Opinion / Xin Zhiming

Volunteer professionalism needed

By Xin Zhiming ( Updated: 2014-08-06 14:50

No one would deny that the work of volunteers, especially those present at disaster sites, is vitally important and deserves our utmost respect.

From Wenchuan in 2008 and Ya’an in 2013 to today’s Ludian, hundreds of thousands of volunteers have actively participated in rescue, relief and reconstruction of earthquake-hit areas. They helped dig people out of debris, shipped relief materials, offered treatment to the injured, provided psychological soothing to those who were crippled or lost families, and contributed in various ways to post-quake reconstruction.

More importantly, their courage and altruism have testified to the willingness and capability of the Chinese people in building a modern civil society.

That said, volunteers on the whole are a young group in China. The number of volunteers, especially those engaged in disaster relief, had been small before the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake. And many of them had not received formal training and therefore lacked relevant disaster-rescue knowledge and skills.

Since the Wenchuan quake hit, volunteers have played an indispensible role in helping people in need. Meanwhile, unfortunately, many unprepared volunteers rushing into the quake-hit areas have brought more trouble than help. For example, as unorganized volunteers drove to the quake-struck areas, they often caused traffic jam and clogged normal shipping of much needed food, rescue equipment and relief materials into the disaster-affected areas.

Even if they made it into the disaster-hit villages and towns, some unprofessional volunteers failed to be of much help, since they either did not know what to do or did not have the proper tools and equipment to help.

Moreover, the presence of those do-gooders meant they had to rely on local people or rescue teams for food or medical treatment — often in tight supply in stricken areas — if they did not bring food with them or got injured in aftershocks and landslides.

Such lack of professionalism was also seen in the Ya’an earthquake in 2013 and the Ludian earthquake this time. On Tuesday, the local county authorities closed access to the quake zone temporarily because the flood of volunteers had affected normal rescue work.

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