From grass­roots to long-term sys­tem

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - NATION - By HAO NAN hao­nan@chi­ Planned part­ner­ships

Xu Ming has seen both sides of vol­un­teer life in Zhangji­a­gang, Jiangsu prov­ince.

In 2004, he started out as a grass­roots ac­tivist in the coastal city, do­ing char­i­ta­ble work on his own. Now, nine years later, he leads a 63- mem­ber team fo­cus­ing on en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion.

“When I first de­cided to be a vol­un­teer, nearly a decade ago, I could not find any projects or of­fi­cial or­ga­ni­za­tions to join,” said Xu.

Later, he and sev­eral vol­un­teers es­tab­lished a small group that picked up lit­ter along the paths run­ning up Phoenix Moun­tain, a scenic lo­ca­tion fa­mous in China for its peach blos­soms.

“We paid all costs, such as work equip­ment and trans­porta­tion costs, by our­selves at that time,” he said.

“We are all or­di­nary work­ers, not wealthy men, so we could only or­ga­nize the ac­tiv­i­ties once or twice a year with­out any fi­nan­cial sup­port,” he said.

The sit­u­a­tion has changed con­sid­er­ably since those hum­ble be­gin­nings. With fi­nan­cial aid from a lo­cal tourist agency, Xu and his team have trans­formed them­selves from an ir­reg­u­lar band of vol­un­teers to a reg­u­lar team with an on­go­ing project that is “more of­fi­cial and sus­tain­able”, he said.

Launched late last year, the ini­tia­tive is called Pro­tec­tion of the Peach Blos­som Gar­den.

The team now has uni­forms and an ad­e­quate sup­ply of gloves, brooms and promotional boards that show tourists the im­por­tance of en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion.

De­pend­ing on the weather, the team now cleans up the scenic area be­tween one and four times a month.

Xu said his goal is to ex­pand the project’s area of ac­tiv­ity to the en­tire city, a goal he hopes to ful­fill with the ad­di­tion of more vol­un­teers.

The suc­cess of Xu’s project is part of a grow­ing trend to­ward im­prov­ing the city’s vol­un­tary ser­vices, with the lo­cal gov­ern­ment mak­ing ef­forts to en­cour­age vol­un­teer groups in line with what of­fi­cials call the “part­ner plan”.

He Jun, a se­nior of­fi­cial from the gov­ern­ment-funded Zhangji­a­gang Vol­un­teer As­so­ci­a­tion, said he and his team have been work­ing on the plan since 2011. The aim is to build a

We are all or­di­nary work­ers, not wealthy men, so we could only or­ga­nize the ac­tiv­i­ties once or twice a year with­out any fi­nan­cial sup­port.” XU MING VOL­UN­TEER

long-term sys­tem for the city’s vol­un­tary work and to fur­ther pro­mote the com­mu­nity spirit among the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion.

The as­so­ci­a­tion is re­spon­si­ble for for­mu­lat­ing projects and find­ing spon­sors, as well as or­ga­niz­ing and train­ing the vol­un­teers.

“In the past, many com­pa­nies in­tended to of­fer spon­sor­ships as a mat­ter of so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity, but vol­un­teers had no way to find them be­fore. So we de­cided to act as a bridge link­ing com­pa­nies and vol­un­teers,” said He.

“In re­turn, most of the projects can be given a name that in­cludes that of the spon­sor,” he said.

Another ben­e­fit of lo­cal gov­ern­ment in­volve­ment is that the flow of money to vol­un­teer groups is be­com­ing more trans­par­ent, ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cial.

“All the money do­nated by com­pa­nies is paid in in­stall­ments and the spend­ing of the money is in­spected by the Zhangji­a­gang Char­ity Foun­da­tion and the vol­un­teer as­so­ci­a­tion,” said He.

De­tails of projects are re­ported to spon­sors and the money can be al­lo­cated to vol­un­teers only with their ap­proval, he said.

Since 2012, some 56 ser­vice projects in Zhangji­a­gang have been im­ple­mented, with 3.4 mil­lion yuan ($555,560) in do­na­tions from more than 270 com­pa­nies.

Some are tem­po­rary. The city’s Agri­cul­tural Bank of China spon­sored a project with 250,000 yuan last year to take free pic­tures for 400 cou­ples to mark their 50-year golden wed­ding an­niver­saries.

Other projects, such as one help­ing dis­abled peo­ple tour the coastal city, are in­tended to last into the long term, said one of the of­fi­cials.

To date, more than 20,000 trained vol­un­teers have par­tic­i­pated in the projects, with more than 200,000 peo­ple ben­e­fit­ing from their ser­vices, he said.

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