Volunteers are on the frontline of a new world

Updated: 2012-12-05 09:34

By He Na and Peng Yining (China Daily)

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International rescue

In November, five Chinese volunteers traveled to Myanmar and became the first and the only foreign rescue team to visit the country in the wake of a 6.8-magnitude earthquake.

The team, funded by the One Foundation charity, spent six days in Myanmar, helping local people to evaluate their losses and putting forward suggestions on rebuilding collapsed temples and schools.

"Five people couldn't really do that much in six days," said Jiang Yili, the team leader. "But we sent aid and comfort from the Chinese people and are now working on a plan to rebuild some of the schools."

However, the procedures for voluntary work overseas can be long and complex, according to Jiang. "If we applied for formal permission to travel to Myanmar, it could take months and we could even be refused permission. So we applied for tourist visas instead."

Money is another problem. The six-day visit cost the One Foundation more than 100,000 yuan in total.

Jiang said that non-governmental volunteers lack experience of working overseas and the logistics involved.

It soon became apparent that the damage caused by the Myanmar quake was much less serious than had been anticipated, mainly because it struck in an area of low population density.

"But we didn't know that, so we invested more people and resources than the action really needed," said Jiang. "After all, it was our first mission. I hope we'll be able to learn more from Western organizations in the future."

Compared with other countries, non-governmental Chinese volunteer organizations still face challenges in the recruitment and organization of members. "We urgently need to improve the mechanism as soon as possible," said AIESEC's Wang Lu.

Gradual expansion

Guo Meijian said the country should expand its overseas voluntary work gradually.

"Voluntary service overseas covers many topics, such as economics, diplomacy, culture and society, so it's necessary to incorporate this work into a national diplomacy plan and gradually expand the scale of service and dispatch," he said.

Funding is the lifeblood of overseas voluntary work and a number of countries, including the United States and Japan, have established a special fund to guarantee those services, according to Guo.

"We have advised that the funding of China's overseas voluntary services should be incorporated into the Commerce Ministry's foreign aid budget," he said.

There is a high demand for volunteers with language skills and professional training and experience. However, while volunteers from developed economies usually undergo a month of training, that isn't the case in China, according to Guo.

"Limited funding means that our volunteers can only receive about one week's training, which reduces the quality of the support we can provide. An increase in training input is urgently needed if we're going to make real progress," he said.

Contact the reporters at hena@chinadaily.com.cn and pengyining@chinadaily.com.cn

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