full-time to China's AIDS crisis. "I figured that the world could do with one less banker," he says. "But these children, they cannot wait."
Pondering how to help the children, Chung To concluded that education was the key. In its target areas, his AIDS Orphans Project provides every child who has an AIDS-infected parent with school fees and expenses through university or vocational school. To avoid reinforcing the AIDS stigma and its social isolation, Chung To spurns orphanages and foster homes and insists that AIDS-impacted children attend normal village schools and live with relatives. His foundation also provides the children self-affirming counseling through art and writing therapy, summer camps, and home visits by CHF volunteers-including Chung To himself. Chung To's orphans project began with 127 students in a single village. Today, four thousand children of AIDS in five provinces are benefiting.
Chung To works cooperatively with the Chinese authorities and has found allies in international NGOs and foundations. Still, raising funds is a constant concern. CHF has a "six-step fund-raising strategy" and Chung To himself has also recently returned to the business world-another strategy for sustainability. As CHF's chairperson, he hopes to multiply the foundation's impact with a new "business model." What began as a "family run" enterprise, he says, will become "a multi-branch franchise."
In electing Chung To to receive the 2007 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Emergent Leadership, the board of trustees recognizes his proactive and compassionate response to AIDS in China and to the needs of its most vulnerable victims.