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Volunteer ‘daughters’ bring hope to the elderly in China
03 March 2004
by Randy Yeh

Beijing: It's barely six on Sunday morning, the sky is still dark outside and the February wind is chilly. Yet Ma Jing, a volunteer living in the northwest hills area of Chang Ping District, Beijing, is already on her way to catch a bus to see Chen Da Ye (Da Ye means an elder man), and Wang Da Ma (Da Ma means an elder woman), at Tian Le Retirement Home. Service does not start until 9 in the morning, but living in the outskirts of greater Beijing and without a car, Ma Jing must take four separate buses to get to Tian Le. While she considers travelling for two-and-a-half hours one way is not so bad, usually it takes close to three hours.

Ma Jing joined New Path volunteer team at Tian Le more than two years ago. Born in the late 50's and having grown up during the cultural revolution, she had lived in rural areas serving as a "bare foot doctor" for five years after graduating from high school. After returning to Beijing, like most other people at that time, she went to work for a state-owned enterprise. She only worked for two enterprises during her career, both in the accounting department, until she retired recently. Quiet, modest, and sweet, Ma Jing does not stand out from a crowd, yet she feels like a next door neighbour who one knew from before.

When Ma Jing and her volunteer teammate Cui Ya Li first started providing service to Chen Da Ye and Bai Da Ma in early 2001, Chen Da Ye was suffering from a stroke and hardly could move in his bed. Once a competent engineer, Chen Da Ye now had lost his memory and could not speak. Cui Ya Li is an excellent massager and she started to do massages for Chen Da Ye every time they came to visit. Together they would also read newspapers for the old couple, play games to stimulate Chen Da Ye's memory, and share jokes between each other to get his attention.

Tian Le Retirement Home is blessed with a loving and patient staff team. Despite their heavy workload, director Meng, staff member Xiao Yen and others would find time to join them and help. Gradually, Chen Da Ye started to show some response to the physical massages and caring attention; he started to move, made some sounds, and used his eyes to show appreciation and acknowledgement of their words and actions.

After a little more than a year later, Chen Da Ye started to talk again, albeit very slowly and with much less vocabulary than he used to have. He could sit up with some help in a wheel chair and do some exercises with his arms on the balcony outside the room.

The relationship keeps getting warmer and closer as the seasons pass by, and every other Sunday, the old couple looks forward to seeing Ma Jing and Cui Ya Li' s faces show up at the gate of the home. Sometimes in the winter when the road became icy and difficult to travel, the old couple would get very worried. There were a couple of times when Ma Jing could not make it, and she would call up her sister, Ma Ying, to go in her place. Now Ma Ying is a steady volunteer at Tian Le as well, and they call themselves "the three daughters" to Chen Da Ye and Wang Da Ma.

As Chen Da Ye got better, Ma Jing and her team mates expanded their services to other elders in the nearby rooms such as Liu Da Ye and Xi Da Ma. But they always still put their jackets and purses in Chen Da Ye's room, for as Ma Ying said to Wang Da Ma often, "This is our home."

When the New Path Foundation started to work with Zhi Guang School (a special education school for mentally retarded and auspice children), Ma Jing volunteered to serve there as well. She would go on a weekly basis to help the children or teachers on a variety of tasks. Ma Jing said "I like to do real work which needs to be done at the time." Asked about what motivated her to do volunteer work, her answer is simple: "This is something I feel like doing."

Photo shows Ma Jing (right) visiting Chen Da Ye at the Tian Le Retirement Home in Beijing, China.

Randy Yeh is the chairman of the New Path Foundation.