"There is no doubt it changed my life," says Jayne So, reflecting on her own experience as a volunteer with the Wu Zhi Qiao (Bridge to China) Charitable Foundation. "Coming from the city, you learn to appreciate what you have and see what is really important."
Hardships like sleeping on the floor, doing a few days' manual labour, and being cut off from "civilisation" paled into insignificance when So saw the villagers' delight as their new bridge took shape. This basic construction, made of local materials but designed by professionals on the project team, would transform their lives too, making it possible for children to go to school, taking hours off a trip to the nearest hospital, and bringing communities closer.
"We did everything by hand in about a week, from putting rocks in metal cages for the piers to laying planks and fixing railings," says So, now a trainee lawyer and a key organiser of a fundraising walkathon planned for November in Hong Kong. "Living there, we saw how precious water is to the villagers, as well as food and meat, and how generous they are with what they have."
The chance to give this kind of eye-opening, transformative experience is precisely what inspired Leonie Ki to help establish the foundation in 2007. Ki, now a member of the group's management council, suspected that too many Hong Kong students had too narrow an outlook, simply not appreciating their good fortune and the obligation that went with that to do more for others.
The foundation is working with 17 universities in Hong Kong, the mainland and the United States to build more bridges, both actual and figurative ones.
Each project in Yunnan, Sichuan and Gansu is identified with the help of the nearest township or county authorities. Professors at partner mainland universities may give