Philanthropist finds giving is receiving
Updated: 2013-05-13 16:24
By Zhao Ruixue (China Daily)
Kenneth E. Behring (back row) founded the annual Global Natural History Day competition in 2012 to inspire children to tackle the world's problems. Provided to China Daily
An American philanthropist's desire to shape the minds of the leaders of tomorrow means junior students in China have an opportunity to join an all-inclusive 10-day private safari tour of South Africa.
Students between grades 1 to 9 win a place on the safari by participating in the second annual Global Natural History Day competition.
Funded by Kenneth E. Behring, the chairman of the Global Health and Education Foundation, a nonprofit organization located in California, the GNHD competition aims to help develop the next generation of world leaders.
"It (GNHD) can stimulate and excite kids about the natural world, so they can take the lessons of nature and become well-educated, creative and imaginative leaders who can tackle the world's problems," Behring tells China Daily at the 2013 GNHD competition Shandong Launch Ceremony held in April.
The 2013 GNHD competition, themed "Great Migrations: Animal, Botanical, Anthropological", covers China and the United States.
In addition to cash prizes, winners of their respective divisions will be eligible for the "Kenneth E. Behring Discovery Trip" in February 2014, which will take winning students and teachers to South Africa.
The GNHD competition is only part of Behring's philanthropy efforts, which began in 2000. That year, Behring had an epiphany when he lifted a small Vietnamese girl from the ground and placed her in a wheelchair. The incident turned the entrepreneur into a philanthropist.
"I saw this little girl envision a freedom she had never known. Her face opened into a smile," Behring recalls.
"For the first time I could remember, I felt joy."
Behring was in business for nearly seven decades and was listed as one of the 400 wealthiest men in America by Forbes Magazine.
But he wasn't happy.
"After a career filled with outward success, I did not even know where to look to find real happiness," Behring says.
The very same year, he created the Wheelchair Foundation, marking the start of his philanthropic journey.
To date, Behring has given away nearly a million wheelchairs to more than 150 countries.
In 2001, Behring established a partnership with the China Disabled Persons' Federation to help distribute wheelchairs in China. Since then Behring has distributed more than 325,000 wheelchairs in more than 40 cities and towns in China.
Behring is impressed by the tenacity of the physically challenged people in China.
"More often than not, I meet physically disabled people in China who are good singers, painters and craftsman."
Behring understands the huge challenge China faces in terms of physically challenged people.
"Because of its size, China most likely has the largest population of physically disabled people of any country in the world. The government is very aware of their challenges."
But his philanthropic work in China goes beyond the GNHD project and wheelchairs. Behring has started a safe drinking water project together with local governments and departments.
The water project aims to help eliminate waterborne diseases and impurities by carrying out feasibility studies, purchasing water purification systems, overseeing water station construction and sanitation quality control, as well as conducting public health and sanitation education in rural areas.
A pilot project has begun in Shanyin county, Shanxi province, where the water contains high levels of fluoride and arsenic. According to Behring, the project serves 215 households of 830 people within Yangzhuang village. They charge the villagers a small fee to keep the operation sustainable.
Behring plans to open water stations in five other villages and wants physically disabled people to run them.