Medical attention is considered the biggest problem and is the largest concern of the people we assist. If we encounter a homeless person or child in need of emergency medical care whenever possible we will arrange medical attention for them. We have also established good working relationships with local hospitals which enables us to make this service available to more of the people we encounter. In addition, we provide basic first aid medication each night for those that attend the Soup Kitchen.
After the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) of 2007, I received a message from Tony whilst I was on the train that went from my home in the East of China, back to Xi'an, Central China. A journey of around 10 hours. He said that he had taken care of a little boy who‘s left arm was badly hurt after he had been tortured by people wanting him to steal. He had been tied in a chair and his arm burnt by cigarettes, a common practice here amongst the street children. He eventually ran away and came to Xi'an but by this stage his arm had been untreated for more than a month. Perhaps it was too late and he would lose his arm. I knew that the Soup Kitchen was already very busy and wondered how Tony found the time to help the boy too.
When I eventually arrived back in Xi'an he told me that after a day and a half of visiting several Hospitals that Li Fan had been admitted at the hospital of the Xi'an Armed Police. Li Fan was 13 years old, and had been separated from his family more than two years ago and had no way of contacting them.
The doctor had said that if treated now his arm would not need to be amputated. He would probably need a skin graft as the damage to his arm was so severe but first they would address the infections and then observe the situation. When I saw the photographs of Li Fans’ injuries, despite my long journey I couldn't bear to eat, the whole back of his left arm was decayed. After seeing the photos I knew that Tony had to try and help him.
There are many homeless children, that regularly come to the Soup Kitchen, we don’t know where they all come from or where they go to when they leave, but we can just try and help them a little whilst they are here. In the past I we had provided some common medicines like medicine for infections, stomach problems and rheumatism tablets etc but I was concerned that if we help Li Fan, in the future when other children also needed medical treatment they would also come to us, and couldn’t imagine how we would be able to help. I told Tony of my concerns, he replied "I don't know either, but this is an emergency and what I know now is that we must help him. If we don’t he will lose his left arm. We can deal with the other problems later."
Two days later, we visited Li Fan in hospital, although Li Fan was still in his bed, he was full of spirit and already looked much better than in the photographs that were taken just a few days earlier. He was already familiar with his ward mates and the nurses, they talked and laughed with him. He had also made beautiful towers out of paper for the nurses who took care of him. At first I asked some questions about his past, he lowered his head when he spoke, looked very nervous and uncomfortable. Maybe he still didn’t trust us enough, wondering why we would want to help him, buy him clean clothes, soap towels etc, pay for three meals a day and his hospital treatment. After all he wasn't familiar with us, it was a friend of his who regulary comes to the Soup Kitchen, Jin Hu, whom had asked Tony if he could help him. Being worried about making him feel uneasy, we didn't ask any more questions. However, it didn’t take long for him to relax and feel more at ease enough to tell us about his family, his childhood and his life. A few minutes later I noticed that he was continually mopping his brow, I wondered if he was still uncomfortable, but it was because he wasn’t accustomed to being indoors and had been sleeping outside for some time and had adapted to life on the streets. We asked when he recovered, what plans he had, he said that he would find a job in a night market, make some money and try to find his family.
Several days later, the doctors told us the good news, that Li Fans’ condition had improved much better than expected and that he no longer needed a skin transplant. So after only two weeks, and despite him still needing a couple of days of treatment, his condition had improved so much that he started to ask when he could leave the hospital. We didn't understand why as it was comfortable in his ward, he needn't worry about finding food every day and he could sleep in a safe, comfortable bed. Yet he couldn’t wait to leave and was anxious get back to his life and his friends on the streets. A positive sign and a huge change from the introverted frightened boy that checked in around two weeks earlier.
Realising that he probably wouldn’t stay for much longer, and being concerned that we might arrive one day to find that he had already checked himself out, we spoke with the doctors to check the condition of his arm. They agreed that if he promised to return to a medical unit daily to have his dressings changed and continue the anti-biotic treatment that he could check out of the hospital.
I bought him some food and snacks but he said that he didn't have the time to eat them now but would share them with He Shang, one of his friends on the streets. He hurriedly cleared up his things, said goodbye to his newly acquainted friends, doctors and nurses, and we all left hospital.
Walking out of the door of hospital, the wore a beaming smile, we told him that he could later go back to the hospital if he needed to, but Li Fan shook his head firmly. After saying goodbye to us, he happily flew into the busy noisy street like a bird and disppeared. I felt a sadness knowing that maybe we would never see him again.
Maybe we can't change their lifestyle, but suddenly I knew that to provide for them help is what we must do. For when you see a 13 year old child like Li Fan, knowing that if he couldn’t get treatment he would lose his arm, it feels like it is our duty to try to do our best to help him in whatever way we are able.
After helping Lifan, we have since helped several other children and adults. We hope that in the future we can continue this work and help many more people along the way as it is their biggest area of need.