From grassroots to long-term system
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.