Gu Huaying (left) and Liu Hongxia chat in Gu's shop in Huichang, Jiangxi province.Zuo Zhuo / China Daily
Liu Hongxia, 43, has been helping Gu Huaying for nine years. But to Gu, 22, she is more of a mentor than a savior.
In 1995, Gu was born into a poor family in Mazhou township, Jiangxi province. Her mother died when she was a month old. Her stepmother, whom her father married years later, was mentally unstable and suffered from various diseases, though she brought two boys and a girl into the world.
That left Gu's physically frail father as the only breadwinner for the family of six.
In the winter of 2008, during a land expropriation campaign, Liu, an official of Huichang county government's land and resources department, first stepped into the shabby dwelling of Gu and her family.
Liu was so shocked by the family's wretched living conditions that within a few days she and some volunteers returned with much-needed supplies.
The encounter changed the life paths of both Liu and Gu. It marked the beginning of Liu's life as an avid charity campaigner.
"Once I started helping them, I found myself constantly worrying about them and simply couldn't stop," Liu said.
On weekends and holidays, she would team up with other volunteers to send various goods to those in need - impoverished families, childless elders and left-behind children.
The dozens of volunteers eventually evolved into the first county-level volunteer association in Huichang, in 2011. Liu was elected vice-chairman. So far, more than 1,000 volunteers have joined the association.
During these years, as Gu's family continued to receive aid from volunteers, Gu developed a unique bond with Liu. "I'm like a mother to her," Liu said.
Gu's stepmother died in 2010, and her father started hunting and selling snakes for a living. One night in October 2013, he and an uncle went hunting in the mountain and never returned.
"I remember it was 1 am that night when Gu called me for help, saying her father was missing. I sent dozens of volunteers to search for the man first thing in the morning," Liu said.
The search went on a full day before the two men's bodies were recovered from a river.
"The girl was devastated and crying her heart out when I rushed to the site. I hugged her tightly as tears ran down my face," Liu said.
Gu was 18 at the time. She and her siblings were orphaned overnight. But they survived the childhood trauma and grew up, thanks to the government's support, the help of volunteers and, most important, Liu's motherly love.
Gu said she is grateful to Liu for being a role model. "She taught me how to deal with the toughness of life, guided me with optimism and hope, and encouraged me to strive for my own happiness," she said.
Gu now runs a small shop in Wenwuba, the Huichang county seat. She has followed Liu's footsteps and joined the volunteer association that offers help to people who are struggling in poverty as she once did.
Liu was happy to see Gu's progress. "She suffered too much as a child. It's so good to see her overcome her past and learn to help others," she said.