Student helps kidnapped Uyghur children find home

By Zhang Yiqian Source:Global Times Published: 2014-7-11 5:03:02

Eliyar (third from right) and his college classmates deliver winter clothes to Xinjiang. Photo: Courtesy of Eliyar Eziz


Children who received winter coats from Eliyar. Photo: Courtesy of Eliyar Eziz

Eliyar Eziz spent one-third of his life outside of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, but has helped many children return to that region. 

The junior in Hefei University of Technology in Anhui Province, originally from Hotan prefecture, has started many charity projects to help children from Xinjiang to get off the streets, to be clothed in winter and to receive subsidies for school.

Even though ethnic tension increased after a number of acts of terrorism, Eliyar, an Uyghur living among the Han people, is trying to bridge the gap of misunderstanding.

First attempt

Ethnic tension between the Uyghurs and Han wasn't as high as today when he was in high school in Taizhou, Jiangsu Province in 2010, Eliyar said. He was one of the few people who passed the test for neigao class - a special class favored by government policy for children from Xinjiang to study outside of the region.

However, he noticed the Internet is full of rants against "Xinjiang thieves," and there were indeed many children from Xinjiang who were stealing on the streets. People would tell their stories, post photos of the children, mostly Uyghurs, and many cities had started "anti-thief alliances."

"Some of these alliances would even use force to capture these children and turn them in to the police," Eliyar said.

Being from Xinjiang, Eliyar said he knew the stories behind the "Xinjiang thieves," that most of the children were tricked or kidnapped out of the region and forced to pickpocket for a living.

At that time, his classmate, Yang Heqiang, also noticed this issue. After a discussion with Eliyar and a few others,  he decided to start a project to help these children.

"I asked many others in my class to help me with the project, but many felt it's impossible to do the project and only Eliyar said yes right away," he said. He found Eliyar honest and easy to work with, and very willing to cooperate on this project.

In Eliyar's mind, the project matched what he wanted to do: To change the bad impression people have on these Uyghur children.

Back then, they had already started a website for Xinjiang students in neigao classes and people use it to keep in touch with each other, and the website was linked under the forum.

"We started by collecting stories of these homeless children, along with their photos, and started putting this information on the Internet," Eliyar said.

Turning negative views

The project started small but snowballed into action. People were able to provide information and help through the forum, and many started changing views about these children, Eliyar said, and he was happy that he contributed.

Jiaquan, an organizer of the anti-thief alliance in Anyang, Henan Province, told Phoenix Weekly that after reading the stories behind these children, he changed his attitude from  violently capturing them to trying to help them get home.

Over time, the project also drew the attention of the police, who sometimes caught children who were stealing but weren't able to help them due to the language barrier. Eliyar served as a translator both in person and by phone.

"In the past, when the policemen caught these children, they usually kept them for a while and released them, because they can't do anything with them. But that doesn't help these children much," he said.

But after getting to know of their project, the police started calling him for help, to serve as a translator to find out how to contact the child's family and return them home.

However, the project soon ran into a hurdle. Someone started a post that contained inappropriate information on ethnic relations, Yang said. Later on, they were both called up by the security officials, who demanded that they shut down the website.

"It made me unhappy," Eliyar said. "We had only wanted to do a good thing, nothing else."

Sense of empathy

Even though the closure of the forum meant the loss of everything they had worked on so far, Eliyar carried on helping Uyghur children.

The website later reopened in the form of a blog. After the project, Eliyar also expanded his charity work to Uyghur children in Xinjiang. He started a winter coat donation program and collected clothes from local middle schools to be shipped to Xinjiang.

Later in college, he started the charity organization Tree of Love, which donates, gives subsidies and makes microfilms of Uyghur children in Xinjiang.

Eliyar feels he has always been in debt to people. When he delivered the clothes to children in rural areas in Xinjiang, he felt sympathetic because he had lived the same way when he was young.

He lived with his dad, a low-level worker at the local procuratorate, his mom, who stayed home taking care of the children, and a younger brother. The entire family only had a bicycle to get around, no matter how harsh the winters got.

He remembers when he was little, his mother once took him to a market, where people from Xinjiang journeyed to big cities like Beijing and Shanghai to buy secondhand clothes, then take them back to sell. In his town in the 1990s, people considered themselves lucky to wear secondhand clothes from other cities because as there were hardly any places that sold clothes, he recalled.

Getting out of the town was his hope. After elementary school, his grades were good enough for him to get into a middle school in Karamay, and after graduation he got into the special class in high school in Taizhou.

He feels he has been taken care of by many people along the way. Tuition costs for the class were waived, and whenever he studied, there were people who provided extra care.

He plans to study abroad after finishing college. All of this, he said, wouldn't have happened if he hadn't made it to the class.

"I'm trying to give back to society as much as I can," he said.

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