Quake prompts growth in NGOs

Updated: 2013-05-13 09:23

(China Daily)

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Quake prompts growth in NGOs

Li Zhenping (left) and his assistant Zhang Pengfei at Leifeng Volunteer Service Station, which he founded in 2008. [Photo by Feng Yongbin / China Daily]

Changing attitudes

Although they all suffer from a lack of funds, the NGOs have proved adept at mobilizing social resources, according to Guo Hong, professor of sociology at Sichuan Academy of Social Sciences.

The Wenchuan experience also changed the way NGOs help survivors. The initial passionate response has been superseded by a more rational approach. Instead of simply heading off to a disaster area as soon as news breaks, the NGOs now plan their engagement more carefully to establish goals and ensure the work they do is effective and relevant. The NGOs and their volunteers have matured, according to Guo.

"In the past five years, many people have chosen to make voluntary work a full-time role. Their growing experience means they have become better adapted to rescue and relief work - that was evident in the way they contributed after the earthquake in Ya'an last month," she said.

Sichuan has the third-largest number of NGOs, after Beijing and Shanghai, according to the 2013 China Development Report. The Wenchuan quake was a catalyst in their foundation. "To my knowledge, about 50 new NGOs have been set up in the past five years, although most have fewer than 10 workers," said Guo.

She said the original volunteers were just regular people who wanted to make a difference. Many, however, failed to fully appreciate the role they'd chosen to play and although motivated by the best of intentions, they had little idea of what a volunteer should do or the concepts of civic awareness and public interest.

The movement toward greater efficiency and professionalism is the most noteworthy change the NGOs have undergone, said Guo. For example, they now have a very clear division of labor, with some volunteers focusing on psychological counseling, some on improving the livelihood of the community, and yet others specializing in environmental protection.

The change has resulted in greater recognition of their efforts. "Many people saw the work the volunteers were doing and decided to join in. They're proud to be a part of the movement," said Guo.

Before 2008, people were suspicious of the volunteers' motives - after all, why would anybody willingly spend their own money to undertake the sometimes perilous work of helping survivors in disaster zones?

That attitude seems to be dying out. "When people talk about volunteers, now they are no longer cynical. That trust is essential for voluntary organizations," said Guo.