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'Grassroots philanthropist' helps poor students with kebab earnings

By ZHAO KAI ( China Daily )

Updated: 2014-10-13

'Grassroots philanthropist' helps poor students with kebab earnings 

A mother weeps in gratitude as Alimjan Halik (second left) visits her family and donates money to her children in Bijie, Guizhou province. XIE QIANG/CHINA DAILY

When Alimjan Halik recently landed in Bijie, in Southwest China's Guizhou province, he felt he was returning home.

Better known as Alim, the 44-year-old is renowned for helping needy residents of the city that gave him a chance to find success in life.

Alim was one of seven siblings born into a poor family in the northwestern Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.

Alim left home in 1997 to make his living and, for years, roamed across the country, struggling to survive in many cities.

In 2002, he arrived in Bijie, a city far from Xinjiang. But he soon discovered that this spot in the mountainous province was the closest thing to his hometown he would find.

"A lot of people reached out to me and I was deeply touched by their kindness," Alim said.

With help from locals, Alim launched a mutton kebab street stall.

Despite a rough start, he persevered and his dedication and hard work eventually paid off.

Residents soon developed a taste for his skewers of roasted meat. During Spring Festival in 2005, he sold more than 7,000 skewers in one day.

Life began to improve for Alim, but he remained frugal. He ate simple meals of noodles and bread, sometimes with unsold kebabs. He lived in a rented room in an old house and wore leather shoes he found in a garbage bin.

"I come from a poor family so I value money, because it can be used to help people in dire straits, such as I used to suffer from myself," he said.

Alim's actions match his words-since 2002, he has donated almost all of his more than 100,000 yuan of earnings to help students from poor families.

In the past decade, and despite his own limited income, Alim has helped more than 200 needy students. Ten of the beneficiaries have entered university. Two scholarships in two colleges in Guizhou have also been set up with his help.

People in Guizhou call Alim "the grassroots philanthropist". He has also been named the "Cyberspace Personality Who Moved the Hearts of the Chinese in 2010".

"Bijie is a place where many ethnic groups get along really well. I've never felt lonely; people invite me to their home and introduce me to their relatives during the holidays. To me, the city has already become my second hometown", Alim said.

"Giving back to society is the least I can do for his beloved city," he said.

In 2012, Alim had to return to Xinjiang to take care of his pregnant wife. But he said the departure from Guizhou was temporary because deep in his heart he feels Bijie is where he belongs.

"I wanted to stay in Guizhou, but my wife and child needed my help," he said.

Alim, who is now the general manager of a taxi company, continues to run a kebab restaurant in Xinjiang.

He also liaises between residents of Guizhou and Xinjiang because he travels between the two regularly.

Inspired by Alim's work, many residents in his hometown have followed his path to Guizhou.

Members of the Uygur ethnic group are some of the newest additions to Bijie's multiethnic community, with more than 50 Uygurs now doing business in the city.

Alim said he will eventually move back to Guizhou with his family.

He plans to expand his business so he can earn more funds to help more people.

"I want to build a school for needy children in Guizhou," he said.

"No matter which ethnic group you belong to or where you come from, as long as people get access to education it will bring us together and make our society more peaceful and harmonious."

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