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Paying It Forward


Text and photographs by Sun Shubao

Yuan Congpin volunteered to be a cornea donor last May. Unable to get out of bed by himself for nine years, the young man decided that after his death he would give his corneas to someone in need to repay some of the tremendous love he has received.

Twelve years ago, after his mother remarried, Yuan left his hometown with her for a new home about 200 kilometers away: Wangjiazhaizi Village in the Gaoxin District of Weifang City, Shandong Province.

Yuan became paralyzed in a traffic accident on Chinese New Year’s Day in 2003, and has since despised depending on others. Several times, Yuan tried to end his own life, but each time he was discovered and saved. To ensure prevention of further tragedy, his mother quit her job to stay home and take care of him.

In early 2010, during a routine family-interview tour, the district’s Civil Affairs Office director Ma Yongfeng learned of Yuan’s situation. After that, she visited Yuan’s family regularly. Although they were unwelcoming to the outsider at first, eventually she was accepted as a good friend. Over time, Yuan has changed a lot from the inside out: He shaved for the first time in years, he allowed the long hair on his head to be trimmed, and he began opening his mind.

Ma gave a computer to Yuan and helped him get on the internet. Because of his condition, she had a carpenter make a special computer desk so Yuan could use it comfortably while lying in bed. The computer and internet weaved an infinite network of love. Ma introduced Yuan to her friends, family, and colleagues, and he talked more with them online. He also began learning much more about the world through the internet. He slowly regained self-confidence. Yuan started to call Ma “Auntie,” and he became willing to share his thoughts, feelings and even secrets with his close confidant.

Ma transferred to another area before 2012 Spring Festival, but the move hasn’t affected her friendship with Yuan. On April 3, 2012, Ma came to the village to see Yuan during another festival. “Aunt Ma, I want to donate my corneas,” Yuan eagerly announced upon meeting her. “Could you do me the favor of contacting some institutions?” Two weeks before, Yuan experienced a high fever and severe swelling in his abdomen. The hospital diagnosed a life-threatening condition. He returned home disheartened, pondering ways he could repay all the love and generosity he had received over the years.

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