Charity is not about giving.

It is not uncommon for people my age to want to be involved in charity work. As my mother once told me, “The fragrance always remains in the hand that gives the rose,” and there is a good feeling a person gets when he or she does something positive for others. It is with this motivation that I decided to start my own “Warmth Project” after meeting cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Xu at the Zhejiang Children’s Hospital in 9th grade.

From him, I learned that there were a number of young children in the area suffering from congenital heart disease, a problem that is growing because of exposure to pollution. I decided to find a way to make their hospital stays a little easier. eBooks were my great solution, as it was something fun and education they could use to fill their time in bed. We raised money through our community, and I felt proud that I could make their lives a little better.
In the second year, I went back and visited one of the children to whom we had given one of the eBooks; he was still in the hospital. However, when I asked him where it was, he seemed to look away and get nervous. The doctor pulled me aside to tell me that his family had actually already sold it.

At first, I was mad. I couldn’t believe that they would be so disrespectful toward a gift that I had organized and given to them. Was it for nothing?

But then Dr. Xu gave me some necessary context for the situation. These were people who really needed money; in fact, most of these cases involved families who had extreme difficulty paying for their medical treatment. In this specific instance, the boy’s mother was a cook in a small restaurant, and his father worked in a factory. Simply, the last thing they really needed was an eBook.

I was immediately mortified by my self-righteous response, and it made me question my motivations for the work I had done. A true hero does things for others for no reason besides goodness and altruism. If that had been me, I wouldn’t have been so concerned with my own feelings.

It’s true that there is a great feeling you get when you do something for someone else, but this experience taught me the valuable lesson that if I go looking for that feeling, it will never come because I am actually doing the opposite, doing something for myself. Yes, the fragrance remains in the hand that gives the rose, but that assumes it’s a rose you’re giving. A true gift is one that is thoughtful and aware; if I want to help people, I must learn what they need, not imagine what I would like to give.

So, our new operation morphed to help clear the hospital bills families to acquire as a result of such terrible circumstances. Dr. Xu gives us a list of potential candidates, and together, we evaluate each patient to decide what kind of help they need and figure out how we can reach the greatest number of people. In the past three years, we have helped thirty-two different families from seven different cities pay for their children’s medical treatment.

The ‘good feeling’ people talk about isn’t so simple. If you leave any situation that involves so much hurt and suffering feeling totally happy, you don’t fully understand. It is hard to look at the list of names longer than we can manage, and it is bittersweet to learn a great appreciation for the health, happiness, and prosperity that I have taken for granted my whole life.

But still, I sometimes have the joy of visiting one of the children after their surgery, and I see a big smile on their face, full of hope about the future, and for a brief moment, I smell something like roses.


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