“As time goes on, more and more people hear about us. Some villagers ask for reservoirs or water taps, others want wells, bridges and roads; we seldom turn down requests, we try to satisfy everybody.” Tony Yeung
Fifty years ago, Tony Yeung was stranded inside a shabby house in Huizhou (惠州), a small town in Guangdong, when his village was flooded. The young man waited desperately for someone to come to his family’s rescue and bring them basic supplies and clean water. “At that moment, I told myself that if I could become rich one day, I would give away rice to the poor and needy.” Mr. Yeung says.
Recalling the old days in the Kwun Tong headquarters of the Glorious Sun Group — the company he and his brothers set up - the 59-year-old entrepreneur is glad he can carry out his promise.
The group has a wide range of business interests, including garments and property development. It has more than 1,000 jeans outlets on the mainland and in Australia. Its latest flagship project, One Peking, a 30-story office-commercial building, is a new Tsim Sha Tsui landmark.
Mr. Yeung takes care of the group’s business in America. With wealth he generates from the business, the devout Buddhist has become an active philanthropist who gives away rice to poor villagers and helps them build reservoirs, bridges and roads.
His new mission is to help Aids patients on the mainland by working with world-renowned Aids scientist David Ho Dai-i. Mr. Yeung’s is a typical rags-to-riches story. Born into a poor family in Huizhou, he tasted the hardship of poverty. From 1959 to 1962, the mainland suffered from widespread famine. All families were living on strict rations of rice and oil. “I saw bodies piling up on the roadsides every day. Villagers just wrapped them with some clothes or simply a piece of straw mattress and took the bodies up to the hills for burial.”
During the Cultural Revolution, Mr. Yeung, like many other young people, was exiled to a remote rural area. For four years he lived the tough life of a farmer. “I know so well what poor people need because I used to be one of them.” he says.
.His Younger brother, Charles Yeung Chun-kam, now Glorious Sun Group chairman, sneaked into Hong Kong in 1968. He followed suit in 1972. “I and my wife swam for almost 10 hours from Shenzhen to Hong Kong, from 8pm and arrived in Hong Kong shortly after 5am.” Mr. Yeung recalls.
He first worked in a textile company. In 1977, Mr. Yeung and his two brothers set up the Glorious Sun Group and he started the business development in New York in the mid 1980s.
When Mr. Yeung returned to Hong Kong in 1991, he saw elderly people queuing for free rice during the Hungry Ghost Festival. “It reminded me what I promised to do when I was a teenager to give free rice to the poor.”
Through the Gracious Glory Buddhism Foundation he set up in 2000, he mobilized a group of volunteers — many of them his childhood friends and relatives— to help build wells, reservoirs, bridges and roads for people in rural areas. “As time goes on, more and more people hear about us and we do more and more. Some villagers ask for reservoirs, water taps, others want wells, bridges and roads; we seldom turn down those requests. We try to satisfy everybody.”
The foundation now has projects in about 20 provinces. Every Lunar New Year, it distributes $3 million in rice and food to villages. For the past five years, the foundation has spent more than $120 million on poverty relief projects.
Using his investment wisdom on poverty relief, Mr. Yeung knows well how best to use the funds. In Huitung, for example, the foundation spent 50,000 yuan on building a reservoir for a village of l,000 people. Afterwards the farm’s harvests improved and as result, the village’s total income doubled. “It means each household has an extra 500 to 600 yuan a year; they only have about 1,000 yuan income a year.” he says. “More than 60 reservoirs have been built in the past three years.”
In northern Shanxi(陕西省), the foundation helped build 191 water tanks from 2000 to 2003. Because of the dry weather, water is the most precious resource in the region. Women used to have just one chance in their lifetime to take a bath — the day before they married. “Each water tank costs only 200 to300 Yuan, but it improves the quality of their life significantly.” Mr. Yeung says. Apart from the mainland, Mr. Yeung also gives away free lunches in New York’s China town through the Salvation Army. During the SARS outbreak in 2003, he and his two brothers donated $30 million to the mainland government to set up medical centers.
从2000年到2003年，慈辉佛教基金会在陕西省的北部地区，助建了191个水窖。由于干旱的天气，水在那地区是最珍贵的资源。以前在那儿的女人，一生中只有一次洗澡的机会 ─ 就在结婚的前一天。杨先生说：「一个水窖只需要200到300元，但却大大地改善了他们生活的质量！」在大陆之外，杨先生也在纽约的中国城，透过救世军的协助，每天赠送免费午餐给华埠的老人。在2003年非典爆发其间，他和他的两位弟弟捐献了三千万元港币（其中一千万元供中国政府作为研究防治非典病毒之用，一百万港币给香港政府作为照顾感染者及其家属之用，另两千万元作为礼请以中国大陆及香港地区为主的佛教僧侣，举办各种法会，祈祷非典疫情早日消弭）。
Now he has a new mission — to help Aids patients in Henan(河南省) and Yunnan (云南省) through the network set up by Dr. Ho. Mr. Yeung says he had never heard about Dr. Ho before meeting him in New York last year. Dr. Ho, director of the US-based Aaron Diamond Aids Research Center, invented the famous drug cocktail therapy for HIV. He was Time magazine’s Man of the Year in 1996 for his research into Aids.
目前，他有一个新的使命 ─ 即通过何博士的“中国艾滋病防治行动”，帮助河南省和云南省的艾滋病患者。杨先生说，去年在纽约和何博士碰面之前，他从未听过有关何博士这个人。何博士，美国“爱伦戴蒙艾滋病研究中心”的主任，他发明了治疗艾滋病的 “鸡尾酒疗法”。由于他对艾滋病的研究，使他成为《时代杂志》「1996年的风云人物」。
“I did not know Dr. Ho at all before I read a Chinese newspaper article about him and his works on Aids prevention on the mainland.” Mr. Yeung says. “For a long time I have wanted to help Aids patients on the mainland so I decided to team up with Dr. Ho.” Mr. Yeung through the foundation has pledged to donate US$3.75 million to Dr. Ho’s China Aids Initiative over five years.
Hundreds of pregnant mainland women who risk passing HIV to their unborn babies will benefit from the group’s drug program. The China Aids Initiative, founded in 2003 to help control the mainland’s Aids epidemic, is also supported by the Ministry of Health.
Mr. Yeung believes prevention is more cost effective than building medical facilities. “In considering donations, I always think about the outcomes.“ he says. “You can easily make a name by building a hospital, but no one knows you when you donate money to Aids prevention.”
“Making a name is not what I aim for. I want to spend on something which has a good impact. If we can do well on Aids prevention, we can save a lot of lives.”
“I hope that one day in the near future I will visit Aids patients in Henan and Yunnan. I will hold their hands and chat with them.”
David Ho, Time’s Man of the Year in 1996, talks to villagers in Henan, where he will be spearheading an Aids initiative funded by Tony Yeung. Photos: SCMP Pictures, K.Y. Cheng, Reuters