Belgian volunteer aids Tianjin's testing efforts

Updated: May 30, 2023 China Daily Print
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Belgian volunteer Li Hanwen works at a nucleic acid test site in Tianjin's Nankai district. WU SHUQUN/FOR CHINA DAILY

A Belgian volunteer recently made headlines for his dedication to helping with nucleic acid testing in his community, the Sunac Magnetic Capital, in Tianjin's Nankai district. Wearing the red jacket typically worn by Chinese volunteers, he prefers to be called by his Chinese name, Li Hanwen.

"In my heart, I feel I'm Chinese despite my appearance, and I feel closer to traditional Chinese culture," he said in fluent Mandarin.

Since the outbreak of the Omicron variant began on Jan 8, Tianjin has undergone its fifth round of citywide testing and more for virus-hit areas. By Tuesday a total of 424 cases have been confirmed in eight districts.

After the first round on Jan 9, Li contacted the administrative head of his community and the property management company and offered to help with the second and third rounds.

He said he didn't ask for payment.

"I couldn't stay at home and do nothing for my country," said Li, who despite his actual nationality, views China as his motherland. "I just hope to do my bit for screening, and I don't want to sit idly at home."

Zeng Penghua, administrative head of the community, which is home to 6,053 households, including some 1,600 foreign residents, said: "Our community is one of the city's largest communities in terms of international residents, who come from 18 countries. Volunteers like Li can help overcome the language barrier, as well as with inputting screening information, and play an even bigger role."

For his part, Li said, "I think we also need to thank all the people we can't see from our home, like the medical workers who work really hard to get the results to us, and I really hope to do something for them."

During the second round of testing, Li realized that one of the lines had become a bit disorderly, He helped people line up properly and was shown on Tianjin TV and on social media making sure residents stood a meter apart. Li told media that he was impressed Tianjin had been able to screen its 14 million inhabitants in just 24 hours. "It's incredible! Tianjin jiayou (come on)! China jiayou!"

He was also impressed by the unity and sincerity of residents.

On Jan 15, Li started work at 6 am and was moved when he received face masks from a young people and warm water from an elderly woman. Li began to study Chinese martial arts when he was 17 and then taught himself Mandarin.

"When I was in Belgium I had two choices. One was to stay and take care of my friends and family, the other was to come to China. I was determined to get to China by the time I turned 26, which was back in 2010," he said.

Currently, he works as a teacher at an international school. "I came to China because I have what I call 'culture shock' with my own culture, and I hope that if in the future, I have a child, they will have a traditional, Chinese-style education," he said.

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