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Volunteers to accompany 'empty nesters during holiday season
( 2004-01-18 14:29) (Xinhua)

China's business hub is recruiting 500 young volunteers to keep "empty nesters" company around the Chinese Lunar New Year that falls on Jan. 22.

As proposed by the Shanghai municipal research center on aging, these young people are supposed to have dinners and spend time with about 500 lonely elderly people so that the senior citizens can celebrate the traditional holiday in a family-like atmosphere.

Many volunteers say they will teach the elderly to use a computer so that they can get in touch with their children -- most of whom are studying or working overseas.

"It's going to be a very special holiday for me," said Tang Wenwei, 21, a university sophomore.

Tang, a native Shanghaier and an only child, said her parents supported her decision.

"The empty nesters need company more than anyone else on such festive occasions because they tend to feel more lonely and miserable when all their neighbors are having family reunions," she said.

Over 400 lonely seniors, aged between 60 and 80, have expressed interest in having a volunteer join them for the holiday.

The eastern municipality has 2.5 million elderly people aged above 60 and more than 300,000 above 80. A considerable portion ofthem are not living with their children.

In the nation's capital Beijing, more than 1,000 citizens have volunteered to bring New Year's greetings to lonely seniors on Jan.21, the Chinese New Year's Eve, by making dumplings and chatting with them on that night.

The youngest of the volunteers is an 18-year-old community worker and the oldest, a veteran worker aged 66.

A 36-year-old Peking Opera fan has vowed to perform for lonely elderly people at home over the holiday.

Kun Qingchun, 102, used to spend the holiday with his only relative, a nephew, in the neighboring Tianjin City. But his health problems have made the traditional trip to Tianjin impossible this year.

"I sure want someone to keep me company on New Year's Eve. I'venever been left alone on this special day," said Kun, happy to know a volunteer is coming to his home this year. "I need fun, even though I'm getting old."

China has 23.4 million empty nesters like Kun who need love, care and contact with the outside world, sociologists say.

The well-being of this special group has aroused the attention of the government as China is moving toward a graying society with132 million elderly, a figure experts say will keep growing at 3.32 percent annually to make up a quarter of its population by 2050.

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