HONG KONG—A rap group belonging to the Uyghur ethnic minority from China’s impoverished northwestern Xinjiang region has raised tens of thousands of dollars to finance medical treatment for a nine-year-old girl suffering from leukemia.
“I thank all of those people who have helped me," the girl, Mahira Osmanjan, said in an interview.
"I would also hope my brothers and sisters living abroad would extend a helping hand to me. If I get well, I will join my friends at school and study hard, and will be a good person in the future.”
Doctors say Mahira Osmanjan needs a bone marrow transplant to win her fight against leukemia, but the cost is more than her family, farmers in one of China's poorest regions, can afford.
They live in Guma county, Hotan, in China’s northwesternmost region of Xinjiang—where incomes are low, medical care is scarce, and a bone marrow transplant costs some 500,000 yuan (U.S. $73,200).
Osmanjan and her family, like much of the population in the region, belong to the predominantly Muslim Uyghur ethnic group.
“It has been over a year that I have been seeking treatment for my daughter. I don’t have a stable job—I’m just a farmer. I’ve tried my best,” the girl's father, Osmanjan Mahmud, said in an interview.
By Eid, marking the end of the Ramadan fasting month observed by Muslims in the region, “I didn’t have anywhere to turn, and that is when the young people turned out to help,” Mahmud said.
He had exhausted his resources to pay his daughter’s medical bills, spending almost 200,000 yuan (U.S. $29,300) from his own savings, donations from the local government, and what he was able to borrow from friends and family.
An overwhelming responseThen a college student in the old Silk Road city of Kashgar, who asked to be identified only as Murat, and who had heard of Mahira’s condition from a friend, decided he wanted to help the family out in any way he could.
Murat visited Mahira at the Xinjiang Autonomous Region People's Hospital in Urumqi and spoke with the medical staff about the operation she needs.
“The doctors said the procedure would be very effective as the girl is still young. They said the chances [of her recovery] are actually over 80 percent, but that the bone marrow transplant process needed for her to be healed would be costly,” Murat said. “After hearing this, I met with her parents, and started asking for help from different places from that day on,” he said.
Murat spread the word about Mahira’s condition among other students and to charity organizations in the regional capital, Urumqi, raising 70,000 yuan (U.S. $10,300). The response was overwhelming, with some students making donations from their university meal plans, he said.
But even with the outpouring of support from the local community, 400,000 yuan (U.S. $58,500) was still needed, so Murat turned to Ilyar, the manager of a college rap group called Six-City. And the student group—Behtiyar, Irpan, Arslan, Perhat, Murat, and Ekrem—agreed to try to help.
Music to give
“[At first] they said I was talking to the wrong people, as they did not have much money. But they said that even without money to give, they had a way to help by performing music,” Murat said.
“I was very happy to hear that—it had not even occurred to me,” he said.
Six-City organized a benefit concert, "Life is Hope," in Urumqi on Dec. 6.
"At the end of the event, we counted the donations and they came to around 40,000 yuan (U.S. $5,900),” Ilyar said, adding that the success led him to organize another larger event for the end of the month.
The second fundraising event, “Spark for Mahira” held in Urumqi on Dec. 27, included Six-City as well as celebrated Uyghur performers Amangul, the DSP dance group, television host Zulpihar, and tap dancer Yusupjan.
“The concert on Dec. 27 was pretty successful. We collected about 11,000 yuan (U.S. $1,600) and the next day we went to the hospital with the staff from the charity association…to give the money to the hospital together with Mahira’s parents,” Murat said.
“We took Mahira out of the hospital with the permission of her doctor for lunch together with her parents, and then went ice skating,” he said.
“There are so many parents like Mahira’s that need help, and of course we cannot help them all. But by helping Mahira, we hope that people who have the ability to do so will try to help those who need it,” Murat said.
“There are so many farm families like Mahira's, all going through hard times...Maybe others will follow if they can,” he said. “More and more people are joining us every day.”
Mahira’s family is overjoyed by the support they have received from their community.
“The medical expenses since Roza Eid have been paid with their help…I don't know how to thank them. They may not even be able to help their own relatives to this degree,” Mahmud said.
“This was started as an outpouring of love among the Uyghur people. I wish that we, too, can help other patients experiencing difficulties one day. The youth started this to show us a way to help each other and I am really grateful to them,” he said.
Mahira still requires the bone marrow transplant, but Murat said that her health has been noticeably improving.
“Mahira is doing fairly well now—lots of people have been visiting her lately. She is in better spirits and she is also getting much better. Before, she was receiving blood transfusions almost every day, but now it is once a week,” he said.
Mahira’s mother, Busarigul Tohtiehmet, was effusive.
“With the help of good-hearted people, my daughter's treatment has been going well so far. I hope people can continue helping us. I also wish good health for those who have helped us and wish them peace and happiness in their lives,” she said.
Original reporting in Uyghur by Akida. Uyghur service director: Dolkun Kamberi. Written for the Web in English by Joshua Lipes. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.