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Youth and the spirit of volunteering
02 October 2007
by Chow How Ban

A caregiver encouraging a child with intellectual disability to indulge in some exercise at the Dong Li Feng Mei Kang Jian School in the Xuhui district of Shanghai. Voluntary bodies visit the school regularly to shower this community with love and care. (Photo: The Star Online)A caregiver encouraging a child with intellectual disability to indulge in some exercise at the Dong Li Feng Mei Kang Jian School in the Xuhui district of Shanghai. Voluntary bodies visit the school regularly to shower this community with love and care. (Photo: The Star Online)
Shanghai, China: Young people helping commuters and pushing wheelchair-bound passengers to platforms at the Metro train station is a common sight in Shanghai.

Teens stationed at road junctions provide jaywalkers with proper guidance while others disperse crowds at major occasions.

These volunteers make their presence felt in the metropolis. The solid foundation of the city’s volunteer bodies and the wide area they cover are impressive.  

The overwhelming response towards voluntary work among Shanghai youth, communities and all levels of society is one of the reasons why Shanghai can develop into a sustainable economy.

Chen Yijun, a student from Shanghai Business School, knows she can do something for the Special Olympics World Summer Games (SOWSG) to be held in Shanghai from Oct 2-11.

“Even though I will not be directly involved with the athletes I’m still happy to be a small part,” she said.

Chen spends her leisure time compiling news and statistics for the steering committee of the competition.

“I hope that more people will show concern and care for the intellectually challenged,” said Chen, who became a volunteer early this year.

Shanghai has a population of 18 million and the Shanghai Volunteers Association has more than one million registered volunteers experienced in various activities.

The association, with branches in all districts in the city, welcomes people from all walks of life and nationalities.  

As the volunteer organisation grows bigger, competition for places to serve has become more intense. Not everyone who applies is assured of a place.

A Malaysian student in Shanghai had her application rejected.  

However, chances are aplenty as China that will be hosting the Olympic Games in Beijing next year, World Expo 2010 in Shanghai, and other sporting, social and financial events and charitable activities.

In April, the Shanghai municipal government unveiled the Shanghai Youth Development 11th Five-Year (2006-2010) Plan, outlining the action plan that will drive the city’s young generation to greater progress in education, social welfare, health and careers.

The plan addresses the provision of education, recreational activities and job opportunities, health improvement, youth protection and prevention from social ills, and social participation

“We must encourage young people to participate in the building of a civil society. Many volunteer bodies have been set up and we will build a better network and gather all resources to further improve the delivery system,” said Shanghai Youth Federation chairman Ma Chunlei.

It is now compulsory for junior and senior secondary students to spend 20 days and 30 days a year respectively doing social activities. They must also do voluntary work for at least 40 hours.

If the plan is anything to go by, the standard of Shanghai’s overall youth development will take the lead in the country and will be on par as other developed cities.

SOWSG Shanghai Steering Committee volunteer department deputy director Gu Feng said that the spirit of volunteerism among youth had not waned as shown in the volunteers’ enthusiasm in major events like the Games.

Since December last year, 40,000 volunteers have been recruited. Sixty-six per cent of them are university students, 22% come from communities and residents’ associations, and 12% from the corporate sector.

A total of 108 foreign residents will be serving the Games while 1,877 households will host athletes from different countries under the Host Town Programme.  

Hailed as the biggest international event ever held in China, the Games will have more than 30,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities from 167 countries and regions, coaches, working staff, guardians, family members and officials.

There is more to the Games than the competition. It puts the message across the city to treat the community well and help them to integrate with society.

Since 2005, the government has set up 240 Sunshine Homes. Some 11,500 intellectually challenged persons have been given education and training to enable them to acquire vocational and communication skills to make a living like normal people.

Volunteer and university student Deng Lihong said: “With the rapid progress in China, volunteer bodies built around the younger generation is very much welcomed because their involvement will help broaden their knowledge and improve their social and communication skills.

“I hope that society will acknowledge them, show concern for what they do and provide them with constructive advice on how to further improve their services.”