Army of hearts extends helping hand

Updated: 2011-12-06 07:17

By He Dan (China Daily)

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Army of hearts extends helping hand

Volunteers teach traffic safety to a cyclist in a street in Shangqiu, Henan province, on Friday, the first Traffic Safety Day of China. [Bai Xianglin / for China Daily]

BEIJING - China's growing army of volunteers is playing an increasingly important role in community services, environmental protection, disaster relief and sustainable development, the country's top volunteers group said Monday.

Fresh statistics show that 60 million citizens - roughly one-third of whom are registered with local associations - spend 300 million hours a year providing volunteer services.

The numbers were released by the China Volunteers Association to coincide with International Volunteers Day, which falls on Dec 5.

Added to the work being done at home, more Chinese are also now going abroad to provide volunteer services.

The Communist Youth League said since 2002 it has sent more than 519 volunteers to 19 countries across Asia, Africa and Latin America, mainly to teach Mandarin, computer sciences and traditional Chinese medicine.

Official data also show that, by the end of last year, more than 10,000 Chinese teachers had introduced the Chinese language and culture to about 89 countries through the Confucius Institute.

Among communities, volunteerism creates ties among people, as well as increases social capital and community resilience, said Silvia Morimoto, deputy country director of United Nations Development Programme China.

Zhang Can, 22, volunteered to teach the children of migrant workers English for 18 months during her undergraduate journalism studies at Fudan University in Shanghai.

"The experience helped me to realize what I really care about and what kind of work I want to do," she said, adding that migrant children are often unable to fully explore their potential as they do not have equal access to education resources as those children with hukou, or permanent residence permits, in Shanghai.

After graduation, Zhang studied in the Untied States and majored in education studies, so that she can learn how to promote equal education opportunities in China.

Although there have been huge advances in volunteering in China over the last decade, Morimoto stressed that challenges still remain.

The administrative and institutional framework to help volunteer groups to develop could be strengthened, she said, adding that the government should also speed up legislation to protect people participating in volunteering services.

Jin Huiyu contributed to this story.