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Volunteers help build a stronger society
05 December 2006
by Khalid Malik

This year, 6,500 university graduates are working as volunteers to support China's poorest counties through the Communist Youth League. These graduates are devoting their knowledge and energy to developing the education, healthcare and agriculture sectors of local communities.

Their efforts are among many being celebrated today on International Volunteer Day.

Volunteerism in China is driven by large government-supported campaigns and the thousands of smaller-scale, bottom-up initiatives of grass-roots organizations.

Volunteers not only benefit the communities in which they serve, but also benefit themselves through their service.

Volunteerism provides a means to sharpen leadership, management and communication skills. It contributes to the glue that holds societies together, by teaching people to be responsible citizens and by promoting trust and harmony.

What is common to both government-driven and grass-roots approaches is the understanding that volunteers are a powerful force for positive change. Achieving a harmonious xiaokang (well-off) society and the Millennium Development Goals will require the voluntary engagement of Chinese people.

Volunteers working in China and around the world show first-hand that they can make a difference. AIDS Care China, a community-based organization in southern China, works with volunteers to provide counselling, training and education to those affected by HIV/AIDS. Their volunteer team includes many that are living withHIV/AIDS.

On World AIDS Day, AIDS Care China was presented with the global Red Ribbon Award by the United Nations, which recognizes outstanding community leadership in the fight against AIDS. The innovative volunteer work of AIDS Care China demonstrates the great potential of close partnerships between government and grass-roots organizations.

By increasing the number of meaningful volunteer opportunities and improving the management of volunteers we can encourage people from all walks of life in China to serve in their communities.

At the provincial and municipal levels in China, the government has played a constructive role in creating infrastructure to support the work of volunteers. Nine provinces and eight cities have passed laws to protect and promote volunteerism.

The next step is for government and grass-roots organizations to combine efforts to jointly establish volunteer centres in local communities. These centres would become magnets for volunteers, and match these motivated citizens with high-quality volunteer opportunities and publicize the spirit of volunteerism.

Today, on International Volunteer Day, I would like to express my deep appreciation of the personal dedication of the volunteers throughout China who have rolled up their sleeves to build a stronger society.

International Volunteer Day also presents an occasion to recognize the work of Chinese volunteers promoting peace and development overseas.

China's experience in propelling over 250 million of its people out of poverty in the last 25 years is an example to developing nations around the world. This year over 200 Chinese volunteers are sharing these skills in Ethiopia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand.

I would like to salute this example of south-south solidarity and encourage China to further ramp up its volunteer efforts to contribute to the development of Asian and African countries.

The dedication of China's volunteers will soon be showcased to the world during the Beijing Olympics, where 100,000 volunteers will support the Games. The Olympic and volunteer spirit of the Beijing Games can inspire scores of Chinese citizens to volunteer in their own communities.

Let us use this opportunity to spread the ideals of service and solidarity, which lie at the heart of volunteerism alongside the belief that together we can make the world better.