Volunteers need more training

Updated: 2014-05-19 07:41

By Yang Yang and Peng Yining (China Daily)

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Volunteers need more training

Xu Jinxin (second left), a volunteer from Project Sunrise, visits a family in Pengyang county in the Ningxia Hui autonomous region, to gather material for a report into living conditions. PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY 

"A good example is the story of some well-meaning young people who went to the countryside to visit 'left-behind' children - those abandoned to the care of relatives while their migrant-worker parents live in far-off cities and industrial hubs. These children may not see their parents for years at a time, and the visitors had no idea that they were especially sensitive to questions such as 'Do you miss your parents?' In fact, the children were psychologically unable to cope with the questions, which had the opposite effect that the visitors had intended," Cheng said.

A lack of technical know-how is also an issue. When the northeastern city of Dalian was the site of China's worst-ever oil spill after a pipeline explosion in July 2010, the news drew legions of concerned, but untrained, volunteers. "Many people volunteered to help in the cleanup operation, but they didn't realize they would have to use professional equipment to lift the oil from the water, instead of just using their hands," said Tang Zailin, vice-president of the Dalian Environmental Protection Volunteers Association.

Making a contribution

Xian Mulan learned a lot about working for the public good when she spent three years with Project Sunrise, an NGO that helps dropouts and children from impoverished families in Northwest China's Ningxia Hui autonomous region.

She said a large number of teenagers, mostly females, don't finish the nine-year compulsory education in the poverty-stricken region.

Once when a 15-year-old girl broke down in tears in front of Xian because her parents couldn't afford the tuition, Xian found a donor to pay the fees and persuaded the girl's parents to let her finish high school.

"That was when I realized the full capabilities of volunteers. We are not just cheap labor, and with the right management and training, we can contribute a lot to society," said the 24-year-old, who now works for a community service NGO overseeing the recruitment and management of volunteers.

"It is easy to be a volunteer, but it's hard to be a good one," she said. "Good management of volunteers is essential to a project's success."

In addition to the relevant training, organizations should also provide volunteers with basic welfare, including insurance and a transport allowance, according to Xian, who said the other side of the coin is that volunteers should be responsible for the quality of their work.

"Because there's no national regulation on the rights and obligations of volunteers, we have been working on our own management style," she said.

A lack of recognition

In 2011, Cheng, of the Philanthropy Research Institute, calculated that only 17 cities had formulated regulations to supervise voluntary organizations. The number had doubled by the end of last year, but while many cities are making and enforcing their own rules, the regulations lack force, Cheng said. She urged the formulation of national legislation because it would carry far more weight than piecemeal, city-by-city regulations.

She also pointed out that a lack of official recognition has led to a degree of public indifference. "In the US, they have the President's Volunteer Service Award, which is a great inspiration to people," she said.

Ultimately though, the biggest problem the NGOs face is funding. Very few are given money from the public purse to undertake their work. "The Dalian government has never provided funding, so both our individual and institutional members make a fixed, annual donation - 20 yuan for individuals, or 10 yuan for students - but institutional members, such as companies, pay several thousand to 100,000 yuan," said Tang.

But raising sufficient funds is almost impossible for small single-issue groups such as the Yueyang Finless Porpoise Protection Association. The difficulties it has encountered mean volunteers often use their own money to undertake their work and are effectively paying to volunteer, a situation that led directly to the blackmail case involving He and his electric "fishing rod".

"The good news is that the government said recently that it will provide more money to support volunteer organizations. I hope it will be spent well so corruption and unacceptable behavior can be avoided," said Tang.

Contact the authors at: yangyangs@chinadaily.com.cn and pengyining@chinadaily.com.cn

Volunteers need more training

Volunteers cover their eyes to feel how blind people deal with walking. It is part of an event to mark the Day for Helping the Disabled, which was held in Beijing on Sunday. YAN XIAOQING / CHINA DAILY 


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