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Helping voluntary organisations to help others
By Michael Mackey (That's Shanghai)
Updated: 2004-05-09 08:38

A city should be more than glittery skyscrapers and great nightlife - the brains and the brawn means little without a beating heart behind them. Happily, Shanghai's booming economy is also spawning a vibrant voluntary sector with a number of well-managed organisations and hundreds of thousands of volunteers spreading a little love and compassion throughout the community.

We visit five volunteer organisations operating in Shanghai. A whole lot more than raffles and ladies' morning teas, these associations run the gamut from phone book to stem cell collection, campus clubs to slick cyber organisations. So straighten that halo and read on for a glimpse of yet another Shanghai scene.

Lending a Hand

Launched earlier this year by a handful of young professionals, Hands On Shanghai has already signed on seventy volunteers and is recruitng between five and ten new members each week. Organiser Richard Brubaker describes the group as "a really good mix" of expatriates, Chinese and local volunteers, generally in their 20s and 30s. All you need to join is motivation and an Internet connection - this is very much a cyber-generation thing.

Hands On connects those with the desire to become more involved in their community with local charities and institutions needing assistance on short-term projects. It adopts a corporate-type structure in order to maximise efficiency and centralise control over the group's varied activities.

"Every Monday we send an email to our volunteers telling them what's happening in the coming week," says Brubaker. The projects generally require two to three hours' commitment in the evenings or three to four hours on weekends and volunteers can sign up according to their schedules and interests. "We cater to professionals who don't have a lot of spare time and [don't have] the belief that money alone works. We help them logistically by designing the projects for them."

Hands On works in partnership with several local charitable organisations. Members help with the administration of Shanghai Sunrise, which raises funds for poor migrant children so that they can attend school. They play with orphaned and handicapped children at three local orphanages, and children's groups such as Gift of Life and Project Hope. And help out at the Shanghai Children's Museum (see Children's Story) and Roots and Shoots, where they are involved in environmental projects like tree planting, phone book collecting and building a new chimpanzee house at the Shanghai Zoo.

For further information email info@handsonshanghai.org, or visit www.handsonshanghai.org.

Marrow Minded

Volunteers can give a bit of themselves - literally - by donating their stem cells. The Shanghai Bone Marrow Contribution Club, an artery of the Red Cross, is working to increase the number of Shanghai residents registered with the local marrow donor programme from the current 38,000 to 100,000 people.

Healthy stem cells are in desperate demand worldwide to combat deadly diseases like leukemia. "The problem is, it's very difficult to match marrow types and therefore we need to improve our database," says Gong Xiaoqing from the Contribution Club.

Don't be turned off by visions of spongey brown goo or bone-sucking operations: it only takes a small vial of blood to be typed as a stem cell donor. In case your tissue traits match a patient's, more blood is donated, the stem cells separated and the remaining blood returned to the donor's bloodstream through a sterile needle. Easy.

Because stem cell traits are inherited, a patient's most likely match is with someone of the same racial or ethnic background, so Asians in particular are encouraged to join the registry and become committed donors. Applicants should be between 18 and 45. Obviously, they must be free of blood related or infectious diseases, even common colds. "The same as in all blood contributions," explains Gong.

Donating blood aside, the Shanghai Bone Marrow Contribution Club also requires volunteers to assist patients, process registry information, as well as raise funds and educate the general public.

Shanghai Bone Marrow Contribution Club is a Chinese-speaking organisation. For more information, visit www.gs-club.com.cn. You can also contact Gong Xiaoqing at ggxopg@online.sh.cn or 6352 3875.

Breaking out of the Bedroom

Shanghai Youth Volunteer Association is the largest, longest established and highest profile volunteer organisation in Shanghai. It has been in operation for over a decade and boasts some 300,000 registered volunteers.

The only real criteria for joining the group is being between 14 and 35 years old, healthy and "very devoted to the community work" says Li Jin of the Association. Basic Mandarin skills are preferred.

Currently the Association is involved in three projects in Shanghai aimed at helping the poor, elderly, and Mother Nature. But it is a couple of high-profile upcoming events - namely the Shanghai Formula One and 2010 World Expo - that has many full of volunteering fervour.

Already one member of the Association is working with the Formula One event planning committee, and recruitment of volunteers has begun for the race in September. Says Li, "1,200 volunteers are needing during the race, and more are needed before for Grand Prix track and stadium maintenance, so the total number will be over 2,000." Even though college English is a requirement for helping with this international event, 7,000 people have already applied.

On an even greater scale, "We're already in training for the World Expo in 2010," Li adds. The Association plans to set up a World Expo Youth Volunteer Team of over 100,000 for the event, and many more will be involved in education campaigns to increase understanding of the event and English language ability in the community in the lead up to the Expo.

To register with the Youth Association, contact Li Jin at 6262 7700 ext 2093, or shyouth@online.sh.cn. For more information, visit the Chinese-language website www.shzyz.org.

Pulling Your Green Finger Out

The Environment Protection Cooperation of the East China University of Science and Technology is one of several groups tackling the considerable environmental problems the city faces. Their offensive is conducted on three levels: university, local community, and further afield to neighbouring provinces.

On campus they arrange the collection and recycling of used batteries with special boxes placed in each dormitory. They organise environmentally themed lectures and last Christmas, in an effort to educate students about the environmental cost of greeting cards, they undertook a project where instead of cards, people could send fruit anywhere within the 13 universities in Shanghai. "It was to raise awareness," says the EPC's Wei Jun-jing who reported that 200 people and countless oranges and apples took part.

On a local community level they work with resident committees distributing flyers and posters and organising 'games' which encourage the sorting of rubbish. Occasionally volunteers are sent to the Zoo where they tell children stories about protecting animals. "Volunteers go out and stop inane things like feeding plastic bags to the animals," says Wei. "Unfortunately we do not have much free time to go to the Zoo so the scope of this project is limited," she laments.

Venturing out of town, members give up between a week and a month of their summer vacation to undertake university research projects like sampling, testing and interviewing locals about environmental issues in the nearby provinces of Jiangsu and Zhejiang.

After an interview to check "if they have enthusiasm to keep going with the work," the organisation gladly accepts volunteers and has hope for the future with a steady stream of junior greenies from the nearby middle and primary schools getting involved.

For information or application, email ourgreenwaves@163.com.

Paws for Thought

The Small Animal Protection Association is Shanghai's only charity given over to the protection of animals - and boy is it's work cut out. Most shocking is not the numbers involved but the human callousness that their work reveals.

Many people take up pets without understanding the long-term commitment of caring for them. They treat them like toys and abandon them when the novelty wears off, or when the animals become pregnant. The Association receives around ten calls a day from pet owners who no longer want their furry friends. Other times pets are just dumped on their doorstep - literally.

Recently ten stray cats, some injured or pregnant, were rescued from wasteland at the intersection of Changle Lu and Chengdu Lu. Rescuing does not mean one-off tree-climbing, fur-flying heroics - although that is not unheard of - but also involves providing temporary shelter for animals awaiting adoption, for which basic expenses are covered. Volunteers are called on to help rescue animals as well as update the website, man booths at Pet Shows and educate the public.

Members are required to be responsible and able to deal with emergencies. In return they get that Superman sensation of saving lives, small rewards from the Association, and maybe even a lick on the cheek.

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